When Only 42 People Are Playing Madden On The Wii U, It's Not A Sports Console

Around halftime of a game on an NFL Sunday is a good time to take the temperature of the Madden NFL crowd. It's like the water department analysis that shows everyone flushing the john when the Super Bowl goes to the break. In this case, online gamers, many of whom have their consoles running and connected to the servers throughout, often jump in for a quick match during the network highlights and recaps. Here was the picture on the Xbox 360 at midafternoon: 31,080 Madden players connected to the EA Sports servers; 2,978 were in a game. On the Wii U: 42 were online. One was in a game.

It may be an off-peak time, and it may be a version releasing three months after the game's main launch. The numbers still aren't good. That's forty-two people in North America playing Madden NFL 13 on a Sunday on the Wii U.

While the Wii was probably the worst console of all time for sports video game development, I don't see much in the Wii U's current offerings — all of three simulation sports — that makes its high-definition successor any more of a full partner in the same landscape. And as we're soon embarking on another console generation, possibly next year, signs point to the Wii U being, like the Wii, left behind as soon as it arrives, with third-party titles mostly there because it's one of the few viable extra products their publisher can sell under licence.

The three games in question aren't bad. But they aren't exceptional, either, despite the new capabilities the Wii U GamePad should offer. The lack, so far, of any in-game microtransaction support also means the one thing they have in common — Madden NFL and FIFA's Ultimate Team, and NBA 2K's new MyTeam — is absent. These modes drive more than online participation, they're responsible — in EA's case, anyway — for huge growth in new revenue streams, the kind that get investors' attention when traditional sales are suffering across the industry.

Until that comes aboard, sports video game publishers won't have much interest beyond planting the flag on this platform, and the feature set in the current releases unfortunately show this. Though FIFA makes the greatest use of the GamePad by allowing you to send attackers on runs with it, and Madden's byzantine pre-snap commands are intuitively simplified, almost across the board the console's main distinguishing feature is under-used. NBA 2K13 makes the least use of the second screen of the three.

It especially disappoints me that Madden makes no application of the GamePad beyond in-game playcalling. Because EA Sports appeared with Nintendo on stage at E3 2011 to talk about Madden for the Wii U, we can reasonably assume this title had a two-year development window, whether or not EA Sports chose to use all of it. For a game given to menu sludge, almost unavoidably, much of the player management, scouting and draft tasks would seem well suited to the notepad-like quality of the GamePad, a second source to check before pulling the trigger. But Madden uses none of this potential.

If it took any steps in this direction, it could be a preferred play option — especially in singleplayer franchises — despite the lack of realtime physics and aggravating framerate drops with every snap. I still don't know if EA Sports will put the Infinity Engine into this game next year, because Nintendo has been so cagey with its machine's computing power. Hell, it removed the means to see all of the machine's specifications with the Wii U's first firmware update.

That last quality speaks to the real barrier for sports video games on the Wii U, as it raises the ages-old complaint that Nintendo offers an outstanding platform — for Nintendo. Which doesn't make sports video games. Not the licensed simulations that define so much of the genre, anyway. The games the Wii U has are plainly ports of existing games built on engines that are years old. Even though these are the launch offerings, they won't be remade anytime soon. Outside of adaptations like EA Sports' regrettable All-Play series for the Wii, I couldn't name for you the last licensed sports title built specifically for a Nintendo platform. And I can't foresee any future instance of one, either, not with two new consoles getting ready to eat up escalating development costs.

While it is, at last, a high definition experience under the Nintendo nameplate, I'm not optimistic that sports video gaming will be much better than a stepchild on the Wii U, as it was on the Wii. Not when there are a total of 86 players online, right now, in FIFA 13 on the Wii U. Not when Cabela's Dangerous Hunts has a larger Miiverse community than NBA 2K13. And not when you've got one person in all of North America in Madden searching for an opponent on an NFL Sunday. For all I know, that person may have been me.

Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears Sundays.


Comments

    You forgot the [more] tag. This entire article (not just the first paragraph as is the norm) appears on the Kotaku homepage.

    EDIT: Forget it. It's fixed now.

    Last edited 17/12/12 12:04 pm

    Not looking good for the Wii U. It was designed to hit the 'core' market. These numbers are not good.

    That's a very rigorous analysis you've done. Comparing a console with 4+ years of install base with one only a couple months old...

    I wouldn't use a game like "Madden" to measure the success of a less-than-month-old new console. Sports games like that are so niche anyway, this is hardly relevant. Give the Wii U more time. Until then, look at the success of original titles like ZombiU and NSMBU.

    I dunno. Stats are great and all, but it's the same as considering the number of people playing Hill Climb Racing while on the toilet as being important when looking at driving games on the mobile. Sure, you could do it, but why?

    So were gonna start making final judgements 1 month into launch now? Seems that this site is all over low numbers of the Wii U in practically every Wii U article, also with the 'poor' sales of 3DS they weren't shy about writing how bad it was selling. However for a whole year of pspVita poor sales they barely mentioned a word. They love pointing out negative stories about Nintendo. But if its another console they wont make mention of it.

    Remember that guy who tweeted that the CPU in the Wii U was only 1.24ghz? Well the funny thing is that apparently the same guy claims he had a strong rumor that stated the Durango CPU was clocked at only 1.60ghz. Guess what, this site made no mention of this. Wonder why (if you call me out and say they don't talk about rumors how many times have the mentioned that they have heard rumors the next consoles will be out end of 2013?)

    What about repeating old news with nothing new? They just repeated an article regarding poor load times because some person posted a video. Nothing new, nothing to add, no change, just because some random person posted a video.

    The anti Nintendo bias is getting worse and worse now. You cant get any more obvious.

    Last edited 17/12/12 1:27 pm

      You really need to chill out a bit, I have a Wii u and a long history of buying Nintendo products and I'll be the first to say at the moment this console could be the final nail in the coffin - it could very well flop and articles speaking facts and figures have a legitimate point to existing. This wouldn't be the first time a great system bit the dust, (my dreamcast was niche and almost a DOA item from the start) so just enjoy it while you have it and support it if you beleave in it.

        ah yes it may well be true but i pointed out very damning evidence that they seem to have no problems pointing out the bad news about Nintendo, but other consoles dont seem to get the same treatment. I havent seen anyone clearly refute my claims of bias so i dont think i should chill as you suggest. Its fine if they point out these things, but they should be the same for all. If its not well i dont see why its a problem to point out what seems to be obvious bias and double standards. If you think there not show me cases where they have done the same for Nintendo articles as they did for sony or microsoft, if you cant please dont tell me not to voice my concerns.

        Not really, considering they aren't talking about how well the console sold or any other positive news. Basically the negative press is generating hits for their website. Not is this a dreamcast like console, the dreamcast flopped - especially here AU's - because they never released any games, constant delays etc. Wii U is starting out kind of strong and will have even more new content soon.

        The Wii U is an awesome console so far, and it's fresh. There is going to be more in hi space yet.

          You know what, I think over its lifetime the Dreamcast actually has almost as many decent “core” games as the Wii.

          Soul Calibur, Shenmue, Sega Rally 2, Metropolis Street Racer, Jet Set Radio, Power Stone, Crazy Taxi, House of the Dead 2, Space Channel 5….

          I know it didn’t get the barrage of shovelware that the Wii got but I can honestly say I got a lot more play out of my DC than I did the Wii.

            Difference was the Wii was a massive success and the Dreamcast unfortunately was not

            In other words Nintendo did what they had to do to stay in business.

            Sometimes to be successful you have to cater for the Majority instead of the (online) vocal minority.

            Last edited 17/12/12 4:40 pm

          My point exactly! They seem SOO damn keen to show the poor ONLINE numbers (Blackops 2 numbers twice and now they have to look at every game, have they done this before?), dont even mention that the Wii U sold 300k in Japan when it launched either. As you can see the only like to show Nintendos NEGATIVE numbers. When its positive you wont see it on this site.

          When the Vita launched and it it sold out at launch this site was all over that POSITIVE news. When its sales dropped like an anvil, this site barely mentioned the NEGATIVE sony news.

          Also when were online numbers more important that actual sales number?

          Kotaku - the sony or microsoft guide? Prove otherwise

          Last edited 17/12/12 4:20 pm

      Are you freaking kidding me? This website alone convinced me NOT to buy a Vita because of all the "less than stellar" articles they wrote about it.

      Remember how fast the Wii flew off shelves at launch? It's only natural they would keep an eye on sales and other numbers for the next Wii.

      Dear God the world MUST be ending, I am actually defending Kotaku...

        These aren't sales numbers, These are ONLINE numbers and online numbers of a Wii U port. I have only recently seen mention of Vitas poor sales, and they were part of articles detailing what sony has done wrong this year. It was me that successfully showed how this site had no problem being all negative regarding the 3DS first few months of sales, but when the psp vita had even worse sales there wasn't the same constant negative coverage. I remember the first couple of months of Vita coverage here, i find it hard to believe that it stopped you from getting one. I remember because i linked the coverage and compared it with the 3ds coverage.

        This isn't the First time they have tried to make conclusions on Wii U based on Online numbers and not actual sales, this is at least the 3rd time. They first used Blackops2 numbers (twice), now seems like Online numbers seem to be worth more then actual sales numbers when Nintendo is concerned. The Wii U launch numbers in Japan have still not been mentioned, and its been over a week since that news has been out.

        The fact that the Wii flew off the shelves was a surprise and no one expected it to eventually turn into a sales phenomenon as it did. When it did of course it was hard to ignore. The actual Wii U launch sales are pretty close to its predecessor (in the US and Japan) and thats pretty damn good for a console that doesnt include a real 'gamechanger' like the motion control was for the original Wii. But like i said they are focusing on any low Nintendo numbers they could find for cheap hits.

    I reckon it's because anyone interested in these games already has them on other consoles. The Wii U version of FIFA 13 sounds like it has some interesting uses of the gamepad, but we already have a 360 copy of the game in the house. Can't see the point in buying the game again.

    Considering from memory how the devs said this one doesn't have the same tech as the 360/ps3 versions I factor that. Not to mention, compared to other games on the console would you expect less? This is one game with an AMERCIAN only market and has been released beside assassins creed, mario, zombiu etc. most gamers will buy 1-3 games and I'd doubt this would be a blip for a launch purchase.

    Give me a break......I was going to buy madden for my wii u, but EA forgot the physics engine and half the features in the ps3 version.....nothing to do with the console not being a sporting console. Wake up Kotaku.

    I still think EA are intentionally watering down Wii U versions of their games because they're still butthurt over their failure to convince Nintendo to merge with Origin. EA seem to be the only company screwing up their Wii U ports. Ubisoft seems to have absolutely no issues.

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