The Nintendo Wii might be the most popular console of this generation, but it's suffering from a major issue that could have a profound effect on its success: only first-party titles are selling well on the platform.
To Sony, recent Wii game sales figures from market researcher NPD Group bode well for its own game platform. Speaking to IndustryGamers in a recent interview, Senior Vice President of Publisher Relations Rob Dyer said third-party game developers, looking for a stronger return on investment, are defecting from the Wii to the PlayStation 3:
What publishers have said is, they're not going to spend the resources on Wii...In my job, we compete against Microsoft and Nintendo, and we're competing for resources. So when I walk into a publisher, I ask, "Where are you guys pushing your resources?" In the past, it was, "Look how hot the Wii is," or "Look how hot the DS is," and "We should put resources there." They did that and realized, "You know what? Third-party product just doesn't sell on that platform."
So now they're taking those resources, coming back to us, and saying, "Sony, we're going to be able to provide you with that exclusive content," or "we're going to put more engineers on it and figure out to maximize the Blu-ray and get more out of PS3." That's what we're seeing now.
Unfortunately for Nintendo, selling third-party developers on the value of developing titles for the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 isn't nearly as difficult as it should be. As Dyer pointed out, he doesn't "have to fight for their hearts and minds." All he really needs to do is point to the top-selling games on Nintendo's console to make his point.
It's not a small issue. Console vendors rely on their library of games to continue selling consoles and generate revenue from partnerships with developers. In recent months, several companies have stated publicly that they're losing patience with the Wii, and Nintendo just isn't doing enough to support them.
"To be honest with you, I think the Wii platform has been a little weaker than we had certainly anticipated," Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello said in an earnings call in September. "And there is no lack of frustration [about this] at precisely the time where we have the strongest third-party share."
Riccitiello went on to say that "very, very few multiplatform titles are succeeding on the Wii so far, and collectively, Electronic Arts and Nintendo need to tackle that."
In the three months since Riccitiello called Nintendo out, things haven't changed. Wii game sales have been dominated by Nintendo titles. Third-party developers are still having a difficult time keeping up.
But regardless of whether developers really wish to run from Nintendo to Sony, rather than Microsoft, is decidedly up for debate. Microsoft's Xbox 360 is still far ahead of the PS3 in console sales. And to most developers, that installed base matters quite a bit.
It's also important to remember that exclusivity is rare in today's game market. Games are costing more and more to make. Third-party developers looking to profit from a title generally need to make it work on multiple platforms. Unfortunately for Nintendo, sales prospects for independent Wii developers are dim.