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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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Mary Jane Irwin

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