And that brings us to the second mistake: the assumption that casual gamers buy just as many games as established gamers. Once a casual gaming family has their Wii Sports, Cooking Mama, Guitar Hero and generic party minigame collection, they’re pretty much done buying. Sure something like Wii Fit might come along and initiate a another rash of purchases, followed swiftly by a frenzy of aftermarket imitations, but at most a typical casual family will buy only a handful of games every year. Publishers are only now starting to realize that spinning out a dozen bland fitness or party game collections annually is a huge waste of money. The law of averages does not work when you shotgun-feed a market with cheap, homogenous product. Put simply, the market has reached saturation.
The casual audience is also fickle. Sure, Grandma and her friends at the nursing home might cherish their Wii Bowling night with the grandkids, but Mom is already distracted by her much more convenient iPhone and the thousands of apps for it. Wii sales are petering out because its explosive success was a fad. Traditional game publishers, Nintendo included, just didn’t know how to respond to it because the gaming industry has never seen something quite like it before, outside of the runaway Atari 2600 bandwagon that led to the great crash of ‘83. The casual audience that publishers have been hammering with games for the past three years have already moved on to the latest shiny thing. We’re seeing something similar in the rapidly evaporating music game craze—five Guitar Hero or Rock Band games in one year leads to stagnation.
Amid all of this, some third party publishers did the math and realized that there were millions of Wii owners out there. Some of them had to be, well, regular gamers, right? They couldn’t all be grandparents and bored housewives, right? Right? Third parties have historically done much worse on Nintendo platforms when compared to the competition, but the Wii was apparently a totally different ball game. Who knew? Maybe the die-hard Nintendo fans, starved for product from their casually-preoccupied favorite company, would devour any traditional games served to them by third parties.
Unfortunately that didn’t exactly happen. Nintendo’s focus on casual gaming, mixed with the already healthy skepticism and resentment mainstream gamers built up for Nintendo over the sparse N64 and GameCube years, led most gamers to all but abandon the Wii. The Nintendo faithful hung on for a while, but when your own favorite company jilts you for the Cult of Oprah, you go out and buy a 360. In other words, the Wii is almost more barren for Nintendo fans than the GameCube was.
The Nintendo fan is a remarkably stubborn and consistent animal. The Nintendo fan buys the Nintendo console to play Nintendo games first, and everything else comes in at a distant second. When a new Starfox, F-Zero, Kid Icarus and Zelda weren’t forthcoming, many Nintendo faithful moved to the other platforms. The rest of the gaming public, happy with their “true” next gen consoles, shrugged at what they knew was (presumably) true all along: the Wii was just a cheap gimmick. Today they continue to ignore the console en masse.
And that’s a damn shame, because those third parties produced a lot of wonderful games that almost nobody played. Each console has their underappreciated gems, the greatest games that nobody played, but the Wii’s lack of HD and its gimmick-image resulted in a near-separate catalogue of these games.
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