In an interesting interview last week with the San Jose Mercury News, EA's CEO, John Riccitiello said although his company is doing quite well in the video game space, it committed a major blunder earlier on in this generation and now it's trying to play catch-up.
"One thing that's different [this generation] is we typically figured out who the market leader was going to be before the start of the cycle and bet with our development resources on that platform," Riccitiello told the Mercury News. "We made the wrong call there (by betting on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360), which made this transition harder than it would otherwise be. But now we're catching up, and I think we're fine."
Regardless of whether or not EA actually is fine, don't you think the company should have admitted this long ago? And let's also not forget that EA isn't alone in this. Countless other developers have denigrated the value of the Wii and even today, most of them don't want anything to do with it even though it's selling like gangbusters.
It needs to stop. Instead of clinging to the faulty belief that only Sony and Microsoft matter in the software space, developers need to start focusing more on the Wii and develop games that are not only innovative, but more in the vein of those titles they're creating for the competing consoles. And in the end, I think we'll all win.
As Riccitiello pointed out, most developers severely downplayed the significance of the Wii before it was made available. I can hear it now: "A console from Nintendo that doesn't use a traditional controller and lets people throw their hands around to control the on-screen action? No way."
How wrong they were. Unlike Nintendo, which chose innovation over all else, developers never believed that people would actually want to play a video game that didn't include some sort of killing, stealing, or action that was controlled by their own movement. Instead, they hitched themselves to two companies that tried to stay true to tradition and pretend that Nintendo wasn't a competitor or even a major force in the space.
And although some like to make the argument that developers don't really want to get into the Wii game because of its poor attach rate, I'm not so quick to agree. On average, the Wii has a 5.3 attach rate according to NPD, which is just 2 games behind the Xbox 360. Granted, many of those games are Nintendo titles, but I'm not willing to concede that Nintendo is leading in the Wii software space because it's a first-party. Instead, I think it's leading because developers have been so slow to make games for the console.
But all that needs to change. The reality of the situation is that Nintendo is the leader and it doesn't look like it will slow down anytime soon. And if developers want to turn a profit in this era of expensive games and multi-platform titles, they're going to be forced to embrace the Wii and either develop unique titles for the platform or go through the process of porting it to the console, no matter the cost.
For a while, it made sense to not port titles to the Wii. More often than not, games developers like EA were creating were simply too advanced for Nintendo's console and moving a button control scheme to hand-waving isn't exactly simple. But now that the Wii has solidified its place in the industry, the number of options available to EA and the rest are small and they're forced to innovate.
Isn't it unfortunate that only after the Wii forces these companies to innovate that we will see some unique titles? Granted, not all Wii games from third parties will be innovative and some will be ports, but I don't see any other option. If nothing else, Wii owners have shown that the games like Wii Fit, Wii Sports, and Wii Play are coveted above all else and ported titles from EA and the rest aren't usually the best-selling.
It's easy for developers to ignore the Wii when it's not available in stores, but they can't do it anymore. As development costs continue to rise and Wii sales easily outstrip its competitors, developers need that third source of revenue and it's in their best interests to support the consoles that consumers covet the most.
It's time we demand more from developers and make them realize that although they're perfectly fine developing games for Sony and Microsoft, it's time they focus more on the Wii and bring about some change in an industry that's lacking the kind of innovation we've come to miss.
I don't think that's asking for too much.