French video game publisher Ubisoft Entertainment SA (UBIP.PA: Quote, Profile, Research) is making a big bet that Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s (7974.OS: Quote, NEWS, Research) unconventional Wii game player will be a breakout hit in the next-generation console wars of the $30 billion video game market.
World No. 1 video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc. (ERTS.O: Quote, Profile, Research), known as EA, holds a roughly 20 percent stake in Ubisoft, known for its "Splinter Cell" and "Prince of Persia" games. The company wants to boost its No. 4 ranking while remaining independent.
"Our goal is not to sell to EA but to beat EA," Laurent Detoc, who leads Ubisoft's North America business, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.
One way the company hopes to do that is by making an early investment in the Wii, a video game machine that is the underdog to Sony Corp's (6758.T: Quote, NEWS, Research) upcoming PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp's (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research) Xbox 360.
It and the PlayStation 3 will debut in the United States in November, just in time for the all-important holiday season. But Nintendo's Wii, pronounced "We" is only as powerful as Microsoft's last console but arguably is more innovate in its remote, the "Wiimote" controller.
The "Wiimote" works like a television remote and matches a player's movements to the action on the screen. For example, a gamer would swing the Wii remote to vanquish rivals on the tennis court, golf course or in a sword battle.
Ubisoft's upcoming racing games "GT Pro Series" and "Monster 4X4 World Circuit" will include a plastic steering wheel that cradles the wireless "Wiimote."
"You get it right away," Detoc said of the Wii controller.
Ubisoft expects to have eight games available within a month of the Wii's mid-November launch, a move Detoc said will give the company a competitive advantage on the console that is predicted to be an immediate mass-market hit this holiday season.
Among its marquee Wii titles will be an exclusive first-person shooter called "Red Steel," which bucks the broadly held wisdom that shoot-em-up games are only fit for Microsoft and market leader Sony's consoles.
Detoc said "Red Steel" should fill the gap between Nintendo's traditional youth market and the girls and senior citizens the Japanese game maker has pulled in with new titles like "Nintendogs" and "Brain Age."
Detoc, a fan of the popular James Bond-inspired shooter "GoldenEye 007" on the older Nintendo 64 console, is aiming to replicate that game's success.
UNDERDOG RISES UP
For Detoc, backing the Wii was a simple decision: Nintendo had ample resources and a reputation for turning out high-quality games and creating iconic characters like the Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong.
In the early days of the new console war, his was a minority view.
Before word of the "Wiimote" surfaced, industry analysts were writing off Nintendo's new console. Some even went so far as to suggest that the company, once the market leader, should give up its console business and focus on making games.
But Nintendo is winning over critics with its fun, intuitive play and its $250 price, which is about half that of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
"The Wii is unlikely not to succeed," said Detoc. "The curiosity factor is going to help them and it's an impulse buy for most people."
Great to see a developer like Ubisoft, along with the other developers that have openly voiced support and weight in Nintendo's next-generation of console, placing so much stock in Wii's expected success.