Third Party Puzzle

The idea that third parties can't do well on the Wii is firmly rooted and completely wrong.

GamesIndustry.biz, the trade arm of the Eurogamer Network, recently completed the next step in its evolution toward greater support for the videogames business with the implementation of a full registration system.

If the strength of feeling displayed on games forums and websites is a good measure of consumer sentiment, Nintendo is a company in gamers' black books right now. The stunning success of the Wii and the DS in reaching out to new audiences who have never played games before is viewed in the internet's darkest corners as a betrayal of core gamers, an abandonment of traditional games to be replaced with brightly-coloured, "waggle controlled" abominations.

The reality, of course, is somewhat different. Only this week, Nintendo announced dates for a line-up of Wii titles which should please any long-term fan of the company's output - Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M and Sin & Punishment 2 being key highlights for the hardcore audience. Many of the top sellers on the console are games which appeal broadly to upstream and downstream gamers alike - Mario Kart, New Super Mario Bros., Super Smash Bros Brawl and Mario Galaxy all appear in the console's top 10.

Viewed dispassionately, it's hard to see the Wii as the scourge which angry gamers claim it to be. It's unlikely to be the only console that an upstream gamer owns - but as a second machine, sitting alongside an Xbox 360 or a PS3, it's absolutely ideal, while for more casual gamers and young families, it's the ideal machine to sit alone under their TV. Hence, presumably, the machine's sales, which remain almost as high as the 360 and PS3 combined, and almost 20 million units higher than the mighty PS2 was at the same point in its lifespan.

So why the anger? On one hand, perhaps a certain sense of technological disappointment persists. Gamers are used to HD, to persistent online services with voice chat and cross-game messaging, and in those senses the Wii certainly does not stack up to the PS3 and 360. Nintendo's wisdom lay in recognising that the vast majority of its audience would not notice or care about those things, allowing it to save vast amounts of time and money by leaving them off the console - a decision whose knock-on effects are still felt in the much lower production costs of Wii games.

While this makes sense on a business level, a certain sense of disappointment from the existing fanbase is understandable - but not the harsh treatment Nintendo receives from its most vocal critics. In that case, I fear, a rather more unpleasant line of argument rears its ugly head - the idea that this is the young male demographic who view gaming as their own private playground railing against the sudden inclusion of women, older people and others in "their" pastime.

Yet if that factor - magnified and amplified, as always, by the internet's unfortunate side effect of making loud idiots seem like outraged majorities - explains some of the upstream consumer dissatisfaction with the Wii, where is the equivalent explanation for publishers' reticence to engage with the platform?

This, to me, is one of the least explicable foibles of publishers in recent years. A month does not pass without another publisher executive making a disparaging comment about his firm's prospects on the Wii, with doubts being expressed in the past few months alone by Ubisoft and SEGA, with Ubisoft going so far as to publicly announce that it is refocusing development efforts on the PS3 and 360.

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