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In-Depth: Is Wii The Slowest Bandwagon In The West?

The claim that "third party games don't sell on the Wii" has long been disproven -- but how are major publishers dealing with a first-party skewed, product-filled platform? Gamasutra's David Jenkins talks to Activision, Ubisoft and Electronic Arts represe
[The claim that "third party games don't sell on the Wii" has long been disproven -- but how are major publishers dealing with a first-party skewed, product-filled platform? Gamasutra's David Jenkins talks to Activision, Ubisoft and Electronic Arts representatives to find out.] Its installed base might cleanly trump that of the other two consoles in the present generation. But as the Wii approaches its third Christmas, the number of exclusive or lead-platform Wii games from third party publishers are not that significant. But the fallacy that "third party games don’t sell on the Wii" has long since been proven wrong, as million-sellers such as Take-Two’s Carnival Games, Ubisoft’s Rayman Raving Rabbids, Activision’s Guitar Hero III, Electronic Arts’ MySims, Capcom’s Resident Evil games, Midway’s Game Party, Sega’s Sonic titles and others can all attest. And yet still the line to leap upon the Wii bandwagon has moved at a dawdle rather than a run. Activision has published individual Wii games for some time, but only recently set up a Wii-specific sublabel, with their announcement in July of the new "Wee 1st" brand -- although it has since been renamed, perhaps after someone made it clear to Activision what the word "wee" means in England. "The Wee 1st decision was made some time ago, (12 to 18 months) and it has actually changed direction slightly and now is branded ‘Exclusively Designed for Wii’," explains Mark Meadows, vice president of marketing for Activision Minneapolis. Meadows denies the assertion that publishers in general were caught off-guard by the success of the Wii. "We saw the success of the Wii platform early on and made a strategic decision to have a strong presence on the platform in the future," he claims. "We believe there is ample opportunity outside ‘the first party realm’ if the concept and game play mechanics are both unique and meet a consumer demand." Ubisoft was one of the first Western publishers to enthusiastically support the Wii, with a number of titles available at launch. In general, brands such as the Petz and the My series seem to have done well on Nintendo platforms - and the company decided to expand further with the PlayZone label in June of this year, whose first title in Europe has been Sports Party. Like Activision's brand, the PlayZone label is not associated with any specific internal studio; the titles come from both in-house and external teams. "The choice to create a label under the brand PlayZone was made for two reasons," says David Talmat, EMEA senior brand manager for Ubisoft's Games for Everyone line. "Firstly, we realized that we had a nice amount of games in production, either internally or externally, that have gameplay that is easy to pick up, fun to play and especially made for a nice group experience, he says. "We are not the only [publisher] putting out games for this audience, and our feeling was that branding them –- giving them a recognizable visual identity and values -- would help the target audience to identify the games and feel more confident in their choice." For many publishers, targeting these audiences on the Wii means lifestyle-oriented titles, often with mini-game collections -- a style of game that has become as prevalent on the Wii as first person shooters on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Currently, though, the public’s appetite for such games seems almost inversely proportional to the reception they receive in the specialist press. There seems no slowdown in overall demand, either, although increasing amounts of product means each individual game is fighting for market share. "While we don’t see the market imploding, we do expect for it to reach critical mass at a certain point," says Talmat. "The audience for casual games is growing – IBISWorld just recently did a study that showed a 5 percent growth in women gamers in the last five years." "But at some point the market for casual games will mature, and then we’ll see that only the best and most innovative games will continue to succeed." In Activision’s case, the first three titles to feature the new "Exclusively Designed for Wii" branding will be World Series 2008, Rapala Fishing Frenzy, and Dancing with the Stars: Get Your Dance On. Although there is no internal studio associated with the brand, Meadows indicates that "several angles" are being explored in terms of future titles. But if the accusations that Western publishers are not properly getting behind the Wii no longer stands up to scrutiny, it is still fair to complain at the paucity of quality, if not quantity. With the possible exception of EA’s Boom Blox, no Western title developed exclusively for the Wii has enjoyed anything close to universal critical acclaim from traditional press. While regular Wii gamers may not have a problem with this, is it an issue with developer recruitment? Are Western developers so focused on working on the most graphically advanced system that they have no time or interest to offer the other platforms? It’s a long held cliché, but comparing the line-ups of the DS and PSP, or the Wii and Xbox 360/PS3, it’s a stereotype that’s hard to refute. But if publishers are having trouble attracting enthusiastic team members and developers they seem unwilling to admit it; a terse "No" is the only comment Meadows is willing to offer on the subject. Ubisoft’s Talmat is also reluctant to acknowledge any problems: "Even on the development side, we’ve got people who have traditionally worked on hardcore titles coming over to work on some of the Games for Everyone titles, and we definitely encourage that." It is not just the nature of the hardware which makes working on the Wii and DS so different, though. Although genres such as the first person shoot ‘em-up and race game are the backbone of other platforms, the Wii in particular has few of either style of game. Some disagree, though. "Core games don’t have to be higher budget and casual games don’t have to only live on the Wii or DS," insists Russell Arons, vice president of marketing for EA Casual Entertainment. "It is about making the right games on the right platform." "You can’t rule out any type of game for a specific platform. You have Spore Creatures on the DS out right now and Need For Speed: Undercover will be on the Wii – two major franchises that live across platforms." In general, though, there still seems a clear divide between the types of games being targeted at Nintendo consoles and those for the Xbox 360 and PS3. Rather than the larger installed userbase of the Wii encouraging a wider range of genres, publisher support may be emphasizing a two-tier video game market -- the less risky and more cost effective Wii and DS games on one side, and the more expensive Xbox 360 and PS3 titles on the other. Although publishers are not quick to deny such a structure, they are adamant that Wii development is not as simple and inexpensive as popularly portrayed. "There’s a misconception that Wii games are cheap to make," insists Arons. "To make quality titles takes an investment in development, so while the teams may be smaller, it still costs money to develop and bring a game to market. That said, it’s about a balanced portfolio for a company like EA." "Our Xbox 360 and PS3 line up as a company is the strongest and deepest it’s ever been; so too is our Wii and DS line-up," continues Arons. "We’re seeing more two console households than ever before, and the industry continues to grow – as long as we make great games that are engaging and fun to play for each of those systems, they can all thrive." "While the technology required to develop on Wii is less than that of PS3 or Xbox 360, the concepting of games that sell is often more difficult with less technology at your fingertips," agrees Activision’s Meadows. He concludes: "We believe all three platforms will have a long life with healthy sales on each and specific niches on each that the other platforms cannot deliver on."

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