In the world of video games there are words that are seldom used. One word that’s on the top of that list is the word different. The thing with being different is that it can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes a game is different and it’s a breath of fresh air for the industry, on the other hand sometimes it’s too different and winds up seeming more gimmicky than anything else.
In November of 2006, with the launch of the Wii, Nintendo made a statement of being “different.” Different by going completely against the grain at a time when everything was (and still is) about high-def picture and sound, killer big budget apps, and online communities. However one major thing that Nintendo did manage to do was something that the competition couldn’t – convert the non-gamers into believers. Through the magic of Wii Sports, gaming was turned into a family night affair. Smashing right through any demographic barriers that stood in its path. For the first time you had Mom, Dad, and even Grandma and Grandpa gaming together with the kids! Best way to describe this would be: Mass. Hysteria.
Two years worth of “hardware shortages” (A.K.A. good marketing) made things even more interesting as Wii’s didn’t last more than a few hours on store shelves. The combination of being hard to find and priced as an impulse buy, made Nintendo’s console irresistible to any consumer. Now fast forward to present day and 60 million consoles later you would think that Nintendo’s “different” system couldn’t possibly be doing any better, but you would be wrong.
The casual market mass appeal that Nintendo has gained has elevated gaming to new heights but it has done so by turning it’s back against the real movers of games in the industry – the hardcore. These casual players from my own personal experience rarely own more than 3 titles at the most (that’s with Wii Sports Included). If you ask anyone who knows how the industry works they can tell you that the game is won and lost in software sales. And there’s no way in hell that the casual (Wii Sports playing) audience purchases more software than the hardcore. Period. Obviously with the biggest market penetration, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Nintendo’s 1st party titles would outsell any and all other titles on the market, but at the same time third party titles aimed at the hardcore have not managed to even put a dent on the top ten sales list for the console. In other words, if there isn’t a picture of a portly Italian plumber wearing overalls and a red shirt on the cover of your game, you have no chance!
The last major “hardcore” releases were all from Sega. All three of those titles MadWorld, House of the Dead: Overkill and The Conduit severely underperformed to Sega’s standards. Mike Hayes the COO of the company has even gone on to call MadWorld’s sales performance “very disappointing.” With that said, how much longer will 3rd party publishers continue to support Nintendo’s “different” machine? Will the Wii, even after all its successes go the same route as the Gamecube by living off the sales of its 1st party titles?
There are two major 3rd party titles on their way to the Wii this fall. They’re both “on rails” shooters that aim to provide hardcore experiences in a casual package. The first is EA’s Dead Space: Extraction, followed by Capcom’s Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles. I think it’s safe to assume that both are big budget titles from each of their respective publishers, but if they go the same route as Sega’s last 3 efforts in terms of sales I truly believe you won’t see many more titles like these for the Wii, at least from EA or Capcom.
This industry (like any other) is first and foremost about making money. If titles like Dead Space or Resident Evil on the Wii fail to bring in big returns or at least perform at the level of what’s expected, then what’s the point? EA might as well start working on their next Sports Active game, while Capcom can repackage yet another 4-year old title… if they want to make money that is. I guess if we want to play some hardcore games on the Wii we’ll all just have to continue to wait for the next Zelda, Mario, and Metroid game; business as usual for the Nintendo camp.