Third Party Puzzle • Page 2

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

Of course, the headline hardware figures which suggest that the Wii is the market's dominant platform aren't the only figures publishers have to consider. The tie ratio is also important, and the Wii has another factor to consider - Nintendo itself.

It's a long-held belief that only Nintendo games (and those from selected third parties who work closely with the Japanese platform holder) do well on Nintendo platforms. Both Sony and Microsoft publish titles for their consoles, of course, but these are key exclusives which lay the foundations for the console's success - Nintendo, some critics argue, not only lays the foundations, but goes on to build the whole damned house, and then lock the doors and windows.

In support of this argument, one need only look at the Wii's all-time top 10 - a list populated exclusively by Nintendo first-party titles. Case closed - or is it? The reality is that the popular view that nobody other than Nintendo is making money out of the Wii is not quite as simple, or as true, as it may seem. In fact, 76 games have now sold over a million copies on the Wii - of which, only 22 were first-party titles.

That's right - less than a third of the Wii's million sellers are first-party games. It may be rather different at the very top - just about everything that's sold over five million copies is a Nintendo game - but there's a lot of profit to be made in that ground between a million and five million units, especially considering how much more economical Wii development is compared with building games for the 360 or PS3. (Incidentally, the Wii also has more third-party million sellers than the PS3.)

These figures aren't discussed as much as they deserve to be, given the prevalence of the "Wii is awful for third parties" theme, but neither are they a secret - so why, in that case, are publishers so critical of the Wii? To some extent, this may be a little bit of sabre-rattling on their part - keenly aware of how profitable the Wii is for Nintendo, key publishers are unlikely to pass up on any opportunity to pressure the platform holder to drop its licensing fees by indicating that they're not happy with the money they're making from it.

More importantly, however, it may be a factor of the continuing inability of some studios to make the Wii work for them as a development platform. Even several years after launch, few developers outside of Nintendo itself have grasped the real potential of the console and its control methods. For every game which truly leverages the potential of the console to provide a unique and compelling experience (Silent Hill: Shattered Memories being a rare recent example), there are dozens of identikit mini-game compilations and on-rails shooters which compound their weakness as games with equally poor presentation.

Part of the problem here isn't creative drought, but rather a continuing aversion to risk-taking in the development process, which makes a certain amount of sense on the 360 or PS3 where budgets are so high but is tougher to explain on the Wii, where low budgets and rapid development should, in theory, free development teams up to be much more creative. The reality, however, is that many large publishers struggle to actually take advantage of those low-budget opportunities. Wasteful internal studio working cultures conspire to make even Wii game development expensive for these companies, stifling both their creativity and their profitability.

In other words, much of the "problem" with Nintendo's third-party market isn't actually a problem with Nintendo at all. The platform holder has created a console which, although not without its challengers, has sold almost 70 million units in a shockingly short space of time and proved a success with both a core demographic and with a wider audience, and which has the potential to keep development timescales and budgets low. Publishers failing to take advantage of that can blame Nintendo in public all they like - but it's to their own product line-ups and development practices that they should look for the solution.

For more views on the industry and to keep up to date with news relevant to the games business, read our sister website GamesIndustry.biz, where you can read this weekly editorial column as soon as it is posted.

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Rob Fahey

Rob Fahey

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