Safe Bets

The Wii offered a chance to innovate without taking huge risks, but consumers weren't interested.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz's widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

The suggestion from Japanese publisher Marvelous Entertainment that it is to withdraw from creating original IP and focus instead on franchise sequels has been met with widespread derision from gamers, and some measure of sad head-nodding from industry insiders.

Both sides of the fence, however, see this as simply being a rather blatant step in a not entirely wholesome direction - an acknowledgement that in the boxed games market, at least, the risks of investing in IP have grown even further in recent years, and perversely that the market's willingness to support such investments seem to have declined.

That's due, in part, to the steady advance of platform fragmentation. Setting aside emerging platforms such as mobile phones and social networks - they're an entirely different story - we find the games industry divided up into a challenging assortment of different devices.

Beloved by core, upstream gamers, the HD consoles, namely Xbox 360 and PS3, are expensive to develop and publish games for, and neither has yet managed to eke out a commanding lead over the other - or an installed base truly big enough to give niche titles a fair chance at success. The PC, meanwhile, is cheaper to publish on, but is rife with piracy and suffers a shrinking boxed games market - hardly a place you want to make a major investment.

The Wii enjoys an installed base almost the size of the HD consoles' combined, and is quite cheap to develop for - with costs comparable with the last generation of hardware. The Nintendo DS, too, is in rude health in terms of installed base, but like its home console sibling, suffers from low software sales, especially of core titles and especially in the West.

The PSP feels like a platform limping towards a generation shift; except in Japan, of course, where it is a resurgent and important console, largely due to Capcom's Monster Hunter series.

Faced with this market situation, Marvelous - along with several other publishers - chose to focus its efforts on the Wii. The reasoning was solid enough - development for the 360 and PS3 is simply too expensive, making the risk of creating new IP so huge as to be unbearable for all but the largest and wealthiest publishers. The Wii has a huge installed base, and for all that they complain about the console, many core gamers still own one of them as a companion to their HD console.

What this didn't take into account, however, is just how fractured the market has actually become. Faced with critically acclaimed titles like Marvelous' No More Heroes, Little King's Story or, indeed, SEGA's MadWorld, the core gamers who might have been expected to pick up their Wiimotes for such software failed to do so. The games sold, but not in the kind of numbers that made them into a truly worthwhile commercial enterprise.

Regardless of whether they own a Wii or not, it turns out that the core market - the same market which so vocally demands innovation and new IP, and derides sequels and franchise updates - still prefers to play games on the HD consoles. That's not entirely surprising. If you're a core gamer, you probably own a HD television, and even if you don't play online multiplayer very much, you're still probably connected to PSN or Xbox Live and enjoy the benefits of those services.

However, the gamble was that you'd still be willing to walk the walk, having talked the talk over and over again, and would be swayed by acclaimed new IP to part with your cash. This was the gamble taken by a number of mid-range publishers - Marvelous is far from alone - over the past two years. It's a gamble which appears to have failed.

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