With the recently announced sales figures for Madworld clocking in at a measly 66,000, the pile of evidence that hardcore games can't succeed on the Wii is getting larger. Or so it would seem.
The refrain I normally hear from analysts and pundits is that hardcore gamers aren't interested in the Wii. They claim the large user base is concentrated around casual gamers and children. What else could explain why critically acclaimed games made for hardcore audiences such as No More Heroes haven't managed to sell well?
How many hardcore gamers do you know? How many of them own Wii's? If the answer is “most”, then you probably support a basic premise of my argument - that a ton of hardcore gamers own the Wii.
It's difficult to find data to support this claim because the obvious way of proving it would be to show evidence that a lot of hardcore games sell well - which we obviously can't do. Based on sales data alone, one could argue that hardcore the hardcore install base for the Wii is small. Yet if we take a step back and look around us we can see that's not the case.
Assuming hardcore gamers own the Wii, it seems odd that hardcore games on the platform are not selling better. Perhaps the answer is that hardcore gamers do not exist in a vacuum. Hardcore gamers who own the Wii are also likely to own either an PS3, an Xbox360, or a suped-up PC.
When a hardcore Wii game is released, it doesn't only compete against other Wii games; it competes against all games. So MadWorld isn't just competing against Disaster: Day of Crisis. It's competing agaisnt Ninja Gaiden 2 and Grand Theft Auto 4. Suddenly it doesn’t stand out quite as much. It would most likely not have earned those 80%-90% review scores had it been released on PS3 – graphics and all. Yet this is the manner the hardcore gamer will use to judge it when it comes time to make a purchase.
Thinking along these lines, it makes sense that games like Resident Evil 4, Mario Galaxy, and Zelda: Twilight Princess have been sales successes. At the time when they were released, they could all stand up side-by-side with the competition on Xbox 360 and PS3 – maybe not graphically, but as an overall package. They were experiences you just couldn't find on the other systems.
How many platformers of Mario Galaxy quality can you find on the other two systems? I would say maybe Ratchet and Clank on PS3, but that is it. Likewise when Zelda: TP was released, it had no competition in that genre; Fable 2 was still over a year from its release date. The only survival-horror competition Resident Evil 4 had at the time of its release was from Condemned on the Xbox360.
These Wii games show that if you want to have success with hardcore gamers, you have to give them something that they can't get on the other systems. Just doing a Wii version of a Xbox360/PS3 game won't do it because the Wii version will always have the huge disadvantage in the graphics department.
This theory will be tested in a little under two months from now when The Conduit is released. The game has been viewed as a symbol of hope for hardcore Wii developers for a long time now. It has been praised because it is a pulls-no-punches first person shooter that has been built for the Wii from the ground up. It's also garnered attention because it apparently pushes the Wii to its limit graphically. Yet when compared to Gears of War 2, it looks like a heavyweight bout between Evander Hollyfield and Tiger Woods.
The Conduit aims to be a very competent shooter, but one that wouldn’t look out of place on the original Xbox. It doesn't seem to bring anything new to the table - at least nothing that can be communicated through video or screenshots. If it were being released for Xbox360 or PS3, competence alone might be enough. Afterall, the uber-selling Call of Duty 4 wasn't exactly oozing innovation.
Yet by virtue of being on the Wii, it has to overcome a huge graphical disadvantage as well as the disadvantage of having to utilize the Wii’s lackluster online matchmaking system. Sad as it is, I can't think of any reason why a hardcore gamer would choose to buy The Conduit instead of its competition.
So is it possible for a hardcore game to be a sales success on Wii? I would say yes. It’s just very difficult. The game has to fill a gap that isn't filled by the other two consoles. This gap has only gotten smaller as time has gone by. Could a new Wii Resident Evil in the style of Resident Evil 4 sell as well now that the gorgeous Resident Evil 5 exists on PS3 and Xbox360? I would say no.
Yet if a studio can find that gap, I think the Wii is a good platform to go with. One advantage the Wii has is that anything on the Wii that aims for the hardcore audience will get more press coverage than it would if it were launching on another console. If a game like The Conduit were to be developed for Xbox360, it would probably be unknown. By virtue of being on the Wii, it will probably grace a few magazine covers.
Another advantage is that a Wii game can get great reviews with lower-budget graphics since reviewers tend to compare Wii games to other Wii games. There is a real opportunity for launching a successful hardcore game on the Wii. It just takes the right idea.