Why are retailers having so much trouble selling Wii games?
Take Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It was one of the most hotly anticipated video games of the year; it sold more than 1.4 million copies during the first week of its release, in early March, and broke records for Nintendo of America.
Wii spot of bother: Highly anticipated games have seen little demand.
But sales dropped more than 90% over the first four weeks, according to estimates from VG Chartz, a team of analysts who study video-game sales.
Retailers confirm the sharp drop. “We sold a couple thousand copies in the first week,” says Xavier Pervez, assistant manager at a GameStop in Fairfield, Connecticut. “It’s dropped off significantly now, maybe 100 in each of the last couple weeks.”
A number of games that garnered critical acclaim in recent months, notably the cartoonish action-adventure game Zack and Wiki and the off-kilter action-adventure No More Heroes, have yielded disappointing sales.
The problem is that, in marketing the Wii, Nintendo cast a wide net and caught more than the big fish. Wii’s innovative motion-sensitive controller and a price lower than rival machines appeal to a broader audience than the traditional market of young male hardcore gamers. Younger children, women and older consumers, who historically have not been sought by the video-game industry, have discovered video games through Wii — just not that many of them.
These new gamers are content with the games they have, often going no further than the Wii Sports game that comes with the machine. They don’t buy new games with the fervour of a traditional gamer who is constantly seeking new stimulation.
Part of the problem, analysts say, is that other game makers have yet to embrace unconventional advertising methods that can reach this broader audience. Nintendo did it by promoting its memory game Brain Age on the radio.
Still, not all third-party publishers have found the Wii market difficult to crack. Multiplatform games such as Ubisoft’s Rayman: Raving Rabbids, a cartoon action-adventure, have found receptive audiences.
Hudson Soft has had success with titles including Sudoku, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles and fishing games.
“The kind of person that buys a Wii is not the same kind of person that buys a PS3 or an Xbox,” said John Greiner, the chief executive of Hudson Entertainment, the North American arm of Hudson Soft. “You have to be very specific when you design a game and target not only the gameplay mechanics for that user, but also the marketing for that kind of a product launch.”
Hudson has also benefited from an especially close relationship with Nintendo. Hudson developed Mario Party 8, consistently one of the Wii's top sellers, and has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of the Wii Virtual Console, which charges users to play classic video games.
Nintendo itself seems primarily focused on expanding this casual audience, while continuing to deliver sequels to its most beloved franchises, including Mario Kart Wii, the latest incarnation of its popular driving simulator.
Nintendo of America’s vice president for corporate affairs, Denise Kaigler says the company hopes Mario Kart will serve as a “bridge title” between casual gamers and core fans.
Wii Fit, an exercise game due in May, is expected to receive more marketing dollars than any game in Nintendo's history, analyst Michael Pachter said—and the money will not be spent wooing young men. “Wii Fit is just not aimed at hardcore gamers,” Pachter says. “It’s definitely aimed at the Oprah crowd. I bet they sell a million units a week for every pound that Oprah says she lost on it.”
©2008/The New York Times
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