Third parties 'misjudged' the Wii

RedOctane, EA and 2K mull over best practice for Nintendo's family machine

"Ports don't work on the Nintendo Wii" - at this point in the console's life-cycle, that phrase is considered common knowledge by most in the industry. However, rarely do a group of industry executives gather to acknowledge they misjudged the Wii - and its audience.

But that's what happened during a session at this year's MI6 marketing conference in San Francisco, with RedOctane, Electronic Arts and 2K all pitching in on the subject.

"We didn't realise the Wii was going to come on so strong," said Kai Huang, co-founder of RedOctane. "It took us a while to realise it was going to be a major force."

RedOctane began its Wii patronage by porting its titles from other platforms, but that method didn't generate the sales the company had expected.

Now, Guitar Hero is now one of the best-selling third-party franchises on the console and it's important for games to be designed specifically for the Wii, says Huang, noting that it's a big priority for RedOctane.

Similarly, Electronic Arts ignored the Wii when it first launched, and most of its games were ports - something which EA quickly discovered did not sell well to the Wii's audience.

"This is the first year we've thought we had a really good line up," said the company's chief operating officer John Pleasants. Such titles include EA Sports Active and Grand Slam Tennis - both new intellectual properties that will help move EA "out of its comfort zone," he added.

Part of the problem is publishers are still coming to grips with the Wii's audience, needing to adapt their message to a consumer that does not live on enthusiast gaming sites, Pleasants continued, citing Boom Blox and his belief that the game wasn't marketed correctly.

Not only did it fail to target the right audience (it needed to aim younger), he explained, but the conversation about the game didn't take place where the game's audience lived - it needed viral marketing.

Now Electronic Arts is taking the conversation to the consumer via interactions on Facebook and YouTube.

Meanwhile 2K president Christoph Hartmann said that he thought its title Carnival Games was the perfect storm, but admitted that one secret to the game's success was that 2K brought the title to market early, so it had a chance to establish the brand.

Another, he said, was that it assigned the project to a well-known casual game developer.

But perhaps most importantly the packaging indicated exactly what the game experience would be, given that many Wii consumers are impulse purchasers, he added, and that it's important to convey fun to consumers.

Part of Carnival Games' success was luck, he says, but now it can be built into a franchise.

Moving forward, Hartmann predicted it will be more difficult to recreate successes on the Wii. Success on the platform will depend on a publisher's continued ability to generate word-of-mouth buzz.

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Latest comments (4)

Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games13 years ago
I think that trying to make games on wii like you do for the rest of the platforms is not such a good idea.

wii is a completely different beast to master as a platform, and calls for different styles of gameplay, experimentation, and adaptation to different kind of demograhics from a developer and publisher side of things.

That entails a big risk which not everyone is able or willing to take. But if you play your cards right, understand what wii is all about and manage to give to the people what they are looking for from a wii experience, then you have a very good chance of success.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.13 years ago
Another part of the problem is that publishers do not put as much marketing and retail effort into their Wii games. They think that the lowered development cost means lower everything else cost as well and that doesn't work.

They're also over saturating the market. I believe 400 or so games launched on Wii in Q4 last year. That's eating your own pockets.
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Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D13 years ago
Am I imagining it, or did I read somewhere recently that the Wii is the console that is least used by people after purchase?
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.13 years ago
Fran, you read correctly that the average daily use is lowest on Wii. The variation between the consoles is just a few minutes difference per day but it's not limited to just game playing so all movie watching on the PS3 and X360 counted towards the totals.

However it was also noted that Wii is used most at 20.7% of all console play time. PS2 still leads with 23.7%. X360 found 3rd at 18.2% and the PS3 pulled in just 9%.*

Another final note: more 3rd party software was sold on Wii last year than on either of the HD consoles.** The over saturation of their wares, poor marketing and retailer support is what is limiting their sales individually.

I'll provide a fictional example (read: not actual figures) to demonstrate the issue.

3rd party software sales:
Wii - 100 million units total / 400 titles = 250,000 sales per title.
X360 - 70 million units total / 150 titles = 466,666 sales per title.
PS3 - 50 million units sold total / 100 titles = 500,000 sales per title.

Now as you can see the Wii can sell more overall 3rd party software yet publishers will actually complain about sales on Wii without realizing they are the culprit for reducing their own sales. True that development costs on Wii are lower and in the above scenario it might not be a bad deal for all involved but again those are for demonstration purposes only.

If Wii publishers want their sales to go up, apply the following tips.

1. Enough with the C teams. If I see another Cruis'N-esque game developed on Wii I'm going to kill a unicorn. Wii development is already cheaper by default, don't cheapen it further and then cry like a baby when gamers wallets give you the middle finger.

2. Marketing. You publishers know how to market PS3 and X360 games...apply the same ideas to a Wii game for once. Rarely do we see the same marketing efforts across all platforms.

3. Retail. If they aren't carrying your game, it isn't going to sell. I recall some retailers not carrying Deadly Creatures right away. Or only ordering a small volume of CoD: WaW. If you don't get them excited for your game and buying lots of it and giving it good shelf positioning, it isn't going to sell. Spend a few bucks on plane tickets to talk with retailer reps and get them to understand why they order X amount of copies more than your competitors games.

4. Pacing. You and a thousand other publishers were caught with your pants down regarding the success of Wii. That doesn't mean you need to rush out 50 licensed sequel me-too products. All you did was confuse the consumer, alienate more dedicated gamers and reduce your own revenue margins. Equate ti to the current housing market. It got flooded with more units than the demand warranted with high prices.

5. Nintendo is not your enemy. Analyst Doug Creutz of Cowen & Company spoke a major logical fallacy recently by claiming 3rd parties only have 50% of the Wii's addressable market space. I've heard a lot of BS from analysts but this one rates up there among the worst. To claim only 50% is available is to assume that all Wii owners are obligated to purchase a 1st party (or Guitar Hero/Rock Band game as he included them for some odd reason) game prior to purchasing any 3rd party games. This is different than Nintendo getting ~50% of actual sales. They do so because of quality products and brand recognition but there is no rule stipulating a gamer must buy a Nintendo (or GH/RB) game first or at all. Therefore the addressable market space is still 100% with respect to quality, marketing, retail support and demand.

Sorry for the long post and thanks to those with the patience to read it all.

* - Revised Neilsen data for Jan 2009. US.
** - NPD data for 2008. US.
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