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  The Divnich Tapes: Why Do 'Bad' Wii Games Sell So Well?
by Jesse Divnich
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April 24, 2008
The Divnich Tapes: Why Do 'Bad' Wii Games Sell So Well?

[Throughout this week, ex-simExchange analyst Jesse Divnich is presenting exclusive Gamasutra analysis of March's hardware and software trends, using data from The simExchange, NPD, IGN GamerMetrics and GameTrailers.

Our final installment studies the casual Wii gamer basing purchases on brand awareness, simplicity, and other factors instead of quality review scores. Previously in this series: Grand Theft Auto's Xbox 360 to PlayStation 3 sales ratio, the end of FPS sales cannibalization, and April predictions for Mario Kart Wii and GTA IV.]

It's no big industry secret that there is some strong correlation between game quality and sales, and the table below reinforces that assumption for next-gen games with only one exception -- the Nintendo Wii.

Going in-depth as to why there's a strong correlation between sales and quality with the PS3 and the Xbox 360 would mostly be stating the obvious.

The interesting story lies behind the Wii’s success and why 'quality' scores -— in some cases —- are generally insignificant to Wii consumers. The following graph shows a game's revenue compared to its average review score, and you can clearly see the Wii's exception to the rule:

[Data is taken through the end of 2007 and provided by EEDAR, Metacritic, and NPD. Each system’s percentage average is based on its own average revenue per game.]

Currently, the Wii has the largest installed base among the next-gen systems. Although it is generally the hardcore gaming market that drives hardware sales in a console's first year, the Wii has a different story behind it.

Because of its simple design, variety of casual games, and low price point, the Nintendo Wii has become the system of choice for casual gamers, social gamers, and the sub-13-year-old gaming market.

Here's a graphical look (with the second graph showing detail) at the same data of revenue compared to Metacritic score:

However, due to this large influx of new gamers to the market, these consumers rely less on quality scores and rely much more on word of mouth, brand awareness, marketing, and simplicity when making a decision on which games to buy.

One could propose a theory that these marketing and design attributes have a stronger correlation to sales than quality scores. This theory, if true, would shed some light on the success behind games like: Wii Play, Guitar Hero III, Carnival Games, and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympics Games, which did 613,000 units in December 2007, is an excellent example of how brand awareness plays a role in Wii sales. To the casual and social gamer, it didn’t matter that the game received sub-70 Metacritic scores.

What did matter was the fact that it had two recognizable brand names, “Mario” and “Sonic”, performing a recognizable action, “The Olympic Games.” Yes, it may seem too straightforward that one of the many secrets to the Wii lies in recognizable brand names and actions, but the sales don’t lie.

Carnival Games, which is pulling in 100k+ units a month, is a good example - as it relies less on marketing or brand awareness and more on the other key selling points, such as price and gameplay simplicity.

Consumers shopping at Wal-Mart see the box art and likely say to themselves, “It’s cheap, the game structure is familiar (playing carnival games), and it is probably easy to pick up and play.”

On that same token, that same consumer sees No More Heroes or Okami and says, “The title is not familiar, the game looks complicated, and I don’t know what an Okami is.”

Does this imply that publishers and developers should be “dumbing” down their games to appeal to the mass audience? Of course not, but understand that like any new consumer base, there's an initial learning curve before they are more discerning about how they spend their money on games.

In fact, looking at third-party website traffic data from Alexa, we can see a small increase in “internet reach” with some of the bigger websites that offer quality scores. (Note: I've charted the two biggest gaming websites that offer “reviews,” according to Alexa).

Over the last six months, the 10 percent increase doesn’t look like much (third-party tracking service has similar stats for those sites), but in terms of internet growth among established websites, this is significant.

This could potentially be evidence that this influx of new gamers into our industry are slowly educating themselves. Perhaps, the next time they are at Wal-Mart or any other retailer, they'll be more perceptive with their game purchases. Or perhaps the games they are buying with lower Metacritic scores are fulfilling their gaming objectives, regardless of score.

This is a subject we will likely revisit in six months to see if the window of opportunity for games in the 50-to-70 Metacritic score range has evaporated, or if there still exists a group of gamers who are not interested in critical reception - much as is the case in the movie industry.

It will be also interesting to view Alexa data on specialty websites such as, six months or a year from now to see if the casual consumer of today is converting into the hardcore gamer of tomorrow.

[NOTE: "This month's Divnich Tapes were prepared during my ending term as the Analyst at the SimExchange. Next month, I look forward to a new format and expanded analytics with the utilization of the extensive data available to me as the new Director of Analytical Services at Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR). The following is the views and opinions of one person and not of EEDAR, The simExchange, GamerMetrics, or Gametrailers."-- Jesse Divnich.]

Rayna Anderson
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"Does this infer that publishers and developers should be “dumbing” down their games to appeal to the mass audience?"

Maybe the problem isn't with the developers. Maybe it has to do with the reviewers. Most reviewers are the more typically "hardcore" type of gamers. They just aren't the target audience for most of those Wii games. So the journalists aren't reviewing the games with that in mind.

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The funny thing here about your comment Rayna is that I've had the same experience with reviewers being horribly off and I would consider myself a hardcore gamer. The problem is that a lot of reviewers don't take a 'detached' perspective to looking at games and apply their own likes and dislikes.

For instance in my case, I think the sims is a boring and somewhat silly game to want to play. But then again that's my personal view of the game. Looking at it detached from my own opinions I can agree it's a high quality product with a lot to do and a lot of fun to be had in it's build. I'd never buy or play it personaly but I certianly can understand why someone would.

The most frustrating thing with a reviewer I've found is when they try to review a game as something it's not. Take as an example say, Zelda 64. IF a reviewer went in bashing it's lack of guns and realistic world physics, you'd probably be pretty annoyed with the fact that the reviewer is obviously 'looking' for an FPS in an Action RPG.

The problem here arises when people don't read the review and just look at the score, Zelda 64 was an incredible game but a reviewer like the one I was making up above you'd probably see a very very low score indeed.

Just some things I've run into. I can't tell you how many reviews I've read where the reviewer seemed to be 'looking' for a game other than the one they were playing or where they obviously didn't get the point of the game they were playing. Frustrating things to read.

Slag Hammer
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I was a reviewer for many, many, well too many years. I think the issue here is that reviewers tend to spend too much time thinking about how they think the industry sees them, their relationship with big publishers (oh no I won't get invited to E3! oh my!?) and who they THINK their audience is. That's changed and good managing editors should recognize it. Wake up.

My other issue here is that numbers are just numbers. My buddy with a PHD from Stanford in research and social science likes to say that what he learned at school was that if you give him a result he can build a study to find it. Ah politics.

Lastly, is there a reviewer out there would has had (dare I say it) fun with the Wii, a beer, some friends, their kid, their friends kid or whatever and felt compelled to write about it? Maybe a few. This comes down to what fun and play is. What it means. Post Dx9 hardware (Radeon 9500 I think) who give a hoot about what hardcore looks like? How about what it plays like. Gee Wiz.

Aaron Casillas
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lol, I just had a memory about a review of a game I was in where the reviewers bashed us on the Voice Overs.

I was the voice for the Spanish-speaking-Portuguese Pirate in the original U.S. release of Tenchu. When the reviews came out they mostly critisized the voice overs. I was personally shocked since we tried to make the voices feel like a spoof of a martial arts film; cheesy over acted etc...and thats one of the areas we were critisized in. But the majority of people who played that game loved the voice overs because it did sound a like the martial arts flick....go figure.

Perhaps a letter of artistic intent should ship with the game (jk).

Randy Angle
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It is important to notice that most Nintendo platforms have never followed the Metacritic scores as a determining factor in sales. There have been many articles that show a product reviewed on a Nintendo platform will generally score as much as 20% less than on another platform. Is this an indication of bias? Are reviewers expecting more from graphics? Are the reviewers representative of the target audience? These are all questions that have been and should be raised when looking at these issues.

I know I have fun, genuine real fun, playing games on my Wii, with my family and friends or by myself. I also know that I'm very happy to be a Wii developer making family fun products.

Randy Angle
Pronto Games, Inc.

Duncan McPherson
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I find it interesting that the score ranges from 50-59 and 60-69 are labeled as "bad" in the title when they are, in fact, mediocre in the context of judging game quality. Don't believe me? Look at the guidelines for various review sites:

Metacritic -- 50 - 69 is clearly in the mixed/average range
Gamespot -- 5-5.9 (mediocre); 6-6.9 (fair)
IGN -- 5 (meh); 5.1-5.9 (mediocre); 6-6.9 (passable)
GamesRadar -- 5 (so-so); 6 (descent)

And so on.

So why nitpick? There's a marked difference in quality between "mediocre" and "bad," much like the difference between getting a "C" and "D" on a class project. Sure, no one wants a "C," but it's still a significantly better score than a "D."

Jozsef Trencsenyi
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Russell Carroll
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The most obvious piece of truth is that the reviewers don't represent the buying audience. I think the Wii is especially true in this respect as there are so many good same-console multiplayer games on it and reviewers don't review games in groups. Though a couple of hours may be spent with colleagues, they review what they experience on their own.

WiiSports got a 76 combined score at Metacritic. A 76! A game that has appealed to millions of people and in large part made the Wii phenomenon occur didn't not get a very good review score by current measures, which is really fascinating.

Tawna Evans
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Whenever I look at the list of videogame reviewers, I usually see very few, if any, females. That could be part of the reason for the variation between review scores and actual sales. Females may be making up a significant portion of the target for these games, but hard core male gamers cannot possibly comprehend the desires and needs of female casual gamers.

Maybe parents could review the games by letting their children play them, and then they would write about whether or not their kids appeared to enjoy playing them. This could be a way to write reviews that could be appreciated by the target audience... then again, the target audience probably doesn't pay any attention to those reviews, anyways. They don't have time to bother with such research.

Steve Watkins
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I haven't made a purchase based on a Reviewer score in a very, very long time (and this coming from a former paid reviewer). All my buying choices come from playing demos, friend word-of-mouth and articulate, well balanced player opinions/reviews.

I agree with what was said above - today's reviewers are largely male, hardcore and seem to value Style over Substance more often than not. They also tend to be young and "harken back to the early days of video games, like Final Fantasy VI and Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness." heh The lack of experience shows.

They don't seem consider target audiences and the intent of the design. (As Aaron stated above. I'd bet those reviewers probably weren't very familiar with the cheesy kung-fu movies you spoofed, whereas your audience was and loved it).

Also, full time reviewers, who took the gig as a serious job, were replaced by people who'd write them for the web sites just for a chance to play the free review copy or see their name plastered on a web site.

There are good reviewers, I'm sure, but I don't have the time to locate them. :)


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