If there were a causal relationship between critical praise and commercial success, Capcom’s magnificent Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure would have sold a few million copies by now and this wouldn’t even be an issue.
Unfortunately, most Wii owners are ignoring Capcom’s imaginative masterpiece. Despite the fact that Z-Dub has received a continuous stream of universally positive press and is currently the fifth-highest rated game on Wii, surpassing even million-sellers like Super Paper Mario and Guitar Hero III, the game moved a paltry 30,000 copies in its first two weeks on North American shelves and sold even fewer on the increasingly enigmatic island of Japan.
Some affectionate Z-Dub advocates have cried foul on Capcom’s part, alleging a diminutive and negligent advertising campaign doomed the daring new IP to poor sales before it even hit store shelves. But on the company’s official online bulletin board, one Capcom employee has defended the Z-Dub advertising strategy.
Apparently, it was there. Gamers just didn’t notice.
Or so argued Christian Svensson, Capcom’s Vice President of Strategic Planning and Business Development, in an interesting series of answers and rebuttals to one fan’s eloquently stated “Why is Zack & Wiki getting the shaft?” thread.
To allegations that Capcom is not advertising Z-Dub:
“Actually, there’s been a plenty of marketing for Z&W, just not in places necessarily where core gamers would see it (frankly, core gamers know about Z&W from the PR efforts that have been made and the reviews). Our outreach has been largely through “family targeted” vehicles, not core gamer vehicles.”
In regard to word-of-mouth reliance:
“Word of mouth will work for this title, just as it did for Ace Attorney. For a title that’s as “different” but as high quality as Z&W, there is no substitute nor are there any amount of ads we can buy that would do a better job. We’ve done all we can do to foster that word of mouth, largely through our massive PR outreach efforts.”
To questions regarding the game’s commercial reception:
“It’s steadily moving…not setting the world on fire, not disappointing. It’s moving as expected, at least in the US.”
About the lack of US television advertising and Japanese sales:
“Japan had a sizable television campaign at launch (I believe it’s still running). You’ve pointed out the results, so the question is, would spending significantly more (on television ads) here changed the results when it didn’t in Japan? Or would it have impacted profitability, decreasing the chances of a sequel? I leave it to you to decide…”
While Svensson makes some interesting arguments, paralleling the Japanese and American markets, and assuming one can foreshadow the other, seems an alarmingly and increasingly flawed strategy. While television advertising may not have helped Z-Dub cultivate Japanese success, it is important to note that it also didn’t help Super Mario Galaxy or Halo 3 do so, either. Yet both games achieved substantial commercial success in the States and were arguably helped tremendously by aggressive advertising campaigns.
Of course, those are examples of established franchises with millions of pre-installed fans, a sharp contrast to the infant Z-Dub license. But considering the Mario/Halo example from a purely theoretical stance, isn’t it possible that, for some games, advertising in the States can yield more fruitful results than in Japan? And considering that, isn’t it reasonable to suggest that a few weeks of television promotion may have helped Z-Dub reach a larger audience?
Speculation aside, the reality at my apartment could be a microcosm of the market at large. When friends come over for Wii sessions and are introduced to Z-Dub, they are almost always sold instantly. Does this emphasize the need for marketing to make them more aware, or does it validate Svensson’s reliance on word-of-mouth?
Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure released in North America on Oct. 23, 2007. According to VGChartz.com, the game has moved roughly 130,000 copies to date worldwide.