Sports games showing signs of life on the Wii

Posted December 28th, 2007 at 3:08 am


The Wii has been a juggernaut since launch. No one would be able to argue otherwise in the area of hardware sales. It has been out over a year and is still very difficult to find in stores. It sold nearly a million units in November and that is with the supply constrained.

However outside of a handful of first party titles, sales of games for the Wii have been somewhat disappointing. This is especially the case for third party titles which seem to go largely ignored by the user base. The Xbox 360 continues to sell more software every month than the Wii and PS3 combined.

This tends to be attributed to the casual crowd that the Wii attracts. Wii Sports, which comes packed in with the console, is the face of gaming on the system. Pretty much every conversation, story, video, or commercial about the Wii has it mentioned or shown. Some people have gone as far as to say that other games aren’t purchased as gamers have been so satisfied with the Wii Sports experience. Or they lose interest in the console once that initial excitement wears off. However the Nintendo crowd definitely has proven they’ll be there to support first party titles.

The casual crowd and success of Wii Sports has led to the thought that the Wii is primarily a mini-game console. Even in games such as Madden it has become a focus and selling point. In Madden 08 there were 22 mini-games included.

Obviously the more hardcore sports gamers have moved on to the 360 or PS3, or they still reside on the PS2. It seems unlikely that fans of these games would look to the Wii for the best experience. Yet there is still a crowd there that can be targeted as seen with EA’s addition of Family Play to their Wii titles. Knowing that the Wii has such a family-centric base they’ve taken the approach of attempting to attract them to their games by offering the option of using ultra-simplistic controls.

Following the launch of Madden 08 the initial sales breakdown on each console showed the disparity clearly. The Wii sold only 57,000 copies the first week. Maybe the most concerning thing about that was it represented an increase of less than 5,000 over the 07 launch. This despite nine months of strong Wii sales. In comparison that amounts to only 7% of what the 360 version sold, and 28% of what the PS3 version sold. It even just barely outsold the original Xbox version. Certainly expectations would’ve been higher considering the circumstances.

However things are looking a little brighter now. The breakdown below shows the percent of total sales to date that the opening week represented.

360: 59%

PS2: 42%

PS3: 35%

Wii: 16%

It would be expected that the 360, PS3, and PS2 versions would have a large percent of their overall sales from the first week with a game like Madden. Fans of the game rush out and get it on the first day and sales generally just trickle in after that. However with the Wii you see that it has been steady throughout.

Whether that can transfer over to other titles, or if it is simply due to the Madden name, remains to be seen. There have been a few other games with moderate success such as The BIGS and Tiger Woods. However others such as FIFA and NBA Live have been met with little interest.

What is it about The BIGS and Tiger Woods that have led to success? In the case of The BIGS the arcade style action was appealing. With Tiger the Wii controls are easy to understand. People have played Wii Golf so they have that familiarity. But with games such as FIFA and Live the controls don’t match up quite as well. In FIFA you’re swinging your arm for a kicking action in a game. That just doesn’t make much sense on the surface or feel as natural.

The next games to make the jump to the Wii are MLB 2K8 and 2K’s Prizefighter. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare. As it is right now it would be tough to justify taking a game such as EA’s NHL series to the Wii. Until sales show that that the Wii players will purchase sports games it is understandable that they wouldn’t bother with anything but the games that appeal the most to the mainstream. NCAA Football 09 will likely make its way to the Wii which should be a good test of how much support there is overall.

The longterm viability of the Wii is still a major question mark in the sports gaming area. The numbers from Madden 08 seem to be encouraging however it must be considered that Madden is in a league of its own when it comes to overall sales and name recognition. Until the sales go up the development of these games will take a backseat to the versions on the other consoles.