This potential rant is something of a response to Patrick Klepek's editorial in a recent issue of EGMi, the digital compliment to the print magazine. In it, he says the lackluster success of WiiWare is not only Nintendo's fault for creating an unintuitive download service, but also the fault of lazy gamers not willing to slog through it in order to buy good games. "Other services have spoiled us," he writes. "[C]ommenting about how much you're looking forward to playing a game" only does so much to increase word-of-mouth and, allegedly, sales. "[T]urning on your Wii and making that purchase a reality is an important step, too."
I'll quit dicing up Mr. Klepek's words in order to put together a few of my own. I agree with half of what he's saying. Yes, Nintendo is not entirely to blame. I appreciate someone stepping up and saying to those who keep the industry afloat (gamers and their ilk), Hey! Quit complaining; it's your responsibility, too.
What I disagree with is his insistence that WiiWare is a minefield of obstactles and spike-filled pitfalls. (Pardon the mixed metaphor.) "It's crazy how difficult WiiWare's interface makes simply purchasing points an arduous, frustrating task," Klepek writes. He recalls clicking No instead of Yes a number of times and having to re-insert his credit card information. Okay — it's not the most streamlined service in the world. But is it really that difficult? How is buying a Points Card and inserting the numbers any more trying than buying an iTunes giftcard and inserting the numbers into your account? Once you have a suitable amount of Mario Money to play with, I don't see the problem with finding the game you're interested in, downloading it, and playing it.
Not the greatest selection. But there be gems, and they're worth a little diggin'.
Maybe I'm not looking at the right audience, though. Alex Neuse, interviewed by Klepek on Gaijin Games' forthcoming BIT.TRIP FLUX, laments that "my parents can't buy games [on their Wii]." He calls the WiiWare store "hugely cumbersome." This, from the brain behind some of the most evil, wickedly hard games in the past decade. Now, I realize the difference between well-designed difficulty and frustrating, sloppy design. But this is not a service for Grandma Betty to find her Sudoku. This is a service for a gamer to seek out Art Style: Orbient or Cave Story or Swords & Soldiers. Here's what I've learned: Gamers are smart. We can evade a screen of bullets while piercing the armor over an alien-demon's heart. We can absorb an insane amount of information at the same time and react mentally (I should run forward… now) and physically (press up on joystick while holding button) in a way that few people can. We should be able to navigate a slightly rigid interface to find what we want.
But perhaps Klepek is right: Perhaps those other services, be them XBox Live or PSN or, gasp, the App Store, have spoiled us and made us throw up our hands if the latest and greatest is not highlighted and put on sale and fed to us on a golden spoon woven from Kevin Butler's eyelash-trimmings. If so, that's too bad. Because there's a whole bunch of good stuff on Nintendo's download platform that will sadly never be played.
Will nobody love us?
A quick anecdote that might serve as hope for the future: My brother (35-years-old) recently moved and re-connected his Wii after a decent dry spell. I asked him what he'd been playing. "Contra: ReBirth," he said. I nearly swallowed my tongue. To put this into context: My brother grew up playing NES and a bit of SNES, but veered sharply into the world of Sports and Becoming a Doctor. He's the classic lapsed, casual gamer. He and his wife bought Wii Fit and a handful of other games. They had some fun but eventually put it away. A too-common tale, but normal enough. So now he fires up the ol' white box and somehow, scouring the murky blackness of WiiWare's back catalog, he successfully finds and downloads a new game with no fanfare or hand-holding?
If my brother can do it, so can we.