Nintendo will need better casual games to continue their console war

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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18 Responses to Nintendo will need better casual games to continue their console war

  1. Kannon says:

    I think it’s time for the Wii to take its place as a console that takes risks again and makes games that although may not sell, will one day be regarded as the greatest games of our times. The N64 and moreso the Dreamcast, did not reach the stars in sales, but the some of the games on those two systems are regarded as pivotal for the games that would eventually come. At this point in the game, its hard for any system by itself to have a game come out that everyone wants, (modern warfare 2 and final fantasy 13 are on 360 and PS3). Developing a games should not be about sales numbers, especially with how many games are out now, they should be about producing a fun and enjoyable experience, that’s pretty to look at and awesome to play. Unfortunately, sales are what keeps anything going, just wish it could be more about the art then the ability to sell.

    at least we have:
    sin and punishment 2
    no more heroes 2

  2. Quix says:

    I’ve been a Wii owner since launch day and have enjoyed the console immensely, but I have to admit it’s completely lost my attention. There’s just no compelling content right now. So I bought a PS3 (the new $299 price pushed me over the edge) and have been thoroughly enjoying it. Uncharted 2 is an incredible experience. I worried that the PS3 would not appeal to my young kids, but they’re loving Little Big Planet (as am I). And ModNation Racers (a serious Mario Kart contender) is on the way in 2010. Seems a single console *can* satisfy both families and hardcore gamers. Nintendo is really dropping the ball by trying to milk the Wii hardware long past its expiration date. And that makes me sad. I had really hoped for a hardware revision for this holiday season, but Nintendo apparently thinks it can go one more year (or more) with its last-gen hardware. But the way the visuals look on my new 58″ plasma, I doubt the little fella will be seeing much play time at my house any longer.

    It pains me to say it, but…Wii who?

  3. InvisibleMan says:

    Let’s be honest, the Wii had a good run already: 8 years, considering that its hardware is very close to the GameCube’s. That is a very good run for a console! And hardware DOES count, now that price is not the competitive element that it was before in the console wars…

  4. Zac Erickson says:

    It really is those semi-casual games that drive sales. I, for one, am totally pumped for New Super Mario Bros Wii, and I think that game will be one of the holiday season’s top sellers (aside from Modern Warfare 2, that is). Like you said, its the bridge games that sell units. The games that both hardcore and casual gamers can get behind.

  5. Used Cisco says:

    It’s simple. They need more great games. Hardware is irrelevant, as it always has been. Make the games and you’ll see the sales. Period.

    Don’t get me wrong, I LOVELOVELOVE new console launches and hardware upgrades, but that’s not the problem. The problem is lack of AAA quality content on the system. That’s not to say there are NO games, just that there are very few games that are getting big coverage the way Wii Sports did, or Wii Fit, or the upcoming NSMB Wii. This holiday season is all about big name HD games. Nintendo needs to get media attention back with some major titles. It’s clear that third parties simply refuse to do it.

  6. Watire says:

    I will back Cisco there, I see no point in lamenting that Nintendo can’t convince new customers since it can’t satisfy current owners.
    It seems to me emulation to purchase comes from the experience seen somewhere. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is easy to show in stores and to be enjoyed by bystanders. Then it surely will be a riot in household during the holidays. I can imagine a steady surge of sales after christmas eve selling some console in the way.
    I will like analysts to reckon a little more that the expanded audience has more choice than just gaming to spend their dollars on. If Microsoft and Sony thought that gaming was that central to everybody’s life, they wouldn’t try to sell their ware as everything but gaming machine.

  7. Charles says:

    My humble opinion is that the only way to sell more wii consoles is with exclusive titles and good ones, doesn’t matter if they are first or third party, doesn’t matter if they are casual or hardcore, the only thing that matters is they have to be good ones.

  8. Eolirin says:

    I think this is a pretty sound analysis. Massive props.

  9. Wii Wii says:

    Nintendo will need better games. Period.

  10. rdaneel72 says:

    The internet is its own reality, and those that prowl it sometimes forget that.

    The reason for Wii’s loss of momentum is two-fold. One: it has been selling in such insane numbers that it was bound to fall off eventually. Two: there haven’t been many great games lately.

    The solution (to both) is NSMBWii. NSMBWii will outsell Modern Warfare 2, maybe not in Novemeber, or even in 2009, but it will eventually be right up there with other top-selling titles of this generation, like Mario Kart Wii and Wii Fit. What does the first month’s sales matter? MW2 will be down to $30 in 6 months, and NSMBWii will be bringing in full retail price for the next 3 years.

    The distinction between hardcore and casual games must stop. It is not reality. It is marketing. Casual games (and gamers) are a derisive term created by the gamersphere to cope with Wii’s success. More stupid mini-game compliations will not help Wii regain momentum. But, compelling games with lots of meat that appeal to EVERYONE will do the trick. NSMBWii is simple, but deep and engrossing. It is easy, but endlessly challenging. It is for everyone, and that means EVERYONE is a potential customer. Much better than a product that appeals only to a very small, but very VOCAL, minority of young males who spend more time posting about games on gaming websites than actually playing them anyway.

  11. Liam J Moore says:

    I agree with a few comments here, there is a lack of truly stellar games that compel people to want to buy it, subsequently the console. I look at my friends who own a PS3/360 with a little envy when they play Assassin’s Creed, or Little Big Planet. Sure we have mascots, but what about games you can’t wait for? Seems they are few and far between, and I really hoped my Wii wouldn’t sit like it does gathering dust, simply because there are no games I look at going, “I REALLY NEED THAT!”

  12. Eolirin says:

    @rdaneel72, I hate to say this but… Even NSMBW will not appeal to “everyone”. It appeals to a relatively large set of people, but it doesn’t even remotely come close to appealing to the entire population.

    While the “hardcore” and “casual” monikers are ridiculous on the face of it, they are illustrative of an actual divide. The terms are not properly descriptive, but the term “hardcore gamer” does actually refer to a particular set of of values, even if the term “hardcore” is a misnomer for it, and casual is amorphous and really means “not part of that aforementioned group”. Part of the problem is that there’s no really good way to describe that “hardcore gamer” group, except by describing all of the traits that make them up, and then you’re looking at a lengthy analysis, rather than a way to refer to them.

  13. rdaneel72 says:

    @Eolirin I don’t know, man. Who does it NOT appeal to? Maybe a small subsection of the already dwindling gamersphere, teens who grew up on PS and Xbox and have no nostalgia for Mario. But they are bookended by young kids and their parents, who were kids during the height of Mario mania. It certainly appeals to a broader audience than Modern Warfare 2.

    NSMBWii is a prime example to the problem with casual vs. hardcore. It is both, so it is neither. It is just a game, and the people who play it are just gamers.

    What defines a hardcore game? Difficulty? Arcade gameplay that requires quick reflexes? A long, challenging, satisfying playtime? Sounds like NSMBWii to me. What defines a casual game? Easy to undersand? Fun for the whole family? Simple controls that are immediately understood? Also, sounds like NSMBWii to me. The very attempt to categorize is futile.

    Hardcore and casual are BS marketing terms created by the online gamersphere and adopted by the industry that serves them. One can play SMB for hours, searching out every secret and mastering ever jump. Or, one can play for a few minutes, enjoying the whmisical worlds and laughing at every death. The whole debate is asinine, yet it has become such a crucial component of the industry. How did that happen? Why do we let it continue?

    Games are for everyone. Different types of games for different types of gamers, but such distinctions are much more complex than simply hardcore or casual. And while the gamersphere may argue that Nintendo’s approach is merely a homogenization to appeal to the masses, what is wrong with that? No one else in the entire industry is targeting anyone besides males 18-35. Appealing to everyone levels the playing field. It gives all customers the opportunity to enjoy gaming. And it makes a hell of a lot of money!!!

  14. Mr.cranky says:

    Its officall, the hardcore crowd is retarded. I got a nice stack of core games that i bought this year. I dont think the core noticed em, im guessing theyre too busy complaining on websites? Or they cant see cool games like muramasa in standard def? And just after xmas, theres ff crystal bearers, sin and punishment2, monster hunter tri, tatsunoko vs. Capcom, and no more heroes 2. That sounds like a steady stream of great core content, or maybe they must be for little kids and grandma?

  15. raindog469 says:

    What defines a hardcore game in this decade is brown. Nintendo really doesn’t do brown. Thank heavens.

  16. ac says:

    um,…i think he was mostly referring to the state of video games in japan, which is horrendous in the console market. japan is geared more towards to handhelds, and i don’t see this trend reversing. on the other hand, the console market in the states and other parts of the world is still healthy for nintendo relatively.

  17. finland says:

    It’s time for a WiiHelmet. If they can put us IN the game, that will move consoles.

  18. InvisibleMan says:

    I’m reading a lot here about “great games”, “good games”, “better games”, etc… Can we be more obvious? You need to define “great”, “good”, “better”, “stellar”, etc.: There have been really “good” games on Nintendo platforms this year! (Muramasa, GTA: Chinatown Wars, Dead Space: Extraction, etc.) They all did poorly! So, great games is clearly not the answer, unless you are comparing the Wii “great” games with the 360’s and the PS3’s… And in that respect, the problem is that those great games can’t compete with their counterparts in the high-end consoles. A $10 difference is not compelling enough to make me buy “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Reflex” over “Modern Warfare 2”! The visual and online experiences on each are totally different. Guess which one are most people gonna buy?

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