Who is invited to party with Mario? Since Japanese developer Suda51 ('Killer7') expressed disappointment about his latest title 'No More Heroes', a Wii exclusive, selling below expectations, it appears that the Mario party is a fairly exclusive event. "Only Nintendo titles are doing well," he said. Although he later mitigated his criticism, the question remains: how profitable is the Wii platform for third party publishers and particularly for exclusive content?
Nintendo has now answered to that criticism. And they agree: While the platform itself is continuing to outsell the competition, the bulk of the software sold is Nintendo's own.
'We believe the situation will change,' says Japanese giant
Nintendo (...), saying that it believes the situation is only temporary.
According to the company's third-quarter report meeting transcription, translated by Develop, the problem is simply one of the Wii still being a young system - and that, as such, Nintendo's internal teams currently have an significant advantage.
"When we develop new hardware at Nintendo, we do so as a collaboration between the hardware development teams and the software development teams. Our software sales percentage is currently high because our internal teams teams know the Wii's special characteristics best, and they started development quite a bit before the Wii's release. However, we believe that eventually that will change," said the firm.
"If you look at the data for our third quarter you'll see that, out of the 14 Wii titles that shipped over a million units, 11 of those were our titles. However, if you look at the 50 titles that shipped over a million units on DS, only 28 of those are ours.
"We identified the same thing in the DS' first period, and the situation continues to change little by little. For the Wii too, we believe that as time passes, the proportion of high-selling titles that come from our licensees will increase."
Riding the slipstream
Nintendo editors are talking about a ´disturbing trend´. But while the allegations need to be taken seriously, it is important to bear in mind that Nintendo simply has the best software portfolio of any first party publisher. If you are competing against Metroid, Mario, Zelda and Pokèmon you need to bring out bigger guns than would need to shoot down a Halo or Ratchet and Clank.
The third party publishers are obviously aware of this and, I am sure, this is where the real problem lies. Their response is all too often to churn out cheap Nintendo rip-offs - currently casual titles and mini-games - to comfortably ride in the first party slipstream.
Take the latest announcement from Eidos, for example:
Monster Lab is a new RPG franchise for the Wii and DS, inviting players to create monsters which are then sent into battle with other players.
The game was first talked about at the Leipzig Game Convention last year, during which time the developers called it 'Pokemon meets Tim Burton'.
You would think that the highly successful Pokèmon franchise and the less fortunate Spectrobes title would have exhausted that specific market. But Eidos, in this instance, seems keener on imitating success than on running the risks that come with a truly fresh intellectual property or even a completely new genre. Just that, though - a fresh start - also bears the greatest potential rewards in this industry. Pokèmon and its plethora of spin-offs, in this and other media, is the prime example here.
Of course, ´Monster Lab´ could turn out to become a fresh game. Too little is known about the franchise to be sure. But I am sceptical and justifiedly so.
Pointing the finger
True, Nintendo has had a shaky relationship with third party publishers in the past and this tarnishes their reputation still today. With 'Eternal Darkness', the company had one of the finest titles in gaming history exclusive to their Gamecube - but it chose not to market it to a mass audience. It remained a hidden gem and Denis Dyack, head of Canadian developer Silicon Knights, took his business elsewhere. But Nintendo has made quite clear that they learned from those mistakes.
Recently, I have spoken to a number of industry people who have expressed strong sentiment that the Wii simply was not the right platform for a 'Grand Theft Auto' or a 'Metal Gear Solid'. Why, then, is it the right platform for a 'Manhunt', a 'Godfather' and 'Scarface', a 'Red Steel' and two outstanding 'Resident Evil' games, all of which sell very well?
The current situation is mostly of the third parties' own making. It simply involves great risks to develop an original IP exclusive to any console, but especially one whose control scheme makes it that much harder to port to other platforms, should the title fail to sell as an exclusive. And rather than meet the challenge and reap potentially big rewards, the developers prefer to hedge their bets.
But why fret? Wii is the clear market leader in every territory now and its sales data suggests that it will stay on top for a long time. The platform also enjoys phenomenal software tie ratios, a fact which should allay any fears of Wii owners being largely casual gamers. Sure, you need to compete with the biggest franchises in gaming. But the tie ratio and experience with the DS suggests that Wii owners will buy good games, regardless. And there are plenty of great ideas still up for grabs, if developers were willing to go all-out on the platform. Most do not. But for them, it's all too easy to blame Nintendo for poor sales of a third party product, rather than to admit to their own lacklustre, half-arsed approach.
If Wii is not the platform to exclusively commit the bulk of your development resources to then I don't know what is. It is even easy to dream up the kind of Wii games that would sell like hotcakes. It is never easier to create truly original games than shortly after the introduction of new hardware that facilitates revolutionary new control schemes.
Where is that exclusive Star Wars game I was promised almost two years ago? Lightsaber action was every gamer's knee-jerk reaction to the Wii controller and, while 'Force Unleashed' will feature more exclusive content than expected on Nintendo's platform, it seems as if we still won't get that most obvious type of Star Wars gameplay. Why is LucasArts saying no to free money? I mean, which Wii owner wouldn't buy such game?
And where are the first-person sword-fighting games? Where is my virtual pooltable? Almost any game that maps Wiimote movement onto any three-dimensional object on-screen and in real-time would create a market of its own. And where are 3D puzzlers in the style of 'Blockout'? Where is a 'Guitar Hero' / 'Rock Band' type game that makes full use of the Wii's motion controls? It's not as if Nintendo's first party portfolio has got every sensible option covered. Far from it.
"Who dares wins"
"Who dares wins" is the motto of the Britsh crack military unit Special Air Service (SAS). But it could just as easily be the motto of more game developers when it comes to committing their resources to Wii.
Dear developers. You all are invited to the Mario party, contrary to what you may believe. You just need to bring a bottle. And don't bring that cheap stuff, hear?
EDIT There is some great further reading over at Infendo. In their article, entitled ´Why do elite development teams avoid Wii?´ they pose that very question. Derek also compiled some great quotes I have not come across yet. Go check it out.
Sources: CVG, Develop Magazine