Dabe Alan

How the Nintendo Wii broke the power of game reviews (before consumers got back in line)

How the Nintendo Wii broke the power of game reviews (before consumers got back in line)

It’s hard to remember just how popular the Wii was at launch; the system was released in the last months of 2006 and each shipment sold out instantly. Console supply was constrained through all of 2007, although Nintendo still managed to sell 8.5 million units in the United States, well above Xbox 360’s 4.82 million units in the same year. Sony sold 2.56 million PlayStation 3 units. This was back when Nintendo ruled damn near everything it saw.

The Wii was interesting from a business perspective due to the number of new gamers it brought into the fold. When I spoke with Geoffrey Zatkin from EEDAR last week for our story about game reviews he noted that high scores and high sales go hand in hand across every major system for every year they’ve tackled the data.

“That pretty much follows every console, every handheld, everything,” he said. “The only exception has been the Wii.” Why was Nintendo’s system so different? Because the people buying the system were new gamers. They didn’t look up reviews, and they didn’t have a support system of friends and family who were also gamers. They had no conduits where news of the good games could reach them. This led to a short-lived time when Nintendo gamers were extremely susceptible to advertising and impulse buys in retail stores.

“The year [the Wii] launched, we actually had a curve that was just all over the place,” Zatkin explained. “[Nintendo] brought in a lot of new consumers who weren’t actually used to checking for reviews. They pretty much bought things with pretty packages or branded games.” Many relatively low-quality games sold in high numbers during the first months of Wii availability. Movie-based games did very well. Licensed properties were more powerful than usual, as these new gamers gravitated towards properties they were already familiar with.

Of course, this didn’t last. People brought home the shiny new games they bought, opened them up, and found out many were them were bad. “You could see though, within a year, it started to stabilize, and two to three years in it had the same curve as everything else,” Zatkin said. “People learned that not every game will be a good game, in the same way that not every movie will be a good movie.”

This is a fascinating outcome. Players got into games due to the mainstream appeal of the Nintendo Wii, began buying games, got burnt by bad purchases, and began either reading reviews or paying attention to the positive and negative buzz of games they heard about online or from friends. The system launched, there was no link between high review scores and high sales for the first year or so, and then as people learned how to “be” gamers the numbers fell in line with the other systems. These large numbers of new gamers started buying the same “good” games as everyone else.

Resistance, I suppose, is futile.