Friday, 21 February 2014

Do Nintendo actually NEED Third Party Developers?

The Wii U is failing, not only failing but borderline a complete failure all together. If it doesn't pick up steam this year and get level in sales at least with the other next-gen consoles, it's going to have to go down as Nintendo's first real home console failure. Sure they've had the Virtual Boy in the past that was quickly forgotten but they've never had a high priority console be a failure, not a home console. One reason people have been claiming is that Nintendo is not getting the 3rd Party support it needs. This is true, the lack of third party titles on Wii U does at times look pretty astounding. But let's take a closer look at that.

There are third party developers on the Wii U, plenty of them in fact, a lot of big name games from Ubisoft have ended up on the console. Are some of the bigger name games like Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto or Dragon Age ending up on the console? No, they're not. But is this really a problem is the question. Let's go back and look at Nintendo's history with third parties. In the past their consoles since and including the N64 have lacked 3rd Party support quite significantly.

The NES and SNES both had very strong third party line ups and are naturally considered the best line up of games in gaming. Of course back then, third party meant a very different thing to what it does today. Nowadays when a game is made on Playstation, Xbox and PC, it's practically the same throughout, with PC having a bit higher graphical fidelity. Back in the 8 and 16 bit eras, 3rd party games came out on say the SNES and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, but they were completely different games. There was always a clearly better version, not to mention controller preference was always key as the SNES and Mega Drive consoles had completely different and layouts. But look at these two versions of the Contra, a 3rd party game.

They're completely different from one another. Compare that today where you get comparison videos that literally go down to the most basic of textures on the games just to try and find a difference, when really there is none.

Also interesting of note is that these games lack the same title specifically. They're both Contra games made and released around the same time for competing consoles but they're completely different games. Which brings up the next point. Third party games were often basically exclusives, sure you had your Mortal Kombat, which had a cheat-code blood version (people always forget it was hidden in a cheat code) on Genesis, and the superior version of Street Fighter II on SNES, but generally speaking third party games were often akin to what is now considered an exclusive title.

Final Fantasy for example, released six games across the NES and SNES eras (no, I don't count Mystic Quest or the other spin-offs). They were released as exclusive titles on Nintendo consoles that eventually jumped ship to Sony's Playstation with Final Fantasy VII, a game that put Sony's console on the map. The games were a huge success and I'm almost certain the video game landscape would be a very different place today if Final Fantasy had remained on Nintendo consoles - as Final Fantasy and Square Enix kinda represent that ship jumping mentality that happened in the late 90s that Nintendo never really got back.

Nintendo would continue to have third party developers for their consoles up to the GameCube era or at least more so than they do today. It didn't work out well for them then, so who is to say it would work out well now. Let's go down to basic numbers...

Ubisoft and other companies have released stats of where the percentage of sales for their game came from, and usually games like Assassin's Creed take 2-3% from Wii U. That is a very small number, now granted the install base is also considerably smaller than the other consoles and a lot of people say that is partially due to a lack of third party support. Does that mean Nintendo is in a Catch-22 scenario here. Perhaps a little, yes. But not to the extent that people believe.

What sold the Wii, it wasn't a third party game, they barely got any of those. It was Wii Sports. What sold the original Xbox or the PlayStation 2, it was Halo and the DVD Player in the PS2. None of these are third party games, they're often a bonus not a reason to buy a console. There are some GREAT third party titles out there, but often the best seem to come from first and second party developers. Games like Wii Sports, Halo, GoldenEye, Super Mario World, Gran Turismo, The Last of Us, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Xenoblade Chronicles, Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart e.t.c

The question in the eye of the average consumer, and make no doubt about it, the gaming industry is so insular and cliquey, that they've forgotten that most people who buy consoles, are actually averages joes not hardcore gamers. No-one outside of gamers really has loyalty to Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft. They look at three devices and say "what does this one offer me that the other two don't". For Sony and Microsoft, they offer better graphical power than the Nintendo. Nintendo last generation offered motion controls and dominated that generation, now they offer the GamePad - which while a neat innovation has had little in the way of software that showed off why this GamePad is the reason to purchase a console over the others. The main reason the PS4 is selling so well right now is the strong price point over the Xbox One. These are essentially exclusive features, reasons to buy a specific console for the non-mainstream gamer.

Nintendo's problem isn't a lack of third party games. It's a lack of games in general. No-one has a reason to buy a Wii U and it's version of let's say "Tomb Raider" when they already own a PS3 or 360 that can play that version. The GamePad simple isn't enough. Wii Sports and it's motion controls were something entirely different and new that consumers couldn't get on other consoles. The GamePad is an interesting addition but not enough to purchase a whole new console. The 3DS had a similar issue at first, 3D gaming, while I stand by and support it, is not enough to make people buy a 3DS. But hopefully, hopefully, Nintendo can convince developers to release some exclusives on the console like they have with Sega on the Wii U. Their future line ups of games might help boost the console's sales. 

More and more I see comments on Kotaku, GameSpot and other gaming sites that people are starting to say "I'm finding less reasons not to buy a Wii U". Public opinion is changing and it's not cross-platform third party games that are going to sell it. It's the question of "what does this console offer me that the others don't". And the PS4 and Xbox One are going to be powerful competitors for Nintendo, visuals are an easy sell for people to upgrade their existing consoles. Nintendo has an uphill battle but that's nothing new for them, at the very least they hopefully can bring out enough solid software that is exclusive to Wii U in 2014 to change people's minds.