Good third-party Wii titles aren't selling - and it's Nintendo's fault.
You probably don't know this, but one of the games of 2008 came out last week - Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure on the Nintendo Wii.
It's brilliant. Capcom's treasure-finding 2.5D point-and-click puzzler ticks all the right boxes, perfectly fits the Wii's fun and easy-to-play philosophy and makes stupendous use of the Wii Remote. And yet, following terrible sales in the US and Japan, Zack & Wiki looks set to flop in the UK as well.
Why? Its quirky Japanese nature? Its unconventional game play? Its unwieldy name? Its perception as a child's cartoon game? Its slightly harden than your average Wii game difficulty level? No. The answer is much simpler, and even more disturbing.
The fact of the matter is that if Nintendo had made the game instead of Capcom and replaced Zack with, say, Mario, or Link, the game would currently be flying off shelves quicker than the Wii itself.
So, the real reason that Zack & Wiki won't shift as many copies as it deserves is because of a disadvantage at birth - it is a third-party Wii title and therefore most Wii owners won't take a punt on it.
There has been a lot of talk recently about poorly performing third-party sales on the Wii. The suggestion is that only Nintendo games do well on the platform. Goichi Suda, director of Killer 7 and No More Heroes, another quality Wii game that has had miserable sales in Japan, said that only Nintendo is really profiting from the Wii's phenomenal success.
I fear he is right. So why are third-party Wii titles not selling? Certainly Zack & Wiki should sell well. It is a quality product, easy to get into and, most important of all, it is fun. In my opinion gamers of all kinds, hardcore and casual, would enjoy Zack & Wiki. I would even go as far as to say it's as good as Super Mario Galaxy, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, three games singled out by Nintendo itself as evidence the company hasn't forgotten its core gamer fans.
Perhaps it's a case of the boy who cried wolf. In the Wii's early days, 90% of titles released for it were utter rubbish. Cheap, short and with terrible graphics, these games were the result of a trend from many developers and publishers who thought they could make a killing by jumping on the Wii's bandwagon with quickly made casual titles.
On the whole, it's a strategy that hasn't worked. Instead of making a killing, all it's done is contributed to a feeling among casual and hardcore Wii owners alike that anything released on the Wii that's not developed by Nintendo is absolute tosh.
So now, in early 2008, a period that has seen the release of a slew of decent to excellent third-party Wii titles, it is very difficult for non-Nintendo games to achieve commercial success, even when us game hacks scream from the rafters with positive reviews.
The whole situation is of some concern. Publishers and developers may look at the Wii and decide to pass it by because of it. What must Capcom think? It has an excellent easy-to-get-into video game on its hands that has enjoyed positive review scores across the board. It should, by rights, sell well. Might the publisher simply give up making the effort? Is Zack & Wiki 2 and other potential follow-ups to quality third-party Wii titles now impossible to make because they are not commerically viable? If true, that is a very unfortunate situation indeed.
So listen-up Nintendo. Employ some Wii quality control. I'm sure someone somewhere plays the games before they're given the green light. Opening the flood gates to a wave of crap is a strategy that is short-term in the extreme. And it is a strategy that treats casual gamers, a demographic fuelling the Wii's stellar success, like idiots. Even if you're not a seasoned gamer, a pile of crap is a pile of crap.