In April of last year, Satoru Iwata claimed that one of the issues faced by Wii was that the new gamers Wii attracted didn’t translate into profitable customers. Because of this, Nintendo decided to step back from the priority they had placed on these new gamers with Wii when creating Wii U, instead focusing on the more “core” gamer, who he says felt alienated by Wii.
“Wii was able to reach a large number of new consumers who had never played games before by bringing hands-on experiences with its Wii Sports and Wii Fit,” he told investors. “However, we could not adequately create the situation that such new consumers played games frequently or for long, consistent periods. As a result, we could not sustain a good level of profit. Moreover, regrettably, what we prioritized in order to reach out to the new audience was a bit too far from what we prioritized for those who play games as their hobby. Consequently, we presume some people felt that the Wii was not a game system for them or they were not willing to play with the Wii even though some compelling games had been released.”
This idea that Wii lost core gamers while focusing too much on casuals is pretty widespread…but it’s also totally false! The fact of the matter is that Wii had a stronger core gamer audience than any other Nintendo console in history – and I’ve got the data to prove it.
Myth #1: Wii Didn’t Offer Many Core Titles
Fundamental to the idea that Wii wasn’t a system for core gamers is the notion that Wii wasn’t a system for core games, either. However, it’s easy to see from Wii’s lineup that this simply isn’t true. In fact, the record shows that Nintendo’s “core” lineup for Wii stands its own against those for Nintendo 64 and GameCube.
Sure, there are some holes – Wii is obviously missing its Star Fox, its Wave Race, its F-Zero – but it also fills voids from its predecessors’ lineups by supplying games like New Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Country Returns.
To be fair to all platforms under consideration, I’m taking the broadest possible definition of “core games.” That means anything that’s part of a major “traditional” Nintendo franchise will make the list:
Diddy Kong Racing
Donkey Kong 64
Jet Force Gemini
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
Mario Kart 64
Pokémon Stadium 2
Super Smash Bros.
Star Fox 64
Super Mario 64
Wave Race 64
Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Total: 20 games
Animal Crossing: City Folk
Battalion Wars 2
Donkey Kong Barrel Blast
Donkey Kong Country Returns
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (NPC)
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
Kirby’s Dream Collection
Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Kirby’s Return to Dreamland
Mario Kart Wii
Metroid: Other M
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Metroid Prime Trilogy
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Pikmin 2 (NPC)
Pokémon Battle Revolution
Sin & Punishment: Star Successor
Super Mario All-Stars
Super Mario Galaxy
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Super Paper Mario
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Wario Land: Shake It!
Zelda: Skyward Sword
Zelda: Twilight Princess
Total: 30 games
As you can see, even reaching into the “iffy” pile with games like Donkey Konga, Eternal Darkness, and Baten Kaitos for GameCube still leaves Wii on strong footing in terms of its number of “core” games. And it’s way ahead of Nintendo 64, even counting a number of Rare titles that technically aren’t Nintendo properties anymore.
Pretty impressive for a console that supposedly didn’t have anything to offer core gamers.
Myth #2: Wii Attracted Fewer Core Gamers
Many may say “but lots of these games use motion controls, and motion controls are meant for the casuals!” However, I’ll point again to the debut trailer for Wii, which demonstrated that the motion control Revolution also targets core gamers right there alongside the “casuals”:
The presence of motion controls really isn’t what’s at issue. What’s at issue is really more about whether the core franchises fared better (or worse) because of (or despite) the use of motion controls.
I suppose it’s true that just because Nintendo pumped out just as many “core” games on Wii than they did on GameCube, it’s not necessarily the case those games attracted as many gamers. The existence of an editorial by IGN veteran Matt Casamassina that asks that very question demonstrates how deep that skepticism runs.
But looking at Wii’s record, it’s clear that Wii not only attracted more players to most of its core franchises – it blew GameCube completely out of the water:
Super Smash Bros.
The Legend of Zelda
Super Paper Mario: 2.28 million sales (source)
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door: 1.64 million sales
Animal Crossing: City Folk: 3.38 million sales (source)
Animal Crossing: 2.32 million sales
If you define “core gamers” as “people who play core games,” then it’s clear that Wii actually had more core gamers than its predecessors. The only series to see significant decline on Wii despite releases of brand-new titles was Metroid, and the decline was smaller than the growth experienced by literally any of the other franchises. Even then, Metroid for Wii is still perceived as highly valuable among core gamers – Metroid Prime Trilogy frequently fetches over $100 online.
This doesn’t make sense if the system was, as many have believed, “dominated by casuals.” Not if “casuals” are supposedly buying games like Wii Fit and Carnival Games instead of core games. You can’t have it both ways – either “casuals” don’t buy core games, or they do. And if they do, that blurs the distinction between “casuals” and “core gamers.”
The so-called Hardcore Gamers refuse to accept this fact. They cling to the belief that Wii was marked by the loss of “core gamers,” even though any idiot can look at the number of people who went out and bought “core games” each generation – the only really objective metric for measuring the size of the “core gamer” audience – and see that Wii is the clear all-time winner. It had just as many core games as GameCube, but at the end of the day it had more people lined up to buy them.
Of course, you don’t even really need to compare so many franchises in this tedious fashion. Taking New Super Mario Bros. Wii into consideration – Super Mario Bros. is a core franchise, after all – there were more “core gamers” on Wii than there were gamers period on GameCube. 27.88 million is a good bit more than 21.74 million.
But the Hardcore Gamer will deny this, too. New Super Mario Bros. isn’t a core game; it’s a casual game. And while there’s an extent to which I can agree – there’s a clear distinction between Super Mario Bros. and the other so-called “core” games in terms of appeal – we must never forget that using this broader appeal to discard Super Mario Bros. as a part of Nintendo’s core lineup is sheer propagandizing. People would have laughed in your face if you told them that Super Mario Bros. is not a game for gamers back in the ’80s. Though I can agree that the newer games aren’t as special for their time as the older games, that’s no reason to claim them as exceptions.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a core title – it just reaches to a certain kind of core gamer that Nintendo had previously abandoned. (Ironic, no? I thought Wii was the system that abandoned core gamers!) The Hardcore Gamer, believing himself special, cannot abide the idea that Nintendo would work to appeal to gamers other than he. If Nintendo does not devote its attention to satisfying the Hardcore Gamer (and the Hardcore Gamer only), then he will cry foul.
Myth #3: Wii Was Most Popular With Casuals
There’s another large misconception that I see tossed around a lot: that most Wii owners were casuals who never wound up buying “core games” anyway. They just stuck with Wii Sports or Wii Fit. This one’s a lot more difficult to dispel, as it requires us to dig deep back into Nintendo’s sales records.
By March 2007, Wii had sold 5.84 million units and 28.84 million games. That’s almost five games per system. More than half of Wii owners at that point – 3.27 million – had purchased Twilight Princess for Wii.
Between that time and March 2008, Nintendo sold 18.61 million Wiis and 119.6 million Wii games. That’s an even better yearly ratio of 6.4 games per system, bringing the cumulative attach rate to about 6 games per Wii owner. During this time, Nintendo sold more than 6 million copies of Super Mario Galaxy, 4.85 million copies of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and 2.27 million copies of Super Paper Mario.
Unlike Twilight Princess, none of these titles individually makes up a majority part of the yearly hardware sales numbers, meaning it likely is true that many new Wii buyers during this time weren’t really going for those “core” games, but it would be misleading to say that most Wii owners at the time weren’t buying many games period. Otherwise we’d see attach rates drop rather than increase. The contributions of a relatively small active install base (considerably less than half of Wii owners at the time) couldn’t have offset a lack of software sales to a considerably larger disinterested install base that only purchased 1-2 Wii games total unless they all bought something like 7-10 new games apiece in 2007, which is extremely unlikely.
Between April 2008 and March 2009, Nintendo sold 25.95 million Wiis and 204.58 million Wii games. Interestingly, there were two supremely standout titles released during that time – Wii Fit (16.37 million) and Mario Kart Wii (15.4 million). Again, however, it’s clear that even if every Wii Fit sale corresponded to a non-core gamer who only bought Wii Sports and Wii Fit, that’d still leave core gamers to pick up the remaining 160 million game slack. As was the case the previous year, that means those gamers would have had to buy about eight games each just in 2008.
Fast-forward to March 2013, and Wii has sold 99.84 million systems and 869.06 million games. That’s an average attach rate of 8.7 games per system. Even if we assume that there were a large number of system owners – say about 30 million – who only bought one or two games over the system’s life, that’d leave about 70 million systems and 800 million games that were sold to non-casual customers.
That means that the “core audience” for Wii actually bought more games on average than for any other Nintendo console in history… while still being larger than the total audience for those systems, NES being the previous best-seller with 61.91 million units sold. Even if you keep jacking up the number of “casual-only” gamers to more like 40 or 50 million, Wii still reached more “core gamers” than either Nintendo 64 or GameCube, while also reaching the less-dedicated gamers that those platforms lost.
There’s no evidence to suggest that Wii “lost core gamers,” as many seem to believe. That’s a patent lie, invented by the Hardcore Gamer to solicit Nintendo to create fewer games for other audiences – which the Industry refuses to recognize as “core” (even though they are more critical to Nintendo’s success!) – and more games to satisfy the Hardcore (even though they are the pioneers on the path to Nintendo’s decline).
The fact of the matter is that the data demonstrates that, if anything, Wii actually created core gamers. Not only that, it demonstrates that the Wii Revolution, which began with Wii Sports, was not merely the beginning of a new era of “casuals” but the “expansion of the gaming population,” just as Nintendo intended it to be.
To address Mr. Iwata’s earlier point, it was this process of creating new core gamers – not appealing to the wishes of the Hardcore – that led Nintendo and the Industry to their greatest profitability levels of all time between 2007 and 2009. It is only when Nintendo stopped creating games correctly aimed at attracting new audiences – games like Wii Sports, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Mario Kart Wii – that Wii’s profitability finally declined.