Does anyone remember the Nintendo drought? Those not-so-glorious times when Nintendo 64 and GameCube owners waited month after month for something -- anything -- new to be released for their system?
Well, may I introduce you to the Nintendo flood?
There are a slew of Wii titles coming out this week. And nothing else for other systems.
When I checked the GameStop's online Coming Soon list right before Christmas I saw that the list of the next eight titles for the PS3 and the 360 stretched into February ("Cabela's Monster Bass Fishing" and "Devil May Cry 4," respectively). For Wii, that list barely got into January.
How does that happen? Where did these Wii games come from?
On the Wednesday before Christmas I spoke to a man who had the answers. Paul Rinde is the CEO of Destineer, a Minneapolis-based game publisher responsible for some high-profile Mac ports (they published "Unreal Tournament 3" and "Halo" for Apple computers). The company was founded in 2000 and is now being positioned to make a splash on the Wii in 2008. At the time of our interview, Rinde's company had just shipped its first Wii game,"Indianapolis 500 Legends."
And there were six more in the pipeline, marked on GameStop for release this week, though possibly not really trickling out completely until the end of January or so.
Again, how does this happen? What exactly is Destineer -- aside from a game publisher that, located just 10 minutes from the offices of Game Informer magazine, currently employs former GI writers like the guy who had to backpedal from posting that publication's infamously low "Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door" score? And, other trivia aside, aren't these the kind of publishing practices on the Wii that some game reporters say are part of the problem? You know, the problem that EGM hammered Nintendo on a few months ago?
Or is this a great sign of what starved Nintendo system owners have been waiting for for a decade: at last... widespread third-party support.
Paul Rinde answered all my questions. Read on.
First, one other bit of neat trivia: Destineer also makes John Deere games, by the way. Did you even know there were John Deere games?
For the record, the wave of Wii games Rinde and I were talking about included the following $20 titles: "Classic British Motor Racing," "Kidz Sports: Basketball," "Monster Trux Offroad," "Myth Makers: Orbs of Doom," "Rig Racer 2," and "Kawasaki Quad Bikes," which are all under Destineer's Bold Publishing label. These are not games Rinde planned to publish a year ago. "We had our own publishing plan that involved six to eight titles over a 12-month publishing period," Rinde told me over the phone. "And this whole group of titles we're publishing under the Bold brand was just an opportunity I came across a few months ago."
An opportunity. Just some Wii games lying around. How does one come by that?
"We were looking for more casual games, trying to get into the pick-up and play features of the Wii, more family-fun, family friendly and that type of thing," Rinde said. Destineer had set in motion plans for four Wii games in development, the first of which was the "Indianapolis" game. The next three, including February's Arcade Moon-developed co-op flight sim "World War II Aces," would be released in 2008. And then Rinde went to Europe last year and found out about a group just outside of Birmingham, England called Data Design Interactive. DDI had made Wii games for release in Europe and were looking for an American publishing partner.
"It surprised me, too," Rinde told me. "We said, 'Great. Anything that's Wii we'd love to take a look at.' Most people would… We talked to a few of our retail partners and they were very upbeat about the lineup that we were showing them so we concluded the deal very quickly." (For those who've heard of the Wii game, "Ninja Breadman," DDI made that.)
I asked Rinde if he remembered the old Nintendo software droughts. He did. He used to be a senior vice president at Atari, where he handled the "Dragon Ball Z" games. He knows the business. Now, it seems, Nintendo's home console is getting a flood of new titles. Some -- like the reporters at EGM -- see a problem there. I wanted to know if Rinde saw a similar problem with there being too much Wii software. "I don't think it's been an issue thus far. Obviously going into 2008, with the number of titles that will probably be released, it's something everybody is going to have to watch to make sure we as a third-parties don't over-flood the market with titles. But right now, with such a robust sales appetite for Wii systems, I don't think that's a big issue. I think you start to have those issues when you see hardware sales start to plateau or slow down and you still have a number of new titles being introduced in the market. That's usually in the mid to late part of a hardware cycle. That's when you see overcrowding and glut of products in the marketplace."
Consider this. A game publisher needs to be sure that retailers want to carry their games. So they ask and try to make a sale. If the stores shun the games, they won't be made. "Let's put it this way," said Rinde, "There has not been a Wii title we've offered them that they've not agreed to support so far." Is that different from other platforms? "Yes." He gave me a comparison. "With DS, retailers are being more selective. It's a more mature system…. There are a lot more titles for the DS so retailers are a little pickier. And I think going into 2008 with Wii titles they will start to do that as well."
If retailers say yes to all Wii proposals, what about Nintendo? They used to stamp games with an official seal of quality that implied that they considered the merits of any game that appeared on their platform. As EGM reported and as I followed up with the company in October, they don't do that any more.
Destineer started publishing on Nintendo platforms in late 2006, first with the DS. "They've been very easy to work with," Rinde said. He read that EGM article and told me he doesn't think Nintendo will have to go back and re-implement the seal of quality. "They, privately or offline or whatever you want to call it, will have conversations with publishers where there's no gatekeeper there, so to speak. They do look at the quality and they do watch quality. There just isn't an official concept-through-approval system like they used to [have] and that Microsoft and Sony currently have in place." He said Nintendo hasn't found a reason to raise any issues with Destineer.
I wanted to know if Rinde considered Destineer's Wii games, which retail for $20, as "budget" games, and I wanted to know if he thought that was a pejorative term. "To me 'budget' games are under-$20 games and that's not what we are. I don't know if you'd call them mid-priced games or casually priced games, but the strategy for us is to not go head to head from a price-point with the larger publishers that are able to spend significantly more marketing dollars to get the word out. Our hope is to hit some niches they don't."
In the old days, though, the knock was that third-parties had no place on the Wii. Nintendo system owners bought Nintendo-made games and shunned most everything else. In fact, the poor sales of some recent, polished third-party Wii games such as Capcom's "Zack & Wiki" suggest those old days may not be gone. I asked Rinde if third-parties really have a place on the Wii. "I think so," he said. "But you have to be disciplined in what your business model is. You have to be realistic in terms of what your unit and revenue expectations will be. Because the Nintendo platform traditionally has been much more dominated by the mothership… but it doesn't mean you cannot make money on the platform and with the popularity of Wii and DS I don't think you can afford not to be on that platform."
Rinde noted that some third-party games do break through on the Nintendo systems, including some of those "Dragon Ball Z" Atari games he worked on. I wanted to know why he thought Nintendo owners were generally leery of buying non-Nintendo-made titles. "I think the Nintendo customers are used to seeing those Nintendo brands on every new platform that Nintendo comes out with and generally they are always great games… For the most part they have been very rarely let down when they buy a first-party game and in general Nintendo just knows their customer. They know what they're looking for."
When might Wii owners get more open-minded in the publishers they support the way Xbox 360 owners are? "I think the Wii market will expand and being a more casual market I think if there is a brand or style of game that they feel looks interesting or that they know I think you'll get some broadening of the Wii audience buying some games other than just the Nintendo-branded ones."
Bearing in mind that Rinde and I were talking during the Great Wii Supply Crisis of December 2007, he said that a lot of people would probably still be coming into gaming shops in January to try to find the Nintendo console, generating the kind of foot traffic that could help a publisher that's launching a bunch of Wii games early in the new year. "It's all good, because it keeps people coming in the stores after the New Year and it keeps people buying software. So from a publisher's standpoint we're very happy that there's still going to be, we think, a lot of activity in the first quarter of 08."
Destineer is set to do its part. The company will be publishing some from-the-ground-up Wii titles of its own throughout this year and has some projects for PS2 and Xbox 360 in the pipeline as well. Rinde said his company hadn't made a lot of noise yet, but for 2008 that's just what it plans to -- come hell or high tide of Wii software.