Nintendo will need better casual games to continue their console war

Infendo

Wii Music was no where near the quality of Wii Sports or Wii Fit

Wii Music failed to disrupt like Wii Sports and Wii Fit before it

The casual market has been underserved by Nintendo in the last year

Despite popular belief, there has been surprisingly little from Nintendo to further expand the Wii’s audience since Wii Fit launched in the mid-2008. This is problematic for a console that has relied on market disruption for success. Remember that what gave the Wii it’s spectacular sales was that it represented something new and fresh to the mainstream audience – first with the idea of motion controls and Wii Sports, and then with Wii Fit. This “Wii Series” is a series of games designed to offer something new and fresh to the general public. The Wii Series seems to be geared to targeting different audiences with radically different types of gameplay. Wii Sports didn’t convince you to buy a Wii? If you’re interested in getting in shape, maybe Wii Fit will do the trick. The idea is to release a fresh new concept that draws in a new group of gamers and moves units that would not otherwise be sold. In the past year, Nintendo provided that audience with a failed Wii Series title and two upgrades.

The first Wii Series failure was Wii Music. Believe it or not, I actually enjoyed the thing, but it didn’t resonate with the expanded audience. What Wii Music was supposed to do was target an audience that wasn’t quite sold on sports or fitness but would like to experiment with music. It was supposed to keep the sales momentum for Wii going they way that Sports and Fit did.  It went on to sell about 2.5 million units worldwide, but Nintendo’s expectations were much, much higher. They wanted another mainstream media darling to show off on Oprah. Think of how many Wii Sports and Wii Fit news articles you saw on television or read about in the newspaper. How much media attention was given to Wii Music? I saw none. In the end, without that big sales bump, once Wii Fit demand died down in 2009, there was no mega casual title that captured the mainstream’s attention to take it’s place.

…except for Wii Sports Resort, right? Wrong. While Resort is is a great game, it is an expansion of the gameplay that Wii Sports provided. In the eyes of the expanded audience market, the value it adds to the Wii platform is marginal compared to the original. Like new Mario and Metroid games, if someone wasn’t convinced by Wii Sports to buy a Wii, Resort is unlikely to do the trick either. Wii Sports Resort will no doubt sell well and move lots of Wii Motion Plus units, but so far impact on Wii console sales appears to have been minimal.

The same goes for Wii Fit Plus. I doubt many people who will pick up Wii Fit Plus were holding out on buying a Wii to wait for an enhanced version of Fit. This audience was largely captured in 2008 when the original Wii Fit launched.

Bridge titles and the “unhealthy state”

I believe that when Iwata stated that the Wii was in an unhealthy state, he wasn’t just talking about pure sales. I think he also concerned about the business model that relies too much on a mega-casual hit to keep Wii sales going at their astronomical level. The Wii Music flop exposed how vulnerable such a strategy leaves your console. This is why innovation in the casual realm in support of the Blue Ocean Strategy needs to focus both on the big innovations to draw in new games, like Wii Fit, and the so-called bridge titles, which are appealing both to casual and core gamers.

Bridge titles that are a phenomenon in and of themselves play a key role in moving Wii units off the shelves. Titles like Mario Kart Wii and Guitar Hero 3 have sold extremely well on Wii, and I have little doubt that they moved Wii units, not because of the qualities of the Wii per se, but because they games themselves are such a media phenomenon and because they have such broad appeal. Likewise, I’m confident that New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which will attract a broader and larger audience than the excellent Galaxy, will move Wii units as the next big bridge title. The gameplay is more accessible, it focuses on multiplayer (critical for high sales on Wii) and hits the key “lapsed gamer” demographic that perhaps has been missed to date. It is the bridge titles that will expand the Wii user base between mega-casual titles.

The next big thing

I need to be very clear again when I say that sales of the Wii are still decent and that core games will move Wii units at a moderate pace, so I am not, for a second, suggesting that Nintendo stop making them. However, if Nintendo wants to return sales of the Wii to its astronomical levels, it needs fresh new titles that provide new gameplay experiences that are aimed at the casual audience that was not brought in by Wii Sports, Wii Fit or any other major release. I’m not going to pretend to know what that release is, but what Nintendo needs to do is surprise us again like it did in 2006. Maybe it will be a new entry into the Wii Series line, or perhaps a bridge title that successfully brings in the casual and core gamers. Maybe it will be software for the Vitality Sensor, or even a hardware refresh (that is a topic for another article).

Whatever it is, Nintendo needs to keep the ocean blue by continuing to innovate and not resting too comfortably on its laurels.

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