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Is There A Future For Mature Games On Wii?

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Posted October 29, 2009 - By pklepek









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Is There A Future For Mature Games On Wii?

There are more than 50 million Wii systems worldwide. The social nature of the platform means the number of eyeballs in front of those 50 million Wiis on a daily basis is actually much bigger. Logically, the audience for a wide range of games and interactive experiences should be rather big, but based on the evidence so far, either that's not true -- or publishers have been hedging the wrong bets. No one has conclusively proved the case for (or against) the viability of mature games on Wii, but 2009 was a litmus test on a number of fronts, including the DS. The results aren't encouraging.

Even though games like Wii Sports kicked off the latest Nintendo phenomenon, once the industry realized the Wii was more than a fad, publishers started looking for ways to take advantage of this huge audience, many of them new to games, some of them hardcore gamers who simply picked up the latest piece of Nintendo hardware in search of the new Mario and Zelda. And though the Wii is often viewed as a machine for the folks to gather around and play together at parties and family gatherings, when the kids go to bed, couldn't there be another use for it?
 

Cue MadWorld. Cue House of the Dead: Overkill. Cue Dead Space: Extraction, Dead Rising: Chop Till You Drop, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, Manhunt 2...

Is There A Future For Mature Games On Wii?

That's just a sampling of the 36 Mature-rated video games aimed at the Wii audience, according to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board database. Some, such as Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, haven't even been released yet. Compare that to 168 Mature-rated games listed for Xbox 360, or 126 mature-rated games for PlayStation 3, and it's clear where the majority of the industry's grown-up releases end up. But publishers remain intent to trying to make it work on Wii.

Earlier this year, a substantial amount of pre-release hype and critical acclaim followed the most hopeful attempt: Platinum Games and Sega's hyper-violent action game MadWorld. Japanese developer Platinum Games was founded by former Capcom designers Shinji Mikami, Atsushi Inaba and Hideki Kamiya. The theory went like this: with that kind of gaming pedigree, hardcore gamers would flock to MadWorld, and its over-the-top violence and Sin City-esque art style would attract Wii owners looking for something different. That theory didn't hold, and MadWorld failed to make a splash.

Even Sega doesn't know exactly what went wrong. 

"It’s difficult because it was a critically acclaimed title; it was extreme but good," said Sega of America president Mike Hayes in an interview with Wired. "The thing that we’re saying is, Sega would be extremely arrogant to have a title that didn’t do as well as we thought on a platform and then say, 'Those kinds of games don’t sell on that platform.' I think if you take our slew of more mature games -- House of the Dead Overkill did really well in Europe, and for some reason even though it’s a big (intellectual property) it did less well in North America. So that’s kind of like a win and a miss that’s kind of come out neutral. MadWorld sales were very disappointing, but was that to do with the platform? Was it that people didn’t like the art style? Or that people didn’t like the way the game played through? It could be many things, which we’re obviously researching."

Despite that lack of response, Sega says more mature-aimed Wii games are coming from them. Based on MadWorld and The House of the Dead: Overkill, it's not clear why, unless it's simply too late to move development to another platform. There is a pattern to several of the mature-themed games on Wii: on-rail, light-gun spin-offs of existing franchises. Dead Space, House of the Dead and Resident Evil all went down this route. Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles bucked trends and was both a critical and commercial success. Resident Evil, however, was already an established franchise on Nintendo platforms -- Dead Space and House of the Dead were not.

The power and pitfalls of branding has long proven an issue for Wii releases, even Nintendo's first-party efforts. Super Smash Bros. Brawl was a massive hit for the Wii, while the nostalgia-laden Punch-Out!! barely made a blip.

Is There A Future For Mature Games On Wii?

Publishers have faced similar difficulties on the DS, as well. Nintendo touted Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars as a massive exclusive for the DS at E3 2008. Just before Chinatown Wars was released, industry analysts were expecting Rockstar Games' portable effort to sell upwards of 500,000 copies in its first month. NPD Group numbers told a different story: only 89,000 copies. And unlike other evergreen DS games -- most of them from Nintendo -- Chinatown Wars never returned to the charts.

"I think strategically, [Chinatown Wars] is a very important game because it helps send the message that great M-rated content can come to the platform and will find a home," said Steve Singer, VP of licensing and manager of third-party relations for Nintendo of America, in an interview with MTV Multiplayer after the sales numbers for Chinatown Wars were released.

Rockstar's decision to quickly port Chinatown Wars to PSP and iPhone suggests otherwise.

"Are we supposed to be disappointed with sales numbers of publishers who've tried, or sad that this is all they can come up with?"

It's possible the industry's looking at it the wrong way. What is mature? One of Dictionary.com's relevant results for the word mature is "intended for or restricted to adults, esp. by reason of explicit sexual content or the inclusion of violence or obscene language: mature movies." In that sense, publishers have been hitting the mark. Resident Evil, Dead Space, MadWorld -- these are all games with violence and/or obscene language. But what if Wii owners are really just adults who wanted to be treated as such? Interactive experiences aimed at adults aren't required to incorporate dismembering limbs and tossing grenades. They can (and it's certainly a facet of games that isn't going away), but perhaps the adult experiences offered up so far by video game publishers for Wii has toed the party line and, as a result, been passed by with a cynical eye. The sales numbers help support that theory, as traditionally violent games continue to sell just fine on other platforms. Maybe the Wii audience has altogether different expectations.

There's no clear answer. Certainly, the games industry doesn't have one yet. But the usual formulas aren't working. It still stands to reason mature -- perhaps a better word is "adult" -- games can work on the Wii, but so far, no one's managed to make anything more compelling than Wii Sports, Wii Play, Wii Fit and Wii Sports Resort. Are we supposed to be disappointed with the sales numbers of publishers who've tried for more, or sad that this is all they can come up with?

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Tags: Videogames, Wii
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