WiiWare’s long term potential may very well shape the future of gaming. That’s a bold statement, so allow me to elaborate.
WiiWare makes it possible to create games with very little financial risk and offer them to a relatively large audience. For that reason alone, I expect (and hope) that WiiWare will become the proving ground for new ideas which can then be expanded upon into retail.
A good example of this is Geometry Wars, a game which started as a mini-game in Project Gotham Racing 2 but has since gone on to incredible success via retail and digital distribution alike. The likelihood of a publisher bringing the first iteration of the game to retail is nil, citing its lack of graphical prowess as the primary reason the game wouldn’t have a chance.
Admittedly, this isn’t anything Iwata-san hasn’t said in the past (with his example of how Tetris wouldn’t get a publisher in this day and age), but I think that WiiWare will also be the beginning of something we’ve never seen before. WiiWare will be a scenario in which developers can attempt to further reach out to casual and non-gamers, mainly because WiiWare offers very little risk, making bizarre, experimental games a possibility – and from this experimentation, the market can continue to be expanded.
The gaming industry is only just beginning to understand what works when it comes to reaching these casual audiences. Not to say that the recent efforts haven’t yielded incredible results, but when you compare the gaming industry to the movie industry, there’s still a predictably long journey ahead.
Movies and games both have fan followings, critics on standby to analyse and tear them to shreds and they’re both readily capable of communicating messages and ideas to the audience/players. The only key difference is that gaming is an interactive form of media and a relatively new medium when compared to film. Games are still grossly misunderstood by parents and misjudged by a media that thrives upon controversy. I’ve seen far, far more grotesque violence in movies than I ever have in games and yet every news report of teen-related violence is immediately followed with assumptions that said teen is mimicking behaviour learned in video games. It doesn’t matter that many millions of kids probably learned to help people in need from playing The Legend of Zelda or learned the value of friendship from playing Final Fantasy: games are still the scapegoat whenever someone below the age of 20 perpetrates violence.
The situation can only improve, though, and I see WiiWare as another board in the bridge to true mainstream acceptance for gaming. I see gaming one day standing shoulder to shoulder with movies in terms of both sales and respect as an artistic medium. However, that sort of acceptance will only come from much trial and error in finding out what the casual audience accepts and eventually comes to love (and believe me when I say that Medaverse has many ideas in this area).
In that sense, WiiWare is the games industry equivalent of greenlighting a thousand independent films, and that kind of momentum will only serve to bring more non-gamers in to see what the gaming world has to offer. Nintendo has done the hard part in making a console so different and unique that it separates itself from the previous archetypes of console gaming.
With news stories about the Wii being enjoyed by seniors in nursing homes as well as recovering patients as a means of physical therapy, it’s becoming harder for the media to stick the “ultra-violent murder simulation” label on gaming for the first time in over a decade. The Wii control scheme has removed a great deal of the stigma, making gaming more approachable to everyone.
The next step is to continue with that momentum by finding out what else these new gamers want and I think WiiWare will be a colossal asset in that regard.
To conclude, it’s my hope that Nintendo has put its foot in the doorway to gaming becoming accepted as a medium on par with movies and film, and Medaverse hopes to be along for that journey.
Jesse Lowther is co-founder of Medaverse Studios, which was opened in 2002 as a fansite for gaming and media news but has evolved as the team moved into game development. The studio’s first game, Gravitronix, is out later this year on WiiWare.