Ever since I first heard about Nintendo's WiiWare, Sony's PlayStation Network and Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade, I've been excited about the opportunities these services provide for so-called 'long tail' content. We've already seen new inroads being made into episodic gaming by Telltale Games' Sam & Max and Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People and by Penny Arcade and Greenhouse Games' On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode I. All of these games are based on relatively niche properties, but are garnering some real attention despite never appearing on a single Best Buy endcap.
Today I caught word of two more intriguing projects coming to WiiWare, although their 'niche' status is somewhat debatable.
First, Sun Denshi just announced plans to launch a digital comics distribution system through the Japanese version of WiiWare starting later this summer. According to the article, Sun will create a new Sunsoft Books brand for the service and kick it off with an original manga from Reiji Matsumoto (Space Battleship Yamato). In the abstract I'm excited by this idea, both because I'm a big comics fan and because I'm deeply interested in seeing how game systems can be used as content delivery systems. However, I'm also somewhat skeptical as to how well comics will translate onto the living room screen, and doubly so that this will ever cross the pond to us here in the States. In any case, I can't wait to see how they pull this off and how popular it proves to be on either continent.
Second is today's announcement that Capcom will be releasing Mega Man 9 as a WiiWare game. While it would be hard to argue that the Blue Bomber is a 'long tail' property, MMIX will be an old school side-scroller and the market for side-scrollers on the living room screen (as opposed to the DS) is most definitely considered 'niche' these days. It's services like WiiWare, PSN and XBLA that make games like MMIX and the upcoming Bionic Commando: Rearmed plausible and I'm definitely grateful. Given the other new announcement that the upcoming Wii Castlevania game will be a 3D fighter, it looks like I'm going to be doing more shopping on WiiWare and XBLA than at GameStop.
Another interesting aspect of all of this is the (relatively) new subset of games that aren't delivered on WiiWare or XBLA, but perhaps should be. The recent announcement from Sega and Her Interactive that they're bringing Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek to the Wii gives me hope for both the adventure game market and the games-for-girls market, but find myself wondering about the size of those markets relative to the markets for Mega Man 9 and Bionic Commando: Rearmed. Does Nancy Drew really stand a better chance in the retail channel than Mega Man 9? Add to that the fact that game stores are sometimes as off-putting to girls as the comic shops and I keep wondering: would Nancy Drew be better served as a WiiWare title? What about games like Agatha Christie: Then There Were None? If size limitations and download times were no longer an issue, what other kind of niche markets could be best served by being sold to directly in their own living rooms?