Follow the Leader?
November’s New York City-based media summits and investor conferences bring with them a slew of the videogame industry’s heavy hitters, and 2008 was no exception.
Last year we chatted with Electronic Arts’ CEO John Riccitiello about difficulty and progression; this year we spoke with Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime about the Wii and its thirdparty support. It’s been a running thread in our conversations with Fils-Aime ever since he took the reins at NOA, and I’d forgive him if he felt as though I were always moving the goalposts.
When he joined Nintendo in 2003, I grilled him about the number of independent publishers that had abandoned the GameCube. And he told me he was working hard on it. When the Nintendo DS launched in the autumn of 2004, I asked him when we would see more grown-up franchises on the handheld. He pointed to the presence of
Madden NFL 2005, Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 2005 and Spider Man 2.
Even after the Wii shipped with a sizeable number of thirdparty games, I pushed him on what responsibility Nintendo had, if any, to help ensure that those games would succeed instead of being ignored in favour of Nintendo’s own software. Nintendo would share some of its development expertise, he explained, but there would be no Miyamoto’s Choice Award, no Iwata’s Choice Award, and definitely no Reggie’s Kick-Ass-Take-Names Award to signal to Nintendo fanboys that specific thirdparty titles were worthy of serious consideration.
These days, Fils-Aime has some fairly impressive numbers to crow about when it comes to thirdparty success on the Wii, though much of that can be attributed to the success of Guitar Hero III and, to a lesser extent, Carnival Games and a few others. So naturally, during a November dinner with Fils-Aime, three fellow journalists and some other NOA executives, I moved the goalposts once more.
If the Wii is the leading console now and for the foreseeable future, when are we finally going to see independent publishers and developers shift the bulk of their development budgets to the Wii rather than the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and high-end PC triumvirate?
But in a deft name-taking move, he turned the question back on me, asking me what I believed it would take for the current state of affairs to reverse itself. After a brief pause, I answered as follows: they will not lead development on the Wii until they’ve first exhausted every other option.
My rationale was simple: each generation has brought with it more graphics and processing power, and developers and publishers have been content to follow that trend. But the leading platform is so significantly underpowered relative to its competitors – the equivalent of two GameCubes duct-taped together, as one industry veteran jokingly ranted – that several publishers are developing games for it alongside those for PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable – and that’s to say nothing of its radically different controller.
What’s more, at just about every level of a typical publisher – development, marketing, the executive suite – their history and expertise is lacking when it comes to broad swathes of the large and growing audience to which Nintendo is appealing. That, combined with an increasingly winner-take-all market whose rising tide is not lifting all boats, is causing publishers like THQ and Electronic Arts to cut staff and eliminate projects rather than double up making a game for the Wii.
And this is taking place even as, for the month of November, the Wii’s North American sales of 2.04 million outstripped the combined total of 360 (836,000), PSP (421,000), PS3 (378,000) and PS2 (206,000) – that’s 1.84 million. If I were an investor in one or more such publishers, I’d be asking hard questions about why it is so out of position on the Wii in light of the platform’s massive and growing momentum.
If we consider a handful of data points – the successes of Blizzard with World Of WarCraft; Valve with Half-Life 2: The Orange Box and Left 4 Dead; Apple with the iPhone; and the near-ubiquity of Flash games – it’s clear that the most powerful hardware is not what’s required for a game or a platform to succeed.
Blizzard and Valve set their minimum specs lower than many of their competitors; as a result, more people can access their games. Put that together with the Wii phenomenon, and that’s why, in a recent discussion with some of my fellow game journalists, I suggested that rather than continue to lead development on 360, PS3 and high-end PC, developers and publishers should lead on Wii, PS2 and mid-to-low-end-PCs, then up-port those games to their HD counterparts. (Blasphemy, I know, but I don’t believe that developers and publishers can simply consolidate their way out of this lopsided state of affairs.)
And until that happens, I think I’ve managed to move the goalposts downfield yet again.
"(T)hey will not lead development on the Wii until they’ve first exhausted every other option."
I think N'Gai correctly answered his own question. What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you see it happening for more developers than right now? Do you believe it's wise to do so? Are you one of the histrionics who would rather leave gaming altogether if this occured?
Edit: Forget to credit my source. I found this via NeoGAF.