Note: anything regarding sales here refers to sales in the US.
What’s the basic idea of marketing? Do you show your product to people in hopes they buy it? Do you put neon signs and marching lights somewhere to get their attention? Do you dress it up in barely anything and question their marriage? Yes, yes, and… kinda, but yes. When you make something that you want people to see, you bet your ass you gotta whore it out like Grade A Booty. It’s deceptively simple, yet somewhat tricky to market your product. But in some ways, marketing a videogame is easier than the other mediums we have out there. With games, your audience will be either kids, adults, old people, “hardcore,” real hardcore, casual, or niche. Not much else to it. Next, it all comes down to what kind of product you’re selling. Hit the jump to see what went wrong with marketing on the Wii.
So before we kick Nintendo’s nuts in, let’s break this down. Kids and Adults are most likely home around the evening and weekend. Old people are probably home all day. “Hardcore” are somewhere getting laid. Real hardcore are in their parent’s basements. Casual are busy on their smartphones, and niche is on the internet like us… and probably have a collection of anime, manga, figures, nenderoids, and…….I should really stop describing myself….it’s kinda depressing. Anyway, as you can see, the attention span of different people are in different places. With that in mind, you have to catch their eyes in places where you’re mostly likely to find them. With that in mind, your common options in advertising are: TV, video ad, banner ad, pre-video ad, 1-page Magazine, 2-page magazine ad, Magazine reverse ad, (in cities like New York) Bus and train ad, and billboard. With these options, it kinda kills me when I see Nintendo, and some other companies this generation, market in all the wrong places.
“Wii would like to play” was a slogan that took the US by storm. Make no mistake, the campaign was a success, with its play on the Wii name and its showing of young and old playing games. Overall, the campaign did okay for itself. But a couple of games just didn’t fit the campaigns goal of reaching out to the casual.
Let’s look at this one first for Super Paper Mario. Okay, maybe this one might be a bit casual, but what kills me is that barely anything is being said here. What is Mario doing? What’s this 2D/3D thing? Why are these kids letting these two strangers into their house and letting them watch ’em play? Nothing is really explained here. Then you look at the Japanese commercial. They explain what the whole gimmick of the game is about, all in under 30 seconds. But I digress, Super Paper Mario kinda fit with the campaign. But let’s take a look at one game that just didn’t fit at all.
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption was the final game in the Prime trilogy. Samus was finally going to face her phazon-infused doppelganger in an epic planet-hopping adventure. This commercial says nothing of the sort. It’s strange too. How did we get from this commercial, to this commercial, to… well that one up there? That one broke the flow. Okay, yeah they did get it right with Other M, but that’s a whooooooole ‘nother debate altogether. But for the Prime trilogy, this was one sad way to send it off. Hell, why would Nintendo even attempt to make this game appeal to the casual crowd? Most of them don’t even know what Metroid is about, and they’re not gonna try now. Hell, the moment they saw the “3” in the title, they figured “aw man, that means I gotta play the other two games, and I really don’t feel like it.” and probably didn’t bother with the game after that. So a dumb move on Nintendo’s part with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Oh, and just so I can disappoint you even more, here’s the Japanese Commercial. Nothing fancy, but it’s a helluva lot better than what we ended up with.
Moving into the third party space, things got worse. It’s no secret that third party companies have a really tough time trying to sell anything on a Nintendo console that doesn’t have the letters “DS” in it. But for the Wii, it was hell. Complete and utter hell. Nintendo opened up their console for every company. And I mean every company. Now given, there were two inescapable dilemmas that Nintendo put themselves into. One being that once your console becomes a top seller, lots of companies, big and small, will flock to it. The other being that if Nintendo did impose some kind of quality control (something many gamers wished Nintendo did), third parties might call out Nintendo and say that The Big N’s up to their old bullshit again. So this all happened, there was no escaping it. But What could Nintendo have done? Well, they could’ve found some way to get media outlets to not cover shovelware games so prominently in their coverage of Wii material. The PS2 was a treasure trove for shovelware last gen, yet not many media outlets really covered them. If anything, they were outright ignored. Today, shovelware coverage on the Wii is significantly lower than what we saw happening in the first two years of the Wii’s lifecycle. This could be attributed to the apathy that most gamers have for the Wii now. It’s a shame that it’s the only way media outlets could stop covering shovelware.
But then what about the third parties that made quality games for the Wii? Well, like a young wolf in the wild, they were left to fend for themselves. If there was any bullshit tactic Nintendo still latched on to, it was this one. My memory fails me as to how well Nintendo did third party marketing for the SNES, but I would assume it was okay. Hey, they had Nintendo Power after all. One of the few ways you could get info on anything non-Nintendo. Nowadays, the options you have on how to advertise your game has increased. So it should be easier to sell your game, right? Well, not really. Let’s take a look at Microsoft and Sony. Microsoft, the ultimate dependent of third party software, advertises third party games really well. They get just as much time in press conferences as they do their own first party games. And serveral in-console shows like Inside Xbox cover many third party games. With Sony, they do a little of both, advertising first party and third party games. They have a nice balance going for them. On the Playstation store, sales are sometimes done for third party games, and in press conferences, they do show third party games in the same manner as Microsoft. The cherry on top of this is that indie developers can rise to fame easier here since Sony and Microsoft might help you with advertising and offering different methods of advertising.
Nintendo? Well, they do have Nitendo Channel. But that’s a little ad space in the corner. It’s like placing a piece of paper advertising your product… in a baseball field. Who’s gonna see that piece of paper? Who’s gonna care if they do see it? Will they buy your product over the one Panasonic is showing in the large jumbo-tron they rented out? Okay, maybe it’s an unfair comparison to make since indie-devs don’t have that kind of income and Nintendo doesn’t really have much adspace outside their Nintendo Channel. But even then, Nintendo could’ve made a bigger push to advertise. Hell, WiiWare was an afterthought when Nintendo launched the service. They themselves admitted that WiiWare was not one of their primary focuses. While there are some games that have done well on the service, it still feels like Nintendo launched the service as a me-too answer to XBLA and PSN, saying “hey guys look, we got indie game devs too!” and then giving up after a week.
Of course, Nintendo’s not completely at fault here. The third parties themselves are to blame to in some aspects. Let’s look at Okami. Okay okay, I know it looks unfair to pick on this game, but bear with me here. On the outset, Okami looks slated to be a niche game, what with its Japanese setting, artstyle, and brush mechanic. What kills me though is that Capcom complained that they weren’t getting the sales they wanted. If they wanted to make this game sell, they would’ve advertised the hell outta this game! What’s even worse is that they had two tries at this with the PS2 version and the Wii version. I mean for crying out loud, they had a TV commercial in Japan for the game. We didn’t get any of the sort. To me, a TV commercial is still the #1 way to sell your product since most eyes might still be fixed on a TV. What did we get? An art contest on DeviantART and web-banner ads. Really Capcom? That’s not where you’re going to get your sales from. So even though we did get a sequel (a result of fan outcry rather than sales), Capcom has no right to complain that their game did poorly in sales since they didn’t care to advertise so much over here.
Let’s skip over to SEGA. Ohhh, yeah, you bastards ain’t safe here. They had 3 games prepped up for the Wii. They were MadWorld, House of the Dead: Overkill, and The Conduit. Since it was the most original of the bunch, let’s pick on MadWorld. Ironically, this was made by the same people who made Okami. Now With MadWorld, many saw this game as something that the Wii should be proud of having. It’s dark, gritty, has that comic book style like Sin City, and it’s really bloody. This is something that the “hardcore” should like. I was hyped for it. It turned out to be an okay game. So how’d it do in sales? How does 33,000 sound? By US standards, that’s pretty damn low considering the Wii install base. Those numbers would be great for Japan. But it just doesn’t cut it here in the US. So did SEGA have ads for it? They did. Web banners, magazine ads, annoying ads before vids. But a TV commercial? They had a couple… that I barely saw aired on TV! What happened? Well, it seems like around this time, most bigger companies advertised their games for about a week. And once the game was released, the commercials aired for about 4 more days, and then stop. They bet all their chips on that one week to advertise. Simply put, if you want your game to really succeed, you gotta advertise beyond that week. If not, advertise like crazy in that one week. Hell, how did Ace Combat 5 manage to sell so well with that annoying goose I kept seeing on my TV every commercial break. Also, EA is guilty of this same thing with Dead Space: Extraction, as they too complained of low sales while barely advertising the game.
Then at one point in the Wii’s lifecycle, There were virtually no Nintendo games being released. I think it was in around 2008, not too sure exactly. But there was a drought of Nintendo games that lasted for 8 months, as Nintendo only released 4 games that year in the US. One thing on third parties’ minds when selling a game on a Nintendo console is that they may have to compete with a Nintendo game in the same launch period, a fight that they will most likely lose. These 8 months were a godsend. Any company can have a month to themselves. So did any third party take advantage of the time period to release a quality game without worry of Mario hogging the spotlight? Nope! Those 8 months were ruled by shovelware, and barely any quality third party games on it.
Before I end here, let me go off on a slight tangent here and talk about RPGs. Specifically JRPGs. Now, JRPGs are have had a sort of renaissance on the DS and PSP. It makes sense too, since most JRPG companies are small and really don’t have funds to make a full on HD experience on the PS3 and 360. Most JRPG companies from the PS2 era moved to the DS and PSP since it fit their budget. In that sense, it makes me wonder why more JRPGs weren’t released on the Wii. Most smaller companies tend to find their way onto the Wii. JRPG companies are small. They were on the PS2 because it was easy to develop on and it was budget friendly. So why didn’t Nintendo attract them to the Wii? It would’ve been a perfect home for them since it would be like developing on a PS2. Well, In all honesty, Nintendo took too long in relaxing the requirement placed on Third Parties. I think most of these smaller companies were afraid of added motion controls to their games. At the start of the Wii’s lifecycle, Nintendo required all third parties to use the motion controls. Around the middle of the lifecyle, they pulled back that requirement at bit, as now you could make a game using other controller methods. Today, third parties are not required to have motion controls in their games. Most games today, like Monster Hunter 3, have virtually no motion control. Hell, it even came bundeld with the Classic Controller Pro. If only they removed the motion control requirement sooner, as now the JRPG companies are sitting pretty on the DS and PSP, at no amount of convincing is going to move them from there. Nintendo missed a perfect opportunity to transition all PS2-era JRPG companies to the Wii.
In the end, advertising, for the most part, was a mess. There was a huge disproportion in First-to-Third party sales, advertising, and support. Content of game didn’t match content of ad, opportunities were missed, and the kind of marketing for a game just didn’t work. Hopefully this gen serves as a lesson to Nintendo and third parties to make smarter decisions when it comes to marketing. And for third parties to not through hope to wind and word of mouth. But, there is a silver lining to this. In part three, we’ll cover what the few things the Wii did right and the legacy of games that many people will remember.
Part 3: Birth of a New, Beloved Legacy (coming soon)