Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking forward to 2009

This is part two of my two part post, looking at the past year and the one ahead. In the first part below, I noted that North American and European review scores showed a lack of quality titles on Wii, but that Japanese reviews saw the console ahead.

I also argued that a lot of Western gamers keen on traditional games wrongly saw the Wii as carving its own niche, not realising that they themselves had become the niche and Nintendo's 'Touch Generations' titles now formed the mainstream of videogames.

Finally, I predicted that the sheer numbers of Wii consoles sold would convince third parties to both increase their Wii budgets and widen their portfolio to include more traditional games.

The sheer numbers

Starting our outlook with those numbers, the Thanksgiving weekend in the USA saw unprecedented sales of the hardware with 800.000 Wii consoles sold. In the entire month of November, more than two million units were sold.

Software sales were just as solid, as can be seen in the following statistics provided by Gamasutra. Up until October, four out of the five top-selling videogames in 2008 were Wii titles, all of them first party exclusives (not adding the Xbox360 and PS3 versions of 'Grand Theft Auto 4').

Top-selling videogames in 2008 (by unit sales, January through October)

1. 'Super Smash Bros. Brawl' (Wii): 3,5 million (estimated)
2. 'Mario Kart' (Wii): 3,4 million
3. 'Grand Theft Auto 4' (Xbox360): 3,2 million (estimated)
4. 'Wii Play' (Wii): 3,0 million
5. 'Wii Fit' (Wii): 2,8 million

In 2007, only two Wii titles made that list. The highest ranking one was 'Wii Play', making both lists. Also take into account that 'Wii Fit' is a premium title, bundled with hardware, and makes for significantly more revenue than games sold at a normal price.

Everybody's darling

It almost seems that Wii still is everybody's darling, with the possible exception of some Western gamers keen on traditional titles. Back in late 2006, Wii convinced the mainstream press right from the start. At the same time, a majority of developers randomly selected by Gamasutra personally preferred Wii over the PlayStation3. And this trend is continuing. TIME magazine voted ´Wii Fit´ one of their Top Ten Gadgets of 2008 while Forbes is feeling almost "sorry for Microsoft and Sony".

Nintendo's Christmas present to journalists in 2008: a Nintendo tree

Lastly, most industry analysts believe the Wii will continue to lead. NPD's industry analyst Anita Frazier believes that the console "really has incredible momentum heading into 2009" and especially notes the success of third party games like 'Guitar Hero World Tour'.

Many more Wii games will be announced soon, Michael Pachter, analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities, told Reuters (via Yahoo News).

To me, the big story is what happens on the Wii because it's the dominant platform, and it will be interesting to see how the publishers approach the Wii audience. (...)

There must be dozens of Wii games planned for holiday 2009 that we don't know about yet, and I think that many games will be designed to use the Wii Fit balance board that we haven't conceived of yet.

Big titles in 2009

But, of course, we know of many big titles slated for 2009 already. NeoGAF user BDGAME compiled a comprehensive list, too long to reprint here. Browsing through it, you will find a wealth of RPGs and survival horror games. So will those Western gamers keen on traditional titles I have been citing so much finally make their peace with Wii? Will Wii finally become the next great gamer's console?

I would not be surprised if one of the two games Hideo Kojima has in store was a Wii exclusive. After all, he said back in May 2006 that he would like to develop for the console.

As a game designer, I'm very interested in creating something for the Wii. I'd like to run away from MGS 4 creation and create something for the Wii but unfortunately, I don't have anything that I can announce at the moment. I have lots of ideas for Wii but I have a heavy schedule with MGS 4 and Metal Gear Online (...) If I created something for Wii, I would like to create something entirely different to a normal FPS. I don't mind using the MGS world as a theme but currently I'm not thinking about that. I'd like to give Wii users a new experience - I think the Wii controller can be used in more innovative and fun ways.

Tetsuya Mizuguchi ('Space Channel 5', 'Rez') is developing a Wii game. The announcement of 'Dragon Quest X' as a Wii exclusive is another huge step in that direction, as is, perhaps most of all, 'Monster Hunter 3'.

Originally announced as a PlayStation3 exclusive, the title was switched to Wii "due to high development cost of titles for PS3". British gaming magazine EDGE believes that this title will mark a turning point for the Nintendo console.

Many are hoping that Monster Hunter‭ ‬3‭ ‬will be a turning point for Wii in Japan.‭ ‬Not in terms of sales,‭ ‬but in terms of perceptions among Japanese consumers,‭ ‬who still look on PS2‭ ‬as the last great‭ ‘‬gamer’s console‭’‬.‭ ‬The huge popularity of the title during TGS,‭ ‬and the very favourable feedback Capcom has had from fans and the press,‭ ‬suggests it may just have a chance.

To me, titles like 'House of the Dead: Overkill', 'The Conduit' and 'MadWorld' will mark that turning point, certainly in the Western world (where such a shift is much more needed). Either way, I strongly believe that in 2009, we will see a significant shift in both the public's as well as publishers' perception of the Wii.

Naturally, this year will also see some of the strongest games released on the other two systems with 'Resident Evil 5', 'Alan Wake', 'Killzone II' and 'God of War III'. But I nevertheless believe that 2009 will become the year in which the Nintendo console rightfully takes on the legacy of the previous great gamer's consoles, such as the NES and the PlayStation2.

Sources: Games Industry, GameDaily, Gamasutra, Gamasutra, TIME, Forbes, GameDaily, Reuters (via Yahoo News), BDGAME, 1UP, CVG, TechRadar, Game|Life, Forbes, EDGE

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