LOS ANGELES — Two years ago, many in the gaming community scoffed at Nintendo’s Wii. Today, developers are working overtime to meet the needs of the new markets the quirky little console opened up.
Its motion-sensitive controllers, family-friendly games and lower price have catapulted the console’s sales far beyond those of the competing Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Many of the buyers have been families with young children — especially girls. And those folks are definitely not the typical audience for the shooters and sports titles favored by traditional gamers. That means game developers have had to rethink their formulas for success.
Some of the results shown appeared during this week’s E3 Media & Business Summit 2008 in Los Angeles.
Ubisoft, known for excellent shooters and adventure games, spent quite a bit of time at its press briefing Tuesday discussing tween girls. It turns out that the same publisher that’s working on "Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway" and "Far Cry 2" also has had some relatively unheralded successes in the girl gamer market.
Tony Key, Ubisoft’s senior vice president for sales and marketing, looked a bit sheepish while telling the alien killers and zombie splatterers in the audience that one of the company’s big successes in the last year was "Imagine." The girl-oriented simulation game was the top third-party title for the handheld Nintendo DS, selling 4 million copies.
The company is now creating "Imagine" games that let girls pretend to be teachers, movie stars, singers and more, Key said. Ubisoft also plans to move the franchise to the Wii.
Key also pointed out that girls love sports games, just not the same ones as their overly caffeinated, testosterone-filled brothers. As a result, Ubisoft is working on a line of DS games called "Ener-G," which will feature such sports as horseback riding, cheerleading and gymnastics.
Key also announced an expansion to its "Petz" franchise. It will now let players mix breeds to create their own special cat or dog. There will also be an edition that lets players raise a pet monkey.
Ubisoft also showcased "Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party," which will feature ornery rabbitlike creatures who perform all sorts of wacky stunts. It also offers the first minigame that players control with their butt. They sit on the Wii’s pressure-sensitive balance board and shift their weight to guide a slide down a snow-covered mountain.
Lucas Arts showed "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," which will be available for Nintendo’s Wii and DS. It’s part of a project that will include an animated movie and TV show later this year.
Nintendo will deliver its own selection of family-friendly games for the Wii and DS.
"WiiMusic" will let gamers "play" more than 50 different kinds of instruments. In addition to the guitars and drums found in other games, gamers can play a sitar, bagpipes, sax or steel drums.
"Wii Sports Resort" will let gamers fence, throw discs to dogs and more with the help of a new extra-sensitive extension to the Wii Remote.
"Animal Crossing: City Folk" is a simulation that lets players create a town filled with cute animals and visit the city where they can meet their friends online.
Charlie Scibetta, Nintendo’s senior director of corporate communications, said that game will be ideal for families separated by distance — especially military families. When at "home," players can send mail to far-flung loved ones. When they visit the "city," they will be able to use the WiiSpeak microphone to have a family reunion.
"WiiSpeak — talk about a thing that can tie a family together," Scibetta said. "It can pick up everyone in the room."
Those are among just a sampling of the high-profile games that will be heading into living rooms in coming months — probably stealing precious game time from all those zombie hunters.