IGN recently published an article / interview with developer n-Space about a little Wii game that could… if only a publisher would back it. The game is called Winter, and frankly, it looks a whole hell of a lot more interesting than most of the games publishers are backing on the Wii, despite the fact that the only available media is still (and maybe forever) in early form. If n-Space are to be believed, it received a fair amount of publisher interest at first, but in the end the marketing teams just couldn’t get behind it. Which of course brings up the question; why? What exactly is keeping publishers from taking risks on interesting “core” IPs on the Wii?
Image courtesy of IGN.Com
It’s an unfortunate truth that over two years into the Wii, 3rd party publishers still are fairly clueless on how to approach it. The success of Wii Sports has brought about a whole host of mini-game collections, but aside from a few scattered titles here and there, we really haven’t seen much from 3rd parties worth getting excited about. Nintendo themselves have managed to find massive success in core (and “bridge”) titles like The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, and Mario Kart Wii, but there are few 3rd party Wii titles that can even begin to compare to these games. 3rd parties seem content to keep trying to knock off Wii Sports, while ignoring the bigger picture.
Of course there still remains the stigma that 3rd parties don’t sell on the Wii, and even moreso that 3rd party core games don’t sell on the Wii. This is an argument that is getting harder and harder to support, however. Recent NPD data has shown that the Wii has finally surpassed the Xbox 360 (and is far ahead of the PS3) in 3rd party game sales month to month in NA. In Japan the Wii is and has been the 3rd party leader for quite awhile now. This leaves Europe as the last of the big 3 regions, where accurate data is difficult to come by; yet the Wii outsells the 360 by an even wider margin in Europe than in NA, so I’d imagine it leads in 3rd party game sales in that region as well. Some of this is the non-gamer phenomena of course, but only some of it. Call of Duty and Shaun White Snowboarding both charted for the Wii over December, outselling every PS3 game except its version of Call of Duty, and many of the big 360 games. And of course Guitar Hero still finds the Wii as its lead SKU. I do not think we can explain this away by screaming “It’s the Soccer Moms!”
It’s no longer a secret (though many are content to hide their heads in the sand) that a lot of publishers and developers are struggling in the modern climate of the industry. Recently released numbers have shown that Nintendo was responsible for 99% of the growth of the industry last year, and that the vast majority of publishers actually saw a decline in revenue over the same period. And if you take a look at stock prices for major publishers like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, THQ, etc. since the start of the generation it’s not a pretty sight, while Nintendo’s stocks have seen a sharp increase. Yet publishers are still hesitant to follow Nintendo’s lead. Whether because they invested heavily in HD technology, or because they still believe one huge hit will save them, or because they are simply scared of change, they keep clinging to the old ways. But those ways are simply not working, and more and more game companies are hurting for their stubbornness.
We have recently seen the death (or close enough) of both Factor 5 and Free Radical, directly due to underperforming big budget HD games. Sure, they may have bet on the wrong horse with Sony exclusives, but Silicon Knights and their Xbox 360 exclusive Too Human didn’t fare much better, and that is despite having Microsoft behind it. Meanwhile, we are seeing more and more Wii titles that, starting off with modest numbers, just keep on selling and selling, eventually turning into a respectable success. And what people seem to forget is that development costs for similar quality products on the Wii are simply cheaper than they are on the bigger HD consoles. It’s unclear exactly how much cheaper, but I have seen numbers that range from half as much to 1/5th as much, and more. Evidence of this can be seen in the response to the sales of the Wii’s niche darling, No More Heroes. While the media and gamers complained about more weak sales for a Wii exclusive “core” game, Suda and his team threw a party over the success of their most profitable game yet. Why would you throw a party for a game that barely cracks 400k in sales? It’s simple. You keep your development costs down, you keep your overhead down, and those sales numbers can make for a very solid profit. We are now seeing No More Heroes 2 and an EA-backed Suda / Mikami original IP; this is not exactly the response that Factor 5 and Free Radical received, despite their games selling in the same range. We have seen with in other Wii games as well; Trauma Center new Blood, Zack & Wiki, Okami, Boom Blox, de Blob… though none of these games have broken the million sales barriers, they kept their dev costs low and turned into respectable successes. This is the kind of thing that is possible on the Wii, while titles like Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space on the PS3 and 360, despite selling close to a million or more, find it difficult to bring in real returns. The Wii may not have as many breakout 3rd party hits as the publisher favorite Xbox 360 does, but it doesn’t have as many big budget failures either. And despite the impression many in the media (and on forums) like giving off, most of the quality 3rd party games on the Wii have seen respectable sales. In an industry where one big budget mistake can kill a developer, perhaps it is time for publishers and developers to start looking at a business model that allows for more mistakes? After all, there isn’t a single publisher out there who can absolutely guarantee that the hits keep coming. Well, outside Nintendo anyway.
However, on occasion a 3rd party does break out with a hit core title on the Wii, and then what happens? Capcom found early success on the Wii with a port of Resident Evil 4 and the brand new Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles, both of them eventually breaking the million copies sold barrier. You would think that this would make more publishers think outside of their very small boxes and realize there is a strong core market on the Wii just waiting for games that their soccer moms wouldn’t go anywhere near, but what we saw instead was a bit more predictable. “Hey, zombie killing games sell on the Wii!” And so comes House of the Dead 2/3 Returns, House of the Dead Overkill, Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers (yes this is a real game) and the most likely now cancelled Zombie Massacre. Even Capcom themselves, riding the zombie success, decided to port over some more Resident Evil games and bring over the Xbox 360 hit Dead Rising. For a console that publishers seem hesitant to admit has any kind of market outside uber casual non-gamers, the Wii sure gets a lot of zombie killing games! But of course, this is simply 3rd parties once again ignoring the bigger picture, while latching onto a very small piece of it.
What is interesting about all of this is there seems to be a large gap in the type of games 3rd party publishers support on the Wii. On the one hand you have the super casual E for everyone games, which are generally shovelware, but have seen some solid entries in Boom Blox and the Raving Rabbids and MySims series. On the other hand we have actually seen a fair amount of very gritty, more adult-oriented games, from the many aforementioned zombie killing games to Manhunt 2, the Godfather, Scarface, No More Heroes, and the upcoming Tenchu 4 and MadWorld. Why this dichotomy in publisher support? There seems to be a huge market publishers are completely and inexplicably ignoring, that whole E-T bridge/core market Nintendo hits so consistently with its Mario, Zelda, and Smash Brothers games. Where is the 3rd party answer to this? What about Maximo, Beyond Good and Evil, Katamari Damacy, Mega Man, Kingdom Hearts? Oddly enough, despite the fact that it didn’t look too hot at first showing, Capcom’s Spyborgs at least seems like a step in the right direction, if indeed it is an A-level production as they claim it to be.
Alas, I could go on forever. But I digress. Back to Winter.
I’m trying not to get too worked up over publishers ignoring this game. There are a million reasons a single game may never see the light of day, and n-Space isn’t exactly a developer with the best track record in outputting quality games. However, their recent handheld Call of Duty games seem like a step up from their previous projects, and even in early form Winter definitely looks like the type of game that the Wii was built for, and worth taking a risk on (a low budget, modest risk.) I highly suggest signing the (unfortunately poorly worded) petition below to show your support for unique concepts like Winter. Sure, it may be unlikely that an online petition can change anything, but I’d rather take 5 seconds out of my day to make a small ripple than sit around doing nothing.
Who knows, maybe someday 3rd party publishers will broaden their horizons, support some solid projects, and see the same type of success Nintendo does on the Wii. Sega, of all publishers, seems to kind of get it lately, as do Marvelous and X-Seed. And as for the rest? We shall see.
'We have had some new and revived interest from publishers for the title, but it’s not something we’ve aggressively pursued just yet. n-Space is currently in the midst of closing three titles - 7 skus plus localizations - so we’re pretty swamped right now. We’ll start some more aggressive follow-up in the near future. I suspect we will have some interesting conversations.' - n-Space president Dan O’Leary