Trim Sails
Games Need Not Be Fun

Curse of the Wii

For years, I complained about the publishers and console manufacturers' manifest ignorance of the real barriers that were preventing games reaching a wider audience. There were two essential problems - firstly, publishers (and developers) making more of the games they themselves enjoyed, in blatant disregard for the needs and wants of the audience at large, and secondly, the fear and confusion engendered in many people by the hugely complex controller devices we were using.

The first issue remains a problem, but the second issue has been solved to a great extent by Nintendo. The Wii controller is simple, accessible and non-threatening. I continue to applaud Nintendo for this achievement.

But only now am I coming to see the other side of the coin.

Because now that a channel to the wider audience has been opened, publishers are starting to realise that they need to invest in more Wii products, and fewer games of the kind we used to play. And this is the Curse of the Wii - that it is taking the money away from new games that the gamer hobbyists might want and enjoy.

It is commercially correct that this should happen - we can't go on funnelling billions of dollars into a system where just one in every twenty games are collectively responsible for half of the revenue, as this is and was commercial suicide. But let us not forget that there was an audience there being reached, we were just spending too much doing it.

The Hardcore gamers, or gamer hobbyists, are justifiably concerned that Nintendo is screwing them, and Nintendo is not blind to this concern. Although, as Corvus and others discuss, Nintendo has already paid its fans in full by making the great games that they have already made. It is not that the Hardcore gamers will not get more of the games they want - they are still the people handing over the bulk of the money at the most regular intervals - it is just that the disparity in development spending will now begin to rectify itself, choking experimentation in games with gamer hobbyist appeal.

If the publishers were smart and capable of discerning between products within the same genre on a basis other than graphics, the situation might work out to our benefit - fewer games made could mean more games of a higher standard. But publishers largely lack this acuity - and to be fair, no-one is so brilliant as to be able to judge these matters with perfect accuracy in advance. So instead they're doing the safest thing: not making further games in genres which are known to be populated.

So don't expect many new and interesting games in the FPS, strategy or RPG  genres any time soon - because publishers are afraid of these now. If there are already games being made in these genres, which there always is because these are well populated niches, publishers are reluctant to spend money on new titles - even potentially innovative titles, which (to be honest) most publishers have no means of identifying anyway.

The Curse of the Wii is the resetting of scales which previously caused so much money to be wasted on poor quality games targeting the gamer hobbyist, so that now all that money will be wasted on games targeting the casual mass market player, many of which will be designed in total ignorance of the play needs of this audience.

I guess this reinforces the old adage "be careful what you wish for"...

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I'm going to be seriously amused if the market totally inverts with major publishers churning out massive amounts of derivative copycat casual pablum and leaving indie studios to serve the "hardcore" market with original and innovative FPS and RPG titles!

And yet games that combine those design patterns with decent, transparent, one-button UI designs (arguably even simpler than the Wiimote) are kicking ass as freely distributed web-based games.

Corvus: can the indie market *afford* to make FPS and RPG titles to the standard the gamer hobbyists now want? I'm not convinced this is so.

Patrick: how many companies are making good turnover off these freely distributed web-based games? And how many will the market support before they become saturated? The web dream is still a mirage to me...

I'm more interested in how do we bring those people into the faith.

The Wii seems to be filled with the novelty minigame format games at the moment. There doesn't seem to be any link from there to the hardcore. (No I'm not bitter about Paper Mario still not being released in the UK).

I'm able to play Supreme Commander because I started on the original C&C and every RTS in between was an extra step in complexity. Some genre's need a reboot, like with say AdvanceWars redid turn based strategy.

Interesting point. You can see a culture clash developing between the veteran gamers on one hand, and the mass of new Wii converts on the other. Both will demand different games, and both will roll their eyes when mention is made of a new FPS / party game, depending on group affiliation.

Or will it be that bad? I've been thinking about this a touch. Firstly, I've been playing Puzzle Quest, which is a crazy blend of casual (puzzle) and hardcore (RPG) game types. I can't say I know any casual gamers for whom this game has become a gateway drug, but I could see it happening. It definitely appeals to the hardcore, or some of them anyways.

Secondly, I was thinking about Oblivion, a hardcore game if ever there was one. One of the biggest problems with it - on the console, anyway - is the control scheme, especially for spellcasting. There just aren't enough buttons on the controller to make real-time combat comfortably compatible with a deep spell list. But that could go away with the Wiimote. You could have different gestures for each spell, meaning as long as you remembered them all you could have as many spells on hand as you wanted. Plus, it would be - well, realistic isn't the word, but let's say more in the spirit of the game. So maybe it's possible that the wiimote and other new, non-gamepad controllers may forge control schemes that are both deeper and easier to use.

It's not clear to me that there is a problem here. There is no lack of so-called hard core games coming out on other platforms that the so-called hard core probably own anyway. Even on the Wii there are things like Resident Evil 4.

But, assuming for the moment that there *is* a problem and the so-called hard core *are* being shafted, I find it hard to care. The criteria by which Nintendo should be judged is on the quality of the experience they bring to the table, and they have shown a consistent ability to do this even when the so-called hard core was writing off the major franchises as primary-colored kiddie games.

I don't think Nintendo needs those people and I don't think Nintendo should cater to them. I think they are doing just fine.

Hmm, should read my comments more carefully. By "this" I meant excellent game experiences.

Chris: I think that a dry marketplace will will alter the expectations of the hardcore market a bit. Plus, there are already some successful indie FPS and RPGs in the marketplace.

psu: Well said!

Excellent points all around!

Colm: "Some genres need a reboot" - Amen! As you allude in your comment, the genre conventions have become so entrenched that it perfectly serviceable play patterns become inaccessible. But both Advance Wars and (to a lesser extent) Halo demonstrate that this process of streamlining and re-evaluation does take place. I hope to see more in the future!

D: "So maybe it's possible that the wiimote and other new, non-gamepad controllers may forge control schemes that are both deeper and easier to use." I sincerely hope that this is the case, and it certainly has the potential! But as an entirely new interface device, it may take a while to get the hang of developing for it, of course. But I am enthusiastic about what *could* be achieved, at the very least.

psu: I should perhaps explain that this piece was motivated by my recent dealings with publishers - not on an examination of the marketplace. Like you, I do not expressly care about "the hardcore being shafted" per se - but I do care about interesting projects struggling to get signed on platforms other than Wii. That affects me quite personally! :) The hidden message here is that the Wii is actually making it hard for me to sign Reluctant Hero - and this to me is supremely ironic. But the plus side is that I am now able to put forward other inventive games which previously publishers would have stared at blankly. I am, in many ways, caught between the two extremes on this one!

Fair enough. I wasn't quite perceptive enough to realize the difference in point of view there.

psu: I wouldn't question your perspicacity in this case; I purposefully concealed this aspect in the post - I must surely bear some of the responsibility. ;)

My $.02 (long):

During the 2007 E3 Conference Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime was quoted as saying that "Nintendo is not a fad. Nintendo is the future."

Source:
http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?aid=26628

The immediate question in my mind is "Do we want that future?"

The issue at hand isn't the popularity of the Nintendo platforms. It's undeniable that the Nintendo DS and Wii have sold millions upon millions of units. It has to do with their target audience.

Nintendo believes they can broaden the user base of games by selling to non-gamers. While this strategy seems to be working for their hardware, I have to wonder if we want the game industry guided by skewing to people who aren't interested in games. Would, say, Major League Baseball re-do their franchising to attract people who aren't interested in baseball? Would Toyota re-engineer their vehicles to attract people who don't drive? Would the film industry spend millions making films for people who don't like watching movies?

What is wrong with wanting to do the best you can for people who enjoy, play and most importantly actually buy your product?

If you look at the titles Nintendo is producing for both the DS and Wii you will see, according to aggregations of review sites available at Metacritic, that the vast majority of titles produced for these two platforms are junk. In their drive to attract casual gamers Nintendo, either accidentally or intentionally, has driven the over-all quality of games on their platforms down.

With the default criteria of 5 reviews or more, Metacritic lists 263 Nintendo DS games.

http://www.metacritic.com/games/ds/scores/

Of those 263 titles only 2 average 90% or above and 35 average between 80% and 90%. This means that out of the entire library only 14.07% could be considered "above average". If these games were children in
school they would be your A and B students.

At the other end of the scale there are 81 titles scoring in the 60% range and a further 84 games under 60%. 165 below average games? That's 62.74% of the entire library which is more or less unplayable. Again, to use a school analogy, almost 2/3rds of that particular class would be held back for poor grades.

Surely the Wii would be different? After all, it's a console and not a hand-held.

Again with the default criteria of 5 reviews or more, Metacritic lists 69 Wii games.

http://www.metacritic.com/games/wii/scores/

Of those 69 again there are 2 averaging 90% or more and a further 4 scoring in the 80s. This gives us 6/69 or 8.69% of the library being above average. This is actually WORSE than the DS numbers.

Looking to the low end of the scale the Wii has 20 titles in the 60% range and 25 titles below 60%. That's 45/69 games that are not worth buying or 65.22% of the Wii library that's sub-par. Again, a worse ratio than on the Nintendo DS.

Running the numbers at Gamerankings.com (another meta review site -
http://www.gamerankings.com) returns similar figures. At 5 reviews or more they show 261 DS titles, 34 above average (13.03%) and 163 below average (62.45%). On the Wii side they have 69 games with 7 above average (10.14%) and 41 below average (59.42%).

Is this the future that Nintendo is going to force gaming into? A future where for every game that's worth buying there are between 4.5 and 7.5 games that are utter garbage?

When Nintendo says they have 140 DS titles and 100 Wii games coming out by the end of the year do they want us crunching the numbers in our heads to determine how many of those will actually be worth buying?

Both Microsoft and Sony have been derided for catering to "hard core" instead of casual gamers, but running their libraries through the same analysis shows a much higher level of quality.

Xbox 360 - 213 games, 58 above average (27.23%), 98 below average (46.01%).
Source: http://www.metacritic.com/games/xbox360/scores/

Playstation 3 - 54 games, 18 above average (33.33%), 20 below average (37.04%).
Source: http://www.metacritic.com/games/ps3/scores/

Playstation Portable (PSP) - 289 games, 47 above average (16.26%), 158 below average (54.67%).
Source: http://www.metacritic.com/games/psp/scores/

I can only speak for myself here, but I feel that life is too short to play poor quality video-games and I have no intention of waiting around for Nintendo to finally release the next game that might be worth my time. If this is the future Nintendo sees then they can have it.

I would easily consider myself one of those elitist hardcore gamer 'hobbyist'. The keyword for me there is gamer. I play games, just like a casual would, and just like others like me do. The one thing that differentiates me between the casuals and the hardcore is WHY I play games.

From what I can discern, these new beasts, these...casuals...they play to have fun. Its like cornhole. Its damn simple yet a blast to play...for half an hour. At most.

I play because interactive story telling in a rich and colourful presentation mix together to give me an experience I can't get anywhere else. Save for a few titles, I think someone mentioned Resident Evil 4, the Wii cannot and will not be able to provide this for me. It just seems to me that it boils down to different tastes. Lets see where the votes are, after all, its us gamers that vote with our wallets to see what comes next.

Typical hardcore responses, from both Jordan and Kris. The blinkered "we'll vote with our wallets" viewpoint is obviously flawed--Nintendo is getting voted on by whole new demographics of wallets.

There is no reason the Wii "cannot and will not" be able to provide rich and colorful storytelling. Unless by "rich and colorful" you mean "photorealistic." If that's the case perhaps the flaw isn't with the Wii, but with a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of story.

Metacritic and Gamerankings numbers ought to be relied onto support any arguements very carefully. The fact that these sites gather the opinions of the traditional gamer certainly ought to be taken into consideration. Perhaps the numbers are skewed a bit?

Additionally, it's way too early to make final judgment on the Wii. The Xbox 360 certainly had its fair share of disappointing titles in its first year. Add the development learning curve of the Wiimote and you've got to expect some shaky titles.

There are plenty of compelling sounding titles on the horizon, for both the Wii and the DS. Titles which ought to appeal to the traditional gamer, tiles which ought to appeal to the new-traditional gamers and title which just might appeal to both.

Those are some pretty impressive numbers, Jordan. To help put things in real perspective, though, it would be nice if someone would run the PS2 through the same wringer. I'll give it a shot.


By using the exact same criteria used in those numbers, we find that 310 out of 1461 games listed throughout the Playstation 2's run averaged above 80. That gives the PS2 a hit ratio of 21.2% through it's currently long life.


Here's where it gets interesting. The PS2 was launched in 2000, so let's consider only games that were released in 2000-2001 to see how well things looked one year after launch. By my count, 53 games scored above average in that one year. I don't know how many PS2 games were released in that one year (I haven't come across any reliable list) but I'm not about to count them one by one.


Of course, percentages don't tend to mean a lot in this case. For example, the Gamecube's smaller library means that it had a higher percentage of quality games. Same goes for the Xbox. Here are your numbers according to metacritic:


Percentage of games that scored 80 or higher:
PS2: 310/1461 = 21.2%
GC: 127/502 = 25.2%
XBOX: 220/855 = 25.7%

Take those numbers how you will.

I, for one, see the current generation's numbers as a magnified attempt by publishers to cash in quickly on the most popular console. A trend that was not uncommon with the PS2. It's not necessarily the future that Nintendo is bringing to us. It's likely just more of the same from publishers. I am actually willing to bet that putting all consoles by generation through the same wringer would yield similar results: more crap gets put on the more popular console.

Many thanks for the comments everyone! It's an interesting topic, and it's good to see a variety of perspectives.

One must be wary using review scores as a metric of quality (although I do this myself from time to time) - after all, which audience are we considering? As noted, it is mostly gamer hobbyists who review games, so review scores reflect that perspective. It can hardly be surprising if recent offerings by Nintendo come up poorly in this light, yet they seem well received by a wider audience.

The hardcore audience will not lose the games they like, although they may get fewer, but we may have to get used to the idea that while gamer hobbyists remain the centre of the gaming universe, that universe no longer revolves entirely around us... ;)

Another theme raised above is the idea that one should never judge a console by its early releases. What would we conclude about the PS2 if we were to judge it solely by the catalogue it had produced after one year? Who but me remembers Fantavision or Sky Odyssey with fondness? :)

These are interesting times! I look forward to discovering just how interesting over the next few years...

Best wishes!

Massive reality check time. Anyone who is afraid that hardcore gamers are being under-served needs to look at this year's holiday release lineup. We have never had a season this packed with crazy huge-budget titles.

As for the DS and Wii 3rd party space being a wasteland of gimmicks, that's what happens when all the publishers treat the platform like a toilet bowl. They put their least skilled teams on it doing me-too (follow Nintendo's lead) product that no-one is passionate about.

And why do the 3rd parties do that? Because they had little to no confidence in those platforms from the outset - because the push-back from hardcore gamers was so intense. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And the gamer d00ds are so pathetically insecure they look at all this and think they're being abandoned.

Hardcore gamers are in effect holding the medium of games hostage and it's high time it was freed from a single market.

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1543/persuasive_games_how_i_stopped_.php

"Hardcore gamers are in effect holding the medium of games hostage and it's high time it was freed from a single market."

I completely agree! I've been arguing for this for many years. It's just, now that it might be happening, I have some concerns about how the publishers are dealing with the transition.

Best wishes!

Yes, if there's one thing I could say to the pubs it's "please try putting one of your top teams on a DS or Wii title for 12 months".

Probably only 1% of the talent in our industry has the right perspective to make one of those games that could really build bridges between the casual and hardcore market, and it's vital that we do so. Otherwise we're just milking two exclusive, insular markets which is creatively and financially wasteful at best.

The idea that there are two competing and exclusive markets is a myth.

It happens with EVERYTHING, from film, music, painting, you name it, and all it is a load of bull.

It's elitist crap!

It's created by people who wish their hobby to remain "exclusive" and "underground", to give them a sense of worth over "the masses", even though they fail in ever instance to define "the masses".

And I have to take issue with Jordan's claim:

"Would, say, Major League Baseball re-do their franchising to attract people who aren't interested in baseball? Would Toyota re-engineer their vehicles to attract people who don't drive? Would the film industry spend millions making films for people who don't like watching movies?"

Actually, that's EXACTLY what they do, every single year. And they spend millions of dollars each and every year redesigning their brand to appeal to a wider audience.

The MLB has re-invented the league, developed and fostered personalities that appeal to different groups of people. The fact that it's subtle is the genius of their marketing people.

Toyota redesigned their 4WDs, which were a hobbyist, off road, working vehicle, into an urban family vehicle 4WD for soccer moms.

It goes on an on. MacDonalds isn't offering healthy choice meals because it's being socially responsible - it's to widen it's market and make more money.

Wait. What?

"MacDonalds isn't offering healthy choice meals because it's being socially responsible..."

Too right. :-D

FunkyJ: is it a myth, or a model? That the audience is really a continuum doesn't change the distribution of people... In terms of, say, time and money spent, there is a spike - the gamer hobbyists - and a long tail - the casual market. The distinctions between these regions are easy to identify, even though it is secretly a continuum and (as ever) many different models could be applied.

I do agree with you, however, that corporations constantly retool their product to reach into a deeper audience. It's almost inevitable.

Best wishes!

"Who but me remembers Fantavision [...] with fondness?"

Ooh! Me! Me!

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