â??Dangerous Wii market suppresses dev budgetsâ??

â??Dangerous Wii market suppresses dev budgetsâ??

By Rob Crossley

December 10th 2009 at 8:58AM

Develop Jury reveals concerns of an over-saturated market and unpredictable core audience

A striking number of strong warnings and frank criticisms of the Wii have arisen from this week’s Develop Jury Service.

Various experienced developers painted a bleak picture of Nintendo’s console, citing problems such as a low attachment rate, graphical limitations, a dichotomised user-base, and an over-saturated market plagued by ‘shovelware’.

Though the Wii was at times praised as easy to develop for, and applauded for its involvement in opening up the casual market, the panel of experts believe that only Nintendo’s own games are making real headway at retail.

“Is the Wii alive to anyone except Nintendo at the moment?” asked David Amor, creative director at Relentless.

“A couple of years ago I took calls from EA asking us to consider developing for Wii,” he revealed. “My answer then is the same as it is now: the Wii consumer is well served by first-party Nintendo software and they rarely step away from the franchises they’re familiar with. Being a third party publisher with new IP on Wii is a commercially dangerous position. It’s a great machine but I doubt I’ll ever make a game for it.”

Though Relentless has never worked on a Wii title since the console launched late in 2006, Amor’s criticisms were echoed by Simon Gardner, the CEO of Wii developer Climax Studios.

Climax has just finished production of the acclaimed Wii title Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, which scored a 9/10 by Eurogamer, but Gardner isn’t as assured that commercial reception will mirror the critical praise.

“Yes the Wii is a good platform to work on, we feel we now understand the hardware and the interface very well, but the flip-side to that is that non-Nintendo publishers feel they haven’t done that well on it commercially. That’s the biggest issue,” he said.

“There’s a problem with the installed base. Despite it being very large, I think the attachment rate is fairly low, and I think that colours publishers’ view on how much they can invest in the system. I think publishers are very conservative on how much they can spend on it.”

Despite Gardner’s frank comments, the Wii’s potential was a sensitive issue for a number of developers who declined to speak publicly about the console. One high-profile managing director at a leading international studio asked to remain anonymous when offering is verdict.

“The Wii has, and will continue to, open up gaming to a much broader demographic than the other consoles have been able to,” he said. “However the relative ease of making a Wii game in comparison to PS3 and 360 development means it has become too easy to flood the market with under-developed product which have the potential to confuse and disappoint the public.”

Like several other developers, the anonymous studio head said that the Wii’s limited power makes it “difficult for it to compete with the very latest generation of games on PS3 and 360, at least in terms of the ‘wow factor’.”

Meanwhile Zoe Mode General Manager Ed Daly offered a succinct warning to third-parties.

“The Wii was all freshness and innovation but there’s a danger of that being lost in a glut of derivative games,” he said. “Our experience is that fear that over-supply and fatigue from the mainstream Wii adopters is holding back some publishers and suppressing dev budgets – but there are plenty of great ideas as yet unexploited.”

Perhaps the most qualified answer in regards to consumer reception of Wii games came from Owen Daly-Jones – director of PlayableGames, a leading specialist in usability testing.

“Far too many titles for the platform are repetitive copies of various party and sports games,” he said.

“More adult-themed titles and a greater variety in general is required.  How many party or skiing games does one need in a collection at home? Unfortunately the problem with adult titles and greater realism is that the hardware cannot support the graphics required. It is ironic that the MotionPlus improved controllers stress realism when the graphics in the game cannot depict the realist effects.”

Though a majority of developers revealed their reluctance to develop ‘hardcore’ Wii titles, the gifted Zoonami CEO Martin Hollis backed the console, calling for studios and publishers to show patience.

“To give an example today's button-based platform game relies on over twenty years of game development across the world. Your first Wii Remote game will not compete.”

Hollis, who led development on the WiiWare title Bonsai Barber, went on to say that developers need to be more open-minded when approaching Wii game development. He said that the industry at large was “focused on incremental evolution of tried-and-tested mechanics, interactions and input devices. Our industry is focused inwards on itself, and on its most loyal followers.”

However, Denki’s development superhero Gary Penn cited problems with developing games around the Wii’s motion-controlled remote.

“The Wii's not exactly a barrel of laughs to work on, especially after Xbox [development]. It's a real love-hate challenge to get the most out of the Wii Remote. You have to fake it big time to really make it work and no one else seems to fake it as well Nintendo.”

Develop would like to again thank this week’s panel who participated. If you'd like to take part in future Develop Jury Service features email rob.crossley@intentmedia.co.uk