Friday, July 23, 2010

The Collapse of Tiger Woods PGA Tour '11 on Wii Has Nothing to Do with Scandal

Scandal or no scandal, this is particularly surprising:

In an environment of general software declines, Electronic Arts faces particular challenges with its Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise. First-month sales across all formats have plummeted 68 percent compared to the launch of last year's installment, and one analyst thinks the athlete's extracurricular activities might be causing harm to the games.

The golf game, which lends itself well to Wii's motion controls, has been one of the most successful third-party franchises yet on Nintendo's console. But since its June 8 launch, the multiplatform Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 saw an 86 percent decline on Wii that Cowen Group analyst Doug Creutz called "particularly catastrophic."

I think the game industry is missing a crucial lesson about tiger Woods '11. The Nintendo Wii audience - the Expanded Audience - operates under a different set of values than traditional, "hardcore" gamers. They are a far more skeptical crowd, particularly when it comes to yearly sequels. Hardcore gamers have been conditioned over many years to accept sequels and franchise titles, even when this year's game is 95% identical to last year's version. This is most pronounced in EA's sports games.

Simply put, the Wii audience is very hostile to sequels and franchise games. This is doubly so for sequels that are seemingly identical to the original. Consider EA's Boom Blox, or Ubisoft's Shawn White Snowboarding, or Namco's We Cheer. Each was a hit game at retail. The publishers responded quickly with sequels that were nearly identical...and these sequels failed miserably. They tanked.

One critical question to ask with any sequel on store shelves: How is this different from the earlier game? Is this distinction immediately clear? Can I tell the difference?

More questions to ask: Is this sequel justified? Just because a title becomes a hit, you are not guaranteed an audience. The audience must demand a sequel. The market dictates the product; but the video game industry often works in the opposite direction. This may be successful with the core fans, but not the Expanded Audience. These are not the ones who will be camping outside Best Buy at midnight to buy your latest game.

One final question: What is the price? This is critical. I see Tiger Woods '11 on the shelves for $50. Last year's game, Tiger Woods '10, is now being sold for $20-$30. Why, exactly, should I buy the newer version? Am I really getting double the content in the newer game? I look at the game boxes and, honestly, cannot tell the difference. I think this year's Tiger Woods has mini golf. But was this feature demanded by the audience? Does the market demand this feature? Or is this merely an extra...Malibu Stacey with a new hat?

There are more areas to explore, but I'll keep this brief for now. The main selling point on the Nintendo Wii are the motion controls. That's what the Expanded Audience demands. Wii Sports and Wii Play promised a new world of motion control games. New experiences were promised, new ideas, and new games that would be accessible in the way the classic '80s arcade games were.

Tiger Woods '10 was a hit because of its Wii Motion Plus controls, which promised to deliver what Wii Sports hinted at. The precision and depth of the controls, and the ability to translate real-world skills into the game, produced a truly great experience and was rewarded by the market. And these values are also being played out in Ubisoft's Just Dance, which has become the first third-party Wii title to truly challenge Nintendo's supremacy.

In wrapping this up, these are the challenge that EA and all publishers on Wii must address. Tiger Woods '11 fails to address these issues. This is why the game has failed.

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