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North American Ubisoft president Laurent Detoc recently showed concern over his company’s Wii titles. According to a recent Gamasutra article –

“He acknowledged the Wii in particular has been difficult for Ubisoft to find success with. Pointing to the console’s generous sales, he noted that games published for the Wii made up only 10 percent of Ubisoft’s sales last year, and added that the company will need to work harder to create games that will ‘sell as well as Nintendo’s own Wii titles.'”

Let us run through the list of games Ubisoft has published for the Wii as it may elucidate the company’s problems.

No More Heroes – A great game, by far Ubisoft’s best reviewed Wii title, also made by a talented developer (so obviously not Ubisoft). Given zero marketing, guaranteeing this quirky ultraviolent title’s demise.

Red Steel – An ok launch title for the Wii, sold over a million copies despite obvious flaws.

Raving Rabbids – A decent party game and good early effort.

Raving Rabbids 2 – Rehash of game that was only decent to begin with.

Nitro Bike – “The makers of Excitebike 64 return to the motocross circuit with a disappointing wreck of a Wii game.” -Nintendo Power

My Word Coach – Cool title if you’re into words, say because you write for a website, but why get this instead of the portable DS version, that you could say play in the morning on your 40 minute train commute?

Cosmic Family – “It also feels like a game that was meant to run in flash on an Internet browser and not a full-fledged Wii product.” -IGN

Prince of Persia Rival Swords – A port of a PS2 game with tacked on motion controls.

Blazing Angels – “Piling on an unfortunate number of bugs and glitches, Blazing Angels on the Wii is undoubtedly the most disappointing version of this game to date.” -GameSpy

TMNT – Multiplatform title with Wii controls tacked on and crappier graphics. Also worse than the TMNT games of our youth.

CSI – “…if you’re looking for a challenging mystery adventure, look elsewhere.” -Games Radar

Cranium Kabookii – “Sadly there are a few niggles that prevent this from being a must-buy, especially given how the board game itself is a much cheaper alternative.” -Cubed3

Petz Horsez 2 – Crap

Petz Dogz 2 – Crap

Petz Catz 2 – Crap

Surf’s Up – Licensed crap

Open Season – Licensed crap

Driver Parallel Lines – “Although it does benefit from better controls, that doesn’t disguise how boring the storyline is, or how mediocre the missions are.” -Eurogamer

Far Cry – “One of the Wii’s worst games, an underdeveloped mess that will turn off most of its players by the middle — or possibly even the beginning — of level one.” -Game Daily

Splinter Cell Double Agent – “With its sloppy controls and a total lack of online multiplayer mode… it’s tough to justify this version’s existence.” -Gamepro

Monster 4X4 – “Monster 4X4: World Circuit is a budget port of an Xbox title, we’re getting it almost a year later and at full price. The game wasn’t great originally and it still isn’t.” -PALGN

GT Pro Series – “I find it appalling that publishers can get away with charging $50 on a game that might be worth $10 on a good day. The only thing you can do to let publishers know that we’re not going to put up with this kind of crap is to not buy GT Pro Series, a task that should be easy considering the quality of the product.” -Nintendo World Report

Emergency Mayhem – “It may be one of the best of its breed, but that’s like saying smallpox is the best communicable disease.” – n-Revolution Magazine UK

There are two main points to take away from this list. The less obvious one is that Ubisoft seemed to be trying harder earlier in the Wii’s life cycle. If Red Steel and Raving Rabbids were stepping off points that led the company to something better we would have some excellent Ubisoft titles to choose from today. Instead, those were the pinnacle of the developers effort and everything since (besides No More Heroes) has been mediocre or terrible.

The second and more obvious point is that Ubisoft just makes shitty games. They are trying to compete directly with Nintendo and are getting crushed, and rightfully so. Besides the dubious logic of “Nintendo has captured this audience, forget going after a different audience, let’s fight then head on for the casual market,” Nintendo makes good games. This point is mostly overlooked by Ubisoft. Sure Nintendo releases a stinker here and there, but they bundle a remote with anything really bad. They also release amazing games, like Twilight Princess, Mario Galaxy, Fire Emblem and a little title called Wii Sports.

Ubisoft cannot compete with Nintendo directly by releasing bad games yet that is their business strategy. Their folly is obvious to all industry onlookers yet in the boardroom the execs will scratch their heads and wonder why Petz Spider Monkeyz 2 didn’t topple Wii Fit.

My biggest concern is that these suits know something I don’t. Are they really used to exerting absolutely no effort, simply shoving crap out the door and making big profits? Will the Wii’s downfall be at the hands of lazy 3rd parties who are not comfortable with making quality products? Or is it just this new casual game boom that’s convinced so many publishers they don’t need to make good games to make money?

2 Comments

  1. Christian said on May 20, 2008:

    When it comes to No More Heroes, the game sold better in North America than anyone expected, over 100,000 copies at least. For a niche game that Ubi only had to publish it did nicely – the problem, however, is that we don’t know what Ubisoft expected from it. Were they happy with that number, or were they somehow hoping it would be a breakhout hit? Execs can have weird expectations, hence my curiosity.

    I also remember reading something where the people behind the PoP port admitted it was quick and dirty, thus they could understand the weak reception, and that they would have to do better in the future. So someone realizes that better quality will help make better sales. This actually seems to line up perfectly with the above quote from Ubisoft’s president, who has likely programmed his mind not to consider better effort and budgets as a solution to his sales woes.

  2. bruce said on May 21, 2008:

    Oh god. *rubs forehead*

    Look at the two standout efforts in the list. Raving Rabbids and No More Heroes have style and personality. They make use of motion controls in interesting ways. Everything else on the list, everything, lacks those important hooks. Everything else was an attempt at a cash in or an effort to do something other people have done better.

    And I know game company executives are aware of the fact that they are fighting the Nintendo headwind when putting a game on that console, but what they fail to seem to realize is that you can’t drop one good game on the console and expect to see some sort of breakout success. You will have to build franchises, build something an audience wants to come back to. BUILD a reputation that speaks to people. Because THAT’S WHY NINTENDO IS WHERE THEY ARE. The reason you are fighting the Nintendo franchise mascot character machine is because Nintendo has released past iterations of all those things and built that reputation. So Ubisoft and their ilk need to get off their lazy cashing in asses and start building that reputation.

    And no, I’m sorry, you can’t take a franchise that is successful elsewhere and tack on dodgy motion controls and expect success either. You will have to build a game that, from the ground up, makes some sort of interesting use of the motion controls. Make a game that -couldn’t- be made without the motion controls. Don’t make a game where the motion controls could be easily replaced with a button press on a standard controller, make a game where the actions the player undertakes can’t fundamentally be done with button presses. Or at least where once a player has used the motion control, they will fail to see how not using them was ever fun. Look to Wii Sports for examples of this. I NEVER cared to play a tennis game until Wii Sports. And that’s because swinging the remote around was COMPELLING, it made me feel engaged with the action onscreen that a button press never could have. Teaching people that this is the great advance of the Wii won’t happen overnight. But it is happening, slowly.

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