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3rd parties need to reassess their approach to core games on Wii
Editorial by 
March 27, 2009, 22:56:28
I hate the term “hardcore gamer.” I really do. It's already tough enough to define it as it stands, but it is a constantly evolving term. Yet it continues to pervade industry marketing chatter as if it is some firm and easily definable term, and it has become the most used term of note in respect to 3rd party sales on the Wii. Publishers can accept that 3rd party casual games can and do sell on the Wii, as games like Carnival Games the the Rayman Raving Rabbids series have shown. Publishers can also accept that hardcore 1st party games can sell, though they accept this a bit more hesitantly. But what about the 3rd party hardcore? Is there even a hardcore market on the Wii worth 3rd party time and effort, or are the Nintendo hardcore titles that sell an anomaly based on a very dedicated core Nintendo fanbase who is unwilling to look outside Nintendo to satisfy their hardcore needs? Who exactly is buying the Wii and how willing are these Wii owners to try out hardcore games from 3rd parties? These are the questions many publishers are asking themselves, and with the ever-growing Wii userbase these are questions they cannot ignore, yet they mostly seem content to sit back and hope that others take the first step in determining the answers to these questions. Personally, I wonder if they are asking questions a bit prematurely before dealing with the most important one that all of the rest stem from, which is; “What, exactly, do we mean by a hardcore gamer or a hardcore game?” How do you base your publishing decisions off of a term you haven't fully defined? But alas, I digress. For now we will assume that publishers know what they mean, though I will deal with that a bit further down.

Enter Sega.

In a somewhat shocking move, Sega decided last year to single-handedly back hardcore game development on the Wii, picking up two of the Wii's hottest up-and-coming core games in MadWorld and The Conduit, as well as handing their popular House of the Dead series over to Headstrong Games for a brand new iteration dubbed Overkill. House of the Dead Overkill and MadWorld have recently released with very positive reviews overall, and The Conduit is looking very promising as well.

But publishers don't care about the quality of these games, they care about the sales. Many publishers have openly stated that they are looking very closely at these three games as a gauge of hardcore game potential on the Wii. And so far it is looking merely alright, at best. It is still way too early to comment on the final sales of House of the Dead and MadWorld, especially as many Wii titles have been shown to have evergreen sales, but they don't look to be the strong core sales successes that many were hoping for. House of the Dead Overkill missed the Wii top 10 NPD for February, selling only about 50k units in the few weeks it was out, and MadWorld's early March numbers, though not official yet, are looking a bit better but still unremarkable. Despite the fact that House of the Dead 2/3 Returns also started off a bit slow and went on to sell close to a million copies worldwide, we have entered panic mode. If these games aren't putting up big numbers on the Wii, that pretty much proves that Wii owners have no interest in 3rd party core games, correct?

That would seem to be the logic that is pervading the industry, but is it an accurate gauge of core gaming on the Wii? As much as I love seeing games like these appear on the Wii, I think 3rd party publishers are, perhaps, barking up the wrong tree (so to speak.)

Let's take a step back for a moment. What do House of the Dead Overkill and MadWorld have in common? They're both incredibly gritty, M-rated titles. House of the Dead Overkill just set the record for most swearing in a game.

Keep in mind that this is a 4-5 hour long (short?) game with more swearing than games two to three to infinity times its length, including in those 4-5 hours, apparently, 189 instances of the word f*ck. Meanwhile MadWorld is essentially a game about killing your enemies in the most insane ways possible, bonus points for linking together massive kill combos. You can jam a guys head in a toilet to kill him. You can shove a signpost through his neck. You can pick him up and impale his ass on a spike. And by that, I don't mean “his ass” as in “he took his broke ass down to the unemployment office.” I mean his ass as in... his actual ass. On a spike. I'm not criticizing the games and their content here, I do own MadWorld and it is a very fun game that I would recommend to Wii owners of the appropriate age. But are these type of games really what publishers think they should be looking at to determine if a core market exists on the otherwise very family-friendly Wii?

The hardcore we have been waiting for? Maybe, maybe not.

The Conduit has yet to release so I can't say too much about its sales potential, but I am not expecting a major success there either. I'd love to be proven wrong, but I'm just not seeing it. It seems a bit too much of a “me too” game, as in... these type of games are selling in massive numbers on the Xbox 360 and the PS3, so why not the Wii? But this is the kind of logic publishers are using that is precisely the problem.

So what are you saying, Zero? You don't think there is a core market on the Wii either? That is absolutely NOT what I am saying. What I am saying is that 3rd parties have to stop thinking in terms of what sells on the Xbox 360 and PS3 and start looking at the Wii as its own, unique market. There is a such thing as hardcore gaming that also keeps a family-friendly vibe, and this is where I think publishers can find the most success on the Wii.

I'm not just pulling this opinion out of nowhere either.

Last September a unique little Wii exclusive platformer released called de Blob. Remember platformers? They are what used to sell in massive numbers on all of the consoles before shooters came around and took over the industry. Anyway, de Blob got pretty positive ratings from the press overall. Naturally, we all expected it to drop off into oblivion, because as everyone knows 3rd party games don't sell on the Wii. But it didn't. It sold pretty well, and then it kept selling. Right now it is at over 600k copies sold worldwide and it continues to sell. That is pretty damn good for a lower budget, moderately advertised new IP. Imagine what could happen if a 3rd party would make a AAA platformer on the Wii at the quality level of say... Sony's Ratchet and Clank, and give it some solid marketing to boot? Or what about a true, killer platformer starring Ubisoft's Rayman, whom already has a strong brand recognition on the Wii? Unfortunately, publishers seem to be too busy looking at the sales of super gritty M-rated light gun shooters and action games at the moment to see much else beyond. E-rated or T-rated platformers are considered a dead genre, because they haven't sold much on the leading consoles in recent years. I guess Super Mario Galaxy didn't get the memo.

ARGH, my eyes! Bright colors in a video game? It'll never sell.

Well, that's just one example, it could be one of those strange exceptions, right? Wrong. Here are some recently leaked NPD sales for a few more interesting Wii games of note.

Guitar Hero: World Tour - 1.39M (Wii), 924k (360), 466k (PS3)
Lego Indiana Jones - 563k (Wii), 456k (PS2), 241k (360), 142k (PS3)
Shaun White - 537k (Wii), 271k (360), 141k (PS3)
Tiger Woods 09 - 565k (Wii), 216k (360), 174k (PS3)

While these are not the type of games that immediately come to mind when most people think “core” games, they are not shallow mini-game collections or non-games either. So why did they succeed on the Wii? What do these games all have in common? You guessed it. They're games that core gamers can enjoy yet they still hold a large family-friendly / casual appeal. And they're not just selling on the Wii, they are selling better on the Wii than the Xbox 360 or PS3, in some cases as much or more than both of those consoles combined. Furthermore, both Shaun White and Tiger Woods are sports games, a genre generally considered weak for sales on the Wii outside Wii Sports and other mini-game collections. So what is the appeal of these two franchises on the Wii specifically? I hope it is as obvious to you as it is to me. Both of them are games that utilize motion controls in obvious ways that are easy for anyone to envision, Shaun White with the balance board and Tiger Woods with the Wii remote. And that is another piece of the puzzle, whether or not your motion controls actually add much to your game, they have to seem good on paper (or more importantly, in the mind of the consumer) to act as a selling point for the game. I haven't played Shaun White, so I don't know if standing on a balance board actually makes for a better snowboarding game, but it is something that you hear about and go yeah, that makes perfect sense. And swinging the Wii remote like a golf club is one of the best fits for the Wii remote yet. No wonder these games sell while mindless wagglefests get ignored.

This is, however, where the very definition of a hardcore gamer gets a bit tricky. Do we consider the above games “hardcore” games? Maybe not. Do core gamers enjoy games like the above? They can, and often do. There is clearly a large market on the Wii for games that appeal to both sides of the casual / core equation here, and it completely shocks me that 3rd party publishers aren't exploiting this dual market more. Nintendo understands this better than anyone, and even coined the term “bridge” game to describe it. In fact, one could say it pervades Nintendo's overall development strategy completely to the (no pun intended) core. Even excepting the new casual stuff like Wii Sports / Play / Fit, do you know what the best selling console game of this generation is? If you guessed GTA IV, Call of Duty 4, or Halo 3 you are wrong. Grand Theft Auto IV has sold about 12.5 million copies between the Xbox 360 and PS3 worldwide so far, Call of Duty 4 is at a bit over 11 million, and Halo 3 has sold over 9 million. Yet Mario Kart Wii has sold over 15 million copies, and the crazy thing is, it continues to sell. There is no doubt in my mind that, at this rate, it will be closer to 20 million copies sold by the end of the generation. And it is the very game Nintendo used to coin the term bridge game. Coincidence? I think not.

It seems rather insane to me that 3rd parties mostly ignore this when looking at the core gamer on the Wii. What is the reasoning behind this? Now we get down to what I will call the “otherness” of Nintendo. It's a rather simple explanation publishers constantly use to write off Wii sales potential of anything that isn't a mini-game collection or a non-game, despite more gamer-oriented software from Nintendo putting up incredible sales numbers as well. The explanation is as such; they are Nintendo, they have an “otherness” that we can never have (based on a large core fanbase of Nintendo fans who only buy Nintendo games + other vague, undefinable traits) and their games sell no matter what. The problem with this explanation is it is simply not true. Mario Kart Wii is selling over 15 million copies while the uber hardcore Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn is struggling to hit 500k. And their grittier Disaster: Day of Crisis is pretty much a total bomb. (As an aside, I think trying to determine the full potential for 3rd party game sales on the Wii based off House of the Dead and MadWorld is, somewhat, the equivalent of trying to determine the full potential for 1st party game sales based off Fire Emblem and Disaster Day of Crisis. Neither one makes absolutely any sense.)

Do you ever wonder why Nintendo doesn't release a bunch of super hardcore, M-rated games? I'm not naïve enough to think that Nintendo is really that worried about the children; there has to be a financial reason behind it as well. Could it be that they actually understand their own market and realize that selling to core gamers only is always going to be a more limited market than selling to core gamers + casuals + families (+ kids + females + soccer moms + grandparents + pretty much the entire world?) I really think the success of Mario Kart Wii next to Halo 3 can be explained precisely by just that; Halo 3 sold to a massive amount of core gamers and even the casuals who buy 1 or 2 shooters / sports games a year, but that is where it ended. Mario Kart Wii sold to all the core gamers who have stuck with Nintendo over the years plus the old style casuals plus kids plus the new market and everyone in between. Publishers need to stop looking at Nintendo's success as something completely outside of their own capabilities, and start truly learning from Nintendo. Look at the type of games Nintendo makes, look at what works for Nintendo and what doesn't. Nintendo isn't guaranteed sales on the Wii, as sales of Fire Emblem and Disaster show; they have to make smart decisions and create excellent products based on those decisions to get their massive sales. That's not to say that they don't have a bit of an edge based on name recognition alone, but they're still consistently doing things no other publisher is doing on the Wii, and if they weren't standing head above the rest, the games wouldn't be selling. As a 3rd party publisher, don't simply try to mimic the success either, because your games will almost always fail if they are a mere clone of Nintendo-published game (especially considering the Nintendo games are usually much BETTER.) Guitar Hero is a great example of a publisher doing the right thing, it fits Nintendo's MO of appealing to the core and casuals at the same time, while not directing ripping off a Nintendo product (like countless Wii Sports wannabees,) but instead filling in a gap in the Wii library. And it sells in the multi-millions on the Wii.

There is one last final piece to this puzzle. It is one that I, as a fairly hardcore gamer (with strong casual tendencies) almost hesitate to bring up, but it needs to be said. Appealing to a broader market with your games has another huge benefit; you don't need to stay on the cutting edge of graphical / etc. technology to make the sale. You can create your games with much lower budgets, making a modest sales success into a huge financial success, and a huge sales success into a, well... a spectacular financial success. Unfortunately, many 3rd parties have completely ignored what Nintendo has done overall and tried to rush out mediocre mini-game comps and ridiculously low budget, half-assed games. A few have even seen great success with a couple of these games. But longterm, that's not the answer here, and as the market gets more and more oversaturated with these games, the returns will be less and less. Publishers have to create unique, quality games that a wide variety of Wii owners will actually want to play. EA has seen a massive hit in Boom Blox, which is nearing the 1 million sold mark. Though I can't say for sure, I'd imagine it has to have had a significantly lower budget than your average million seller on the Xbox 360 or PS3, yet EA still managed to hit a high level of quality and gave Wii owners a piece of software that truly stood out from the rest.

Yes, THIS game is going to sell a million copies on the Wii. And it's fun. Go figure.

In the end, the best we can hope for is that publishers are going to look at each project on its own and not try to extrapolate an entire market from a handful of games that, as interesting as they are on their own terms, only shed a tiny bit of light when trying to view the bigger picture. While the sales of games like House of the Dead Overkill, MadWorld, and The Conduit are definitely worth noting, I don't think they even begin to tap into the true potential of the Wii market. 3rd party publishers would be better off looking at the sales of Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, and Super Mario Galaxy and trying to fully understand their widespread, massive appeal instead of simply writing them off as Nintendo games selling because they are Nintendo games. They would also benefit from taking a good look at Guitar Hero, Boom Blox, de Blob, and the Lego game sales as well. The Wii isn't an Xbox 360 or a PS3 and it never will be. But if 3rd party publishers can recognize that fact and try to understand what the Wii actually is, I am certain they can begin to experience some part of the massive sales success that Nintendo themselves have had, not just with their casual games but with games that appeal to gamers all over the spectrum; core, casual and everything in between.

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Posted: 03/27/09, 22:56:28    
Why not sign up for a (free) account and create your own content?

J/K. But I did stop midway through. I'll read the rest later.

I will say that the success of de Blob really shocked me. And it would be a bit premature to pronounce HotD:O and MadWorld DOA. Many of the 'hardcore games don't sell on Wii' arguments seem very specious to me. I just listened to a 1up Yours where they cited Zak & Wiki and Okami as their prime examples. Okami bombed on the PS2, and would Zak & Wiki have blown the roof off on any platform?

I'm VERY curious to see the sales of The Conduit. I think Sega should push all three games together, even as a bundle or package.

Posted by 
 on: 03/27/09, 23:10:09
I agree it is way too early to call the games DOA, but I think, unfortunately, publishers are looking to these games to become million or multi-million sellers like the big "core" games on other consoles do. And that's probably not going to happen. I'm pretty confident they will be sales successes on their own terms, but that's really not what the article is about so much as the 3rd party perception of these type of games DEFINING the core market. I think publishers think these games show the max potential for 3rd party core game sales on the Wii, when it's probably closer to the opposite... they're very gritty, M-rated (often niche) titles on a console with a much different audience in general. They're barely tapping into the potential here.

Don't get me wrong, I do think a grittier core market exists on the Wii. Red Steel sold over a million copies at launch alone, and the Wii userbase has only expanded since then. But I think basing sales potential on the Wii ONLY off of this market and ignoring the (probably) much bigger core E-T market as well as the type of games (bridge) that hit multiple markets at once is a huge mistake.

Posted by 
 on: 03/27/09, 23:15:45
And I didn't manage to get this into the article itself too much, but some examples of "core" franchises I think would do well on the Wii...

Kingdom Hearts
Dragon Quest (oh wait, we ARE getting that one!)
Most of the colorful JRPGs
Okami (the PORT did pretty well)
Katamari Damacy
Rayman / Klonoa (not ports or mini-games)
Pretty much any old school franchise that sticks to its roots, especially in 2D
Ratchet & Clank / Sly Cooper / etc. (yeah yeah, it's Sony, but still)
Ico / Shadow of the Colossus (also Sony... dang)
Hot Shots Golf (I see a pattern here)
LittleBigPlanet (man... Nintendo really needs to steal some of Sony's 2nd parties)

Just some examples. It's weird to me that the Wii doesn't get much stuff like the above, yet gets a ton of grittier projects.

Posted by 
 on: 03/27/09, 23:30:50
Excellent read, will also reply on the cross-post. :p

What amazes me is how easily you explained what 3rd parties need to do... and how obvious it should be to those making the decisions. But no, they just stick their fingers in their ears and ignore Wii, and even use Nintendo's success as a threat to Sony to make their platform more viable! I mean, when I heard that, it just really became obvious that there is a perverse distaste for publishing anything on a Nintendo system.

I can't recall who mentioned it (either here or IGN - I think it was you, Simba), but it just wasn't a part of "The Plan."

Here's hoping that 3rd parties do start to "get it." It seems to be swinging that way this year thus far.

On a side note: what do you (any of you) think is the reasoning for Nippon Ichi or similar companies sticking with Sony's system? In Nippon Ichi's case, it seems very detrimental to their type of games since they don't use much of the system's power at all, and now apparently are fair game for criticism because of that (which is extremely unfair IMO). But I can't imagine Disgaea 3 or any of their projects in general being so reliant on system power that they couldn't port more of them to Wii (Phantom Brave is already coming).

At the very least JRPGs do seem to FINALLY be cmaking their way to the Wii, whcih I didn't think would take this long...

Posted by 
 on: 03/29/09, 01:29:01
(taps microphone) Is this thing on?

I think Zero's analysis was very good. I would refer you to Sean Malstrom's now-famous article, "Birdmen and the Casual Fallacy", as supporting data.

Any game needs three things to be a big hit:

1. Excellent gameplay and controls. See Tiger Woods 10 Wii.
2. Originality and creativity, but not too much. See de Blob.
3. Excellent advertising and promotion to reach Wii gamers. See Boom Blox.

Most of the "hardcore" disappointments have fallen down on one or more of these points. This is why I think that, ultimately, MadWorld *will* be a big seller, because it fulfills these three points.

Most hardcore games fail because of the third point. Aside from the longtime Nintendo loyalists, I'd venture to guess that a much smaller percentage of Wii owners frequent gaming web sites than XBox 360 or PS3 owners. It used to be gaming magazines that served the purpose of reaching hardcore gamers, but they've nearly all died. They've been replaced by gaming web sites, but the fragmentation is much greater, so aside from the monster multi-purpose sites like IGN, there's no center of gravity where a vet can tell a newb, "go to this web site" and they'll agree on one.

So how do publishers reach Wii owners so that they know about the games? One, I think not nearly enough publishers are taking advantage of the Nintendo Channel. True, Wii owners have to download it, but it's free and people can deal with the Shop Channel. It's rare to see videos for T or M rated games on the Nintendo Channel. They're not unheard-of, and T-rated games have even been included in the digest video (specifically, Guitar Hero World Tour).

So I think a big reason for the disparity between hardcore games on Wii versus other consoles is that 360 and PS3 owners are concentrated on-line and so easier to reach by the limited budget a smaller publisher can typically afford. Few publishers have the budgets to advertise on TV, which is the easiest way to reach the mainstream. The trick for 3rd parties, after making good games, is to spend enough money wisely on promotion so that people actually know about them.

David V

Posted by 
 on: 03/29/09, 05:20:33
'Good read. Where do you take Disaster's sales though ? And it's NOT a gritty game, like, at all. It's actually a well made bridge game.'

I take my sales from VGchartz, I know they're not 100% accurate but they're usually close enough for the bigger picture. And I know Disaster isn't even close to House of the Dead or MadWorld gritty, but I mean more along the lines of realistic shooter, terrorists, etc. which for Nintendo themselves is pretty gritty. I might not have been too clear about that, but what I meant was that it is the type of game that if a 3rd party was making it, people would be looking towards to gauge "hardcore" potential. But Nintendo made it, and it bombed, so it is quietly ignored.

Posted by 
 on: 03/29/09, 06:33:16
I lack the testicular fortitude to read all of that at the moment. How is HotD Overkill selling right now?

Posted by 
 on: 03/29/09, 22:19:01
Simbabbad... I'll take your word on it. You know, since us US gamers CAN'T EVEN PLAY DISASTER CAUSE REGGIE HATES US. Well, the non-homebrew/importers, anyhow. This is precisely why I like getting feedback on these articles though, it's almost like you write one knowing not every point you make is going to be fully valid, but getting the back and forth afterwards hashes out the flaws in reasoning a bit. I will say this though, No More Heroes and MadWorld both have a bunch of goofy video game-esque moments, but that doesn't keep them from being gritty either. But yeah, as you have played Disaster and I have not, I'll have to take your word on it.

Junkie... I think HOTD Overkill is actually doing alright. NPDs had it at 49k for February? Which isn't astounding, but I believe 2/3 Returns did better in Europe (though as Simbabbad points out there is no reliable tracking in Europe) and 2/3 Returns was also a very slow burn which continued to sell over the course of months. Vgchartz (yeah yeah) has it at 180k at the moment with somewhat higher European sales. And it hasn't even launched in Japan yet, though 2/3 Returns sold pretty well there.

The problem though, really, is that any of these "core" Wii games selling under a million copies seems to mean failure in most people's eyes. Million seller seems to be the gauge for success for a game, ignoring every other factor, including the main one... budget.

Posted by 
 on: 03/30/09, 08:14:56
I'd imagine that as well. Though it did take them FOREVER to get it finished, I wonder why that was? Then again, they may have finished it long ago and Nintendo just held onto it for awhile. Tough to say. Either way, complete flop or not, it seems odd that NOA never even gave it a chance. Though Fatal Frame 4 seems even odder since I think they did alright in Japan. Did you guys get that game yet?

Posted by 
 on: 03/30/09, 18:27:23
Probably Nintendo was polishing up the controls and core mechanics, like with Eternal Darkness. Monolith didn't really have much experience with that type of game.

Posted by 
 on: 03/30/09, 18:51:23
I guess Europe is getting Fatal Frame 4 after all?

What do you think Simbabbad, is that legit? I'm hesitant of anything that shows up around April 1st.

Anyway, if Europe gets both of these games and NA doesn't I'm going to be very pissed!

Posted by 
 on: 03/31/09, 23:40:40
You guys do get screwed on release dates a lot, but at least the games seem to eventually hit. I don't know WTF is up with NOA this generation. It seems a bit unclear by that ad whether Nintendo or Tecmo is publishing the European version. I think I hope for Tecmo at this point, then it might actually come to the US. I honestly don't even understand why Nintendo decided to publish Fatal Frame 4, I thought it was part of a bigger plan but they did NOTHING with it.

Did you guys get Soma Bringer on DS yet?

Posted by 
 on: 04/02/09, 19:27:27
Last I heard Soma Bringer was a lost cause.

Here's hoping that indeed changes...

Posted by 
 on: 04/15/09, 05:45:03

Posted by 
 on: 01/05/10, 21:33:17  - Edited by 
 on: 01/05/10, 21:41:23
Liar, you just wanted to bump your little novel there. :P

PS. De Blob is awesome. Go buy it if you haven't.

Posted by 
 on: 01/05/10, 21:52:13
I dunno, honestly I think this same stuff has to be said in EVERY 3rd party sales debate. Without context, talking pure numbers is meaningless.

Posted by 
 on: 01/05/10, 22:44:46
I can back up Simbabbad's assertion earlier in the thread that Disaster is really not a very gritty game at all. It's like a summer blockbuster movie-kind of game; very different from stuff like Metroid or Resident Evil and whatnot. With the right marketing, I think it would have done well in the US. But then again, almost anything could have done well with the right marketing, but that never seems to be the case.

EDIT: typo

Posted by 
 on: 04/17/10, 03:18:18  - Edited by 
 on: 04/17/10, 03:18:58
I wonder why Boom Blox 2 underachieved.

Posted by 
 on: 04/17/10, 03:39:29
There was some analyst who was saying that Wii sequels frequently sell less than their predecessor, which is usually not the case with video game sequels. The analyst said that the Wii audience doesn't feel that they need more of something, because they already 'have' that experience. Something like that, about how 'casual' gamers are actually somewhat shrewder and more discerning than 'hardcore' gamers, who happily fork over their non-refundable cash for useless DLC and shit.

Posted by 
 on: 04/17/10, 04:35:05
I wonder where Wii Fit plus fits into that analysis.

Posted by 
 on: 04/17/10, 04:47:43
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