This is a two part article. The first discusses the expanded market, and the second the core market.
The Expanded Market
The expanded audience is this odd entity to many developers and enthusiast gamers. They just don't get them. These people seem to buy crap, but then when more crap is thrown to them, they stop buying it. What gives?
The proper name for this market:
The first step in getting this market is to stop thinking of them as "casual". Think of them as "gamers who just game when they have spare time". That's not just trying to come up with a politically correct term. It's about actually understanding why they game the way they do, and not just surrendering the understanding to simplified buzzwords.
Go beyond your own opinions.
The second step is to stop thinking the opinions of enthusiast gamers (which includes developers, journalist, and many people online) determines how good a game is for everyone. Stop thinking the way you measure a game is what matters to the expanded market. You don't have to agree with their opinions, but stop being myopic about yours.
Here's a quiz. Why did Carnival Games sell so well?
1. It's a casual game that's simplified to the point grannies like it.
2. It's cute and inoffensive.
3. Those people like crap better than good games.
4. Who knows? The market is unpredictable.
5. Games at carnivals are the predecessors to arcade video games, and some people just want to relive that experience. In short, it's an effective (if not perfect) carnival game simulator.
If you answered 5, then you made a huge leap in figuring out the market. It's also a big clue into many bestselling games, even the core ones. Many are, for the most part, successful simulators.
Simulators make hit games.
Gran Turismo - Race car simulator.
Grand Theft Auto - Crime spree simulator
Gears of War / Halo - Action hero simulator
Call of Duty - War hero simulator (just the wars differ)
Wii Sports - Sports simulator, and it doesn't even limit itself to one, like Madden.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympics - Olympics simulator, with the bonus of playing two of the most iconic game characters.
Guitar Hero / Rock Band - Take a wild guess.
Now this isn't an absolute rule for hit series, but I'll get to the other reasons games are hits in a little bit. The point here is that if enough people want to play a simulation of something, and you make a simulation that satisfies them, and you market it to that group (should be obvious, but I've found that isn't always the case), then you have a hit game.
What if you are a developer and you want such a game to satisfy you as well? The thing is that do you want to make the most grand, amazing casual game ever, or do you want to just want to give it a level of polish not normally seen in those games. Go for the latter. The former thing is like an episode of Frasier, when he was coming up with a theme song for his show, and he made it to his standards, which was a bloated mess, and wasn't a good opening at all. The latter is the Pixar method. They don't try to make their movies the most grand, amazing family movies ever, just that they go a level above the typical level of decent quality family films (and several levels above the typical quality ones).
Now the other reasons some games are hits. The second reason is a matter of utility, which is a rare thing in games. Most of the time those are edutainment games, which rarely work in mainstream consoles (they sell well enough for dedicated systems, though). Nintendo found the secret was not to target kids with those, but adults (which flies in the face of their usual strategy), since adults often want those things more than kids, who just want to play around.
Utilities for grownups make hit games.
So we have Wii Fit and Brain Age. It doesn't always work. Wii Music as a utility works for some, but not as much as those interested in the other games. Plus many expected the simulation and got the utility instead. Nintendo would have to include a lot more simulation next time for this to work.
Experiences can make hit games.
But now we have the third reason games are hits, the experience. I don't mean super-detailed graphics or the cinematics. I mean a game as experiencing another place. This applies to Super Mario Bros, Mario Kart (combined with racing simulation), Final Fantasy, Sonic, and many other games.
Now the reason detailed graphics and cinematics don't matter here is the expanded market doesn't want to just sit around for hours soaking up the game. They just want to get into it. They want to experience by playing. This can even apply to core games. Take Resident Evil. When gamers talk about the scariest moments, it's often related to gameplay, like the dogs leaping through the windows the first time. It certainly wasn't the cut scenes, not when it comes to that series.
Plus thinking about games in terms of experience can even show why there was this supposed "casual bubble burst". The only bubble was the developers thinking that was how to sell to the market.
"More of the same" can drive buyers away.
As I stated, these people don't play games for extended sessions. They don't absorb all the content of a game and then want to move on. This actually makes them less tolerant of what they perceive as "more of the same". Where enthusiast gamers can see what would set a sequel apart from the previous games, it's not readily apparent to people who game in their spare time. There has to be something to set the new games apart.
Take Carnival Games Mini Golf. It's not just more carnival games, but a whole new setting. The game wasn't as big of a hit as the first game, but it was new enough to sell about a million copies. Or Wii Sports Resort is in a tropical setting instead of just more sports.
Although some games can have a solution built in. The utility games have the utility as their content, so simply promising more of that can sell a game, like Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes A Day. But even that still needs the right words in the name. "Super Fitness" with a sequel of "Super Fitness Advanced Workout" will work better than "Super Fitness 2009" with a sequel of "Super Fitness 2010". The latter does come across as more of the same.
Even enthusiast gamers care about experiences.
Experience like that can matter to enthusiast gamers as well. All you have to do is look at how they jumped for joy at the news Call of Duty would finally move on from World War II. We would finally have a new experience. And World At War did disappoint many for going back, but it at least moved on from the western front, so at least that was something of a new experience.
Or on the JRPG front, how many of you got as excited as me when Tron was announced to be a level in Kingdom Hearts 2? Some of you likely have your own personal stories of experiences in a game being a deal maker for you. Content matters in a game.
Plus this can even explain why licensed games sell. It's about experiencing someone's favorite show/movie/comic/etc. And even enthusiast gamers get excited when a licensed game is good, because they get that experience and a game up to their standards (like a certain recent Caped Crusader game).
Pick-up-and-play is a must.
Regardless of which of the three things a game uses, pick-up and play is vital. This is a huge reason I suggested the new term for this market. It makes this aspect clear. You want to know why Super Mario Galaxy got its lifetime sales outsold in Japan by New Super Mario Bros Wii in about a week, that's why. 3D Mario games are just not pick up and play. Guess what Carnival Games is.
So to sell to this market, you should find out what kind of simulation, utility, and/or experience people who play games on the side want to play. Make a game to fill that need. Make sure it clearly fills that need, and is also clearly a new thing to try if there are already similar games (. I can't guarantee it will be a hit, but it will do far better than just throwing together a party game because Wii Sports and Mario Party 8 were hits.
The Core Market
To put it simply, make the games that would be a hit on the HD systems. To add to this, wishy-washy games with the name slapped on, and niche games, wouldn't have sold on those systems either. And if a game is a hit with multiplayer, it's a good idea to leave it in when it's on the Wii.
Don't make games that are part of hit series in name only.
It's rude, but either you are an idiot or deliberately sabotaging your support of the Wii (perhaps a little bit of both) if you put out a game unlike the kind of game(s) that made a series a hit, and slap that series name on that unlike game while throwing it out on the Wii as a "test".
Imagine making a sci-fi film and calling it Die Hard. Even if you cast Bruce Willis, suddenly setting the film in the next century or so, and taking out most of the action, would seem like a moronic move.
But somehow making a hack & slash game and calling it Soul Calibur, or a slow-paced rail shooter (hint, rail shooters are arcade games and need to be fast-paced) and calling it Dead Space, or a fighting game with unpolished gameplay and calling it Castlevnania*, are somehow seen as proper ways of putting series on the Wii.
* I'll give that one just a little, since Iga said it was more about a format where the Wiimote wouldn't tire one out from all the whip motions, which ironically would have made perfect sense for the swordfighting in Soul Calibur.
Now I do need to make it clear I don't mean established spin-offs. Those are selling well. Even the Resident Evil Chronicles games are based off of the shooter spinoffs on the Playstation 1 and 2.
I mean selling a game that is not like the actual series, and it comes out of nowhere, and acting as though it is part of the series. Okay, Dead Space only had one game before it, but still it wasn't enticing to the Wii audience to see an RE4 style game get turned into a "guided first-person experience".
But Soul Calibur Legends pisses me off the most. They couldn't just port III over to the Wii? They had to try a cheap imitation of Dynasty Warriors? Again, if that was meant to be a spin-off, I could have lived with that. But it's basically all the Wii has gotten of that series, while IV was f****ing ported to the PSP (not that the PSP got the game, but that the Wii isn't getting it as well).
BTW, some might mention Dead Rising CTYD. Now I like that game, but I admit it doesn't have wide appeal (which it seems some fans of Madworld cannot comprehend about that game), but at least Capcom didn't call this game a test. It was just to correct some of the complaints of the original game.
Also, even though it's a DS game, Chinatown Wars was not the kind of GTA game that sells big numbers. Last I checked, the top-down games sell a few million at best, and this one didn't even have the art style of those games. The DS audience had nothing to do with it. Same with the arguments about Wii games.
It doesn't stop being niche or a poor seller just because you want it to be.
Madworld was a short game with no multiplayer, little replay value, and sold at full price (and sales picked up after the price drop). It wouldn't have done that well on the HD systems.
Heck, note the genre and developer. What was the last brawler they did? It was God Hand when they were still Clover. How much did that game sell? About the same or less than this game. And that was on the PS2. You aren't going to tell me that the PS2 isn't friendly to core games.
So the game didn't sell less because it was on the Wii. It sold less because it sold less.
Or take another Clover game, Okami. It sold moderately well on both the Wii and the PS2.
Yet what about some outright flops? Take a look at games like Spyborgs and ask yourself if you would have bought those games if they were on the HD systems. It's not as though those systems don't have flops, and I don't just mean flop because of escalating costs, I mean games like Bionic Commando.
But the point here is that some of these are used as examples of the Wii not selling core games.
The thing is most games are niche. This notion that most games sell huge numbers is just a fallacy. And with the Wii, as with any SD system, they can still make a profit selling those numbers.
Removing multiplayer can actually hurt sales.
Crystal Bearers is a fun game, and has some of the best art direction of any Wii game, hands down. But while I like single player games, taking it out of a series known for it (save for some selective spots) is a bit of a problem.
And since the point here is using the games that sell on the HD systems, let's look at some hit games that have local multiplayer:
Halo, Gears of War, Resistance, Call of Duty.
And those are just shooters. Since Goldeneye, multiplayer in FPS have been vital. But what NSMBWii has made clear to me is that offline multiplayer is even more important than online. The Conduit doesn't have local multiplayer, so anyone without wifi connections have just the single player. Not the best way to reach a wide market (and I have the game).
Even the Call of Duty games don't have local multiplayer on the Wii, while they do on the HD systems. Combined with just now getting the game that launched the series into mega hit status, and that very game getting buried in marketing and shelf space by the sequel, and it's a miracle the game is selling as fast as it is (half a million before the year was over).
When given the same chances to be a hit as on the HD systems, it will be a hit.
Resident Evil is a hit series, and 4 and 5 sold millions on the 6th and 7th generation systems. So when 4 was on the Wii, but with the combined features of the GC and PS2 versions, and had better control, and had a bargain price, there was every reason for it to be a hit. It was.
Monster Hunter 3 had everything going for it as well, save for being on a home system when handhelds were where the series had become a smash. So even though the PSP versions sold better, this game is still this close to a million sales at the time of this writing. It had every reason to succeed, and it did.
Conversely, look at the Lego games. Those dismissing those games as casual should look at their sales on the HD systems. They are on par with the Wii versions, and even higher for some. If the markets were so different, that should not be the case.
The conclusion for both:
The Wii has two gamer markets, not one, and one of these is the same market as on the HD systems. Make the same games for that market. But for the other market, thinking of them as a casual market is to fail to understand their approach to gaming, and what games really appeal to them.