Electronic Arts has been doing a lot of shuffling of the deck chairs lately, following a ho-hum 2008. When the company reported its earnings this week, CEO John Riccitello was candid in his admission that EA hasn’t done enough to try to capture the hearts, minds and dollars of Wii owners.
“Nintendo is the leader; they’re getting half our emphasis in terms of title counts,” Riccitello said. “This year’s (Wii) title slate is a significant improvement from last year.” In the same conference call, Riccitello indicated that one of the titles planned for the Wii this year will be a version of “Dead Space,” the horrific, tense space shooter that debuted to rave reviews last year on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
Expect to see a few larger game companies more fully embrace the Wii this year. In the past, Nintendo’s consoles have primarily been driven by Nintendo’s games. But with the exception of “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” and “Mario Kart Wii” in the first half of the year and the faddish “Wii Fit” in the second half, Nintendo’s recent lineup has been tailored more toward families and casual players who invest relatively small amounts of time when it comes to gaming. But now that the console is in about twice as many homes as its next closest competitor, the Xbox 360, game publishers ignore it at their own peril.
There’s certainly a demand for more robust action, richer story lines and memorable alternate worlds. While it’s true that the higher end hardware of the PS3 and 360 will mean those systems’ games will always look better than the Wii, good writing and great game mechanics never go out of style. Let’s hope the increased investment by EA and companies like it leads to a more diverse lineup. But remember, simply making good Wii games and hoping they sell themselves isn’t a sound business strategy. EA put a lot of effort into last year’s “Madden NFL 09” on the Wii, garnering positive reviews but dismal sales.
On the other side of the coin, will this shift in focus mean fewer titles for the 360 and PS3? Given the robust sales of games like “Dead Space,” “Left 4 Dead” and both “Rock Band” games, EA has to realize there’s a devoted market already in place. They’d be foolhardy to simultaneously turn their back on a proven revenue stream to chase the more fickle Wii gamer. A two-headed approach will probably work best going forward. If you need proof, look no further than the Riccitello’s announcement of “Mass Effect 2,” releasing in about a year from now.