Analyzing WiiWare: The Ups, Downs, and Future

If there’s one thing Nintendo was able to do with the launch of the Wii, it was introduce new ideas to the company’s line of home consoles. Motion controls, online functionality, and retro downloads are just three of the elements that Nintendo has worked with while the Wii has been the manufacturer’s main system. And while the argument can be made that Nintendo didn’t exactly carry out each of these features as impressively as they could have, these were big strides for the company. Another space Nintendo experimented in was the online market. By offering original content and independently developed digital downloads, WiiWare was initially an awesome idea. Unfortunately, it quickly became a hub for digital garbage, and its potential floundered.

Where did Nintendo go wrong when trying to push WiiWare as a viable competitor to Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Store? What successes did the online platform have? Most importantly at this point, how can Nintendo learn from WiiWare to more successfully promote “CafeWare” when the upcoming successor hits retailers?

When WiiWare first hit the scene, it started off hot with titles such as LostWinds, Defend Your Castle, and Pop. Looking at these titles, it would seem that Nintendo was taking its freshly launched service seriously. Games like Dr. Mario Online Rx, Toki Tori, and World of Goo provided consistent, quality entertainment that made the service special. After all, Nintendo had never really delved into this digital space before, and while the Virtual Console was a great place to pick up some classics, WiiWare was rapidly growing and providing frequent amounts of solid, original content.

Then, out of nowhere, Nintendo stopped promoting the service, stopped promoting the content, and opened WiiWare’s doors to anyone with digital content regardless of quality. What resulted was a running gag that consisted of outrageously inane weekly releases such as Battle Poker, Sexy Poker, and the abysmal Fireplacing. And while the Wii continues to get solid digital releases including chick chick BOOM, Jett Rocket, and Art Style, these incredible gaming experiences are in bad company.

Oddly enough, there are still plenty of reasons to keep an eye on WiiWare. Promising titles such as Retro City Rampage, River City Ransom 2, and Shantae are worth watching out for, and they may very well keep interest in WiiWare alive. No doubt they’ll be released alongside some forgettable shovelware like the upcoming Poker Puzzle (WiiWare devs sure love their poker), but it’s worth noting that these future releases exude a lot of potential. So while Nintendo might not promote WiiWare as best as they can, gamers should definitely be on the lookout for the occasional successes.

Thankfully, although Nintendo lost with WiiWare, at least they didn’t completely bomb like with DSiWare. This opens up myriad opportunities for the inevitable launch of CafeWare once the folks over at the Big N put their upcoming home console on store shelves, which is currently planned for 2012. By looking back at their successes and failures, Nintendo can turn their next digital platform into something really special, not unlike Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Store.

First and foremost, the company needs to enforce some serious quality control. To avoid a shovelware overload, Nintendo needs to monitor submissions a lot more carefully. Even if it smudges their family-friendly appeal, they have to be willing to reject horrid downloads. While the debate can be made that not every title on Xbox Live Arcade or the PlayStation Store is a winner, at least almost every game on those platforms (even the bad ones) is an actual game. There is no excuse for garbage like Fireplacing to be on WiiWare, and Nintendo needs to make sure these types of “games” and apps don’t make their way to CafeWare.

Also, in order to ensure success for the service and for every developer involved, Nintendo should promote the heck out of their releases. While featuring upcoming downloads on their online newsletter is a great way to kick things off, they can’t stop there. Features on their magazines, promotions on their websites, and direct-to-console updates are all effective ways for Nintendo to communicate to their fans and say, “Hey, these reputable developers are releasing this,” or, “An upstart indie dev will be launching a brand new IP with a ton of potential.” Quality control is the first step, but generating consumer interest is the next.

WiiWare hasn’t had an easy time proving its worth to gamers. With so many poor releases, little promotion, and what appears to be a lack of attention from Nintendo, it’s not easy to care about WiiWare. But there is a large collection of notable titles worth your Wii Points, and these games serve as a showcase of Nintendo’s potential to deliver a download platform with quality games. With the upcoming launch of Project Cafe, Nintendo needs to hone in on the future. Physical games will rake in a quantifiable amount of revenue for the company and all parties involved, but a strong digital shop will reach out to core gamers and indie fans. Nintendo can only go up from here, and let’s hope they take the WiiWare formula and launch it to greater heights.