Wednesday, July 9, 2008

EA, Ubisoft, Activision Create New Brands For Casual Wii Market

Ever since the Nintendo Wii’s launch in November 2006, it has taken the world by storm. It has broken numerous sales records, currently sitting atop the current generation of consoles. Over a year and a half later, it is still impossible to find one in stores without calling retail outlets ahead of time for delivery schedules. The success of the Wii Sports game pack-in has ignited the casual gaming market, with its easier controls and family-friendly attitude only a couple of the contributing factors. Since the Wii’s popularity took game developers off-guard, they have since tried to capitalize on this relatively untouched market with a slew of mini-game based party games and “shovelware”, which are low-quality games that take very little time and effort to produce. While the Wii’s lower development cost has allowed many smaller companies to develop for the console, bigger companies such as Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Activision have now formed dedicated brands to create “innovative” games that take advantage of the hardware and the consumer.

EA Sports' current line-up of Wii exclusive All-Play titles.

EA Sports has formed the All-Play brand with intentions to create titles that are unique and exclusively developed for the Wii. Rather than tacked-on motion controls of previous games, this new brand will include “unique controls, easy-to-learn mini games, Wii-exclusive modes” and much more. The first five titles announced are: Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’09 All-Play, Madden NFL ’09 All-Play, NCAA Football ’09 All-Play, NBA Live ’09 All-Play, and FIFA ’09 All-Play. At first glance, this sounds like a good thing for the system. Wii gamers are looking for a new game experience that is different from other traditional consoles, and Wii Sports has shown that there is huge potential for exclusively developed games. However, comments from EA Sports president and former Xbox VP and figure head Peter Moore may show that this may not be a good thing. With intentions to “level the playing field” and target people of all skill levels, this sounds like it will only fuel the recent trend of “dumbing down” games. There may be less barriers-to-entry for the consumer, but it sounds like this may only bring a more limited experience rather than elevate these “casual gamers” into “hardcore gamers”.

Ubisoft's Play Zone title, Sports Party looks to capitalize on Wii Sport's success.

Ubisoft was one of the first third-party companies to provide support for the Wii, with a large line-up of launch games that included titles such as the hyped-up FPS disappointment Red Steel and the fun mini-game collection Rayman: Raving Rabbids. The casual gamer and the desire for simple, fun party games have been dominating the Wii’s market, which many companies have been capitalizing on. Ubisoft has reinforced its casual game program with the Play Zone brand. Dedicated to solely making party games that has flooded the console, the first title announced is Sports Party. EA’s intentions can be rightly justified, as they are attempting to re-launch their existing sports titles to take advantage of the Wii’s potential. Ubisoft’s Play Zone sounds like a pure cash-in. The fact that their first announced title is basically a spin-off of Wii Sports reveals a lot. Creating an entire brand to exclusively develop mini-games for the Wii does not bode well for the console’s third-party future.

Although Electronic Arts has been infamously known as one of the biggest game conglomerates, Activision has recently been competing for the title with its recent merger with Vivendi Games and its better-known subsidiary, Blizzard Entertainment. With such a wealth of experience, capital, and potential available to them, Activision has renewed their commitment to the Wii with its new Wee 1st brand. With their plan to expand their Wii development in the works for more than a year, the first titles announced are: Little League World Series 2008, Rapala Fishing Frenzy, and Dancing with the Stars: Get Your Dance On. Like every other company, Activision has been seeking ways to access this casual gaming market. It’s hard to say how pure their intentions are, but the label has been described as, ”designed to showcase games that take full advantage of the Wii's capabilities”. With two great companies and a slew of studios at their disposal, this announcement is very disappointing. The current game list doesn’t exactly inspire much hope for quality games, but at least it isn’t solely composed of party games.

Nintendo’s intentions to expand the gaming market with the Wii have worked, but not well enough. Rather than inspire consumers to learn and play more challenging and traditional games, they have allowed their system and consumer market to get overwhelmed with shovelware. The fact that neither Nintendo nor the casual gamer doesn’t seem to mind at all is a bit alarming. There have been very few games that have the quality, depth, and richness that take advantage of the Wii’s strong points, and the majority of them have, of course, come from first-party studios. With seemingly no reason to cater to the “hardcore gamer”, hopefully Nintendo’s announcements at E3 will get other third party companies to make real Wii games.

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