Nintendo and the Importance of Friends in Third-Party Places

With the new Microsoft console announcement tomorrow and E3 only weeks away, video games are about to enjoy their annual place at the forefront of media. No matter which gaming site you go to, you’ll find excitement for the PS4 and the “Xbox Infinity” (rumored name). You’ll also find a lot of news from studio of software developers disparaging the Nintendo Wii U. It’s not looking good for the big N right now. The only time the Wii U makes headlines is when someone talks trash about it. Not the notoriety you want with a platform. But over the past few weeks as I’ve read more and more reports of how bad of a system the Wii U is, I cannot help but feel there is something else going on right now. This can’t be about the Wii U, if it is then these developers really need to shut their mouths because their arguments don’t work and, indeed, incriminate them more than Nintendo. No, what we’re seeing now is the result of poor treatment and poor communication. What we’re seeing now is the result of all those years where Nintendo was a jerk to third-party publishers.

Let me go back to that first point. It sounds very fanboy: companies should shut up about the Wii U. They should but I will elaborate on this. Let’s start with the most recent comments from EA software engineer, Bob Summerwill. Here is a wonderful recent tweet from Bob, enjoy: “The Wii U is crap. Less powerful than an XBOX 360. Poor online/store. Weird tablet. Nintendo are the walking dead at this point.” Wow, strong words. He went on the say more (before everything was mysteriously retracted) but this is the gist. They are sentiments that have been echoed (less harshly) from other software developers. But let’s break down this tweet and see what is really means.

Regardless of what Nintendo is doing, I think we can all agree that EA should be the last publisher to comment on "quality".
Regardless of what Nintendo is doing, I think we can all agree that EA should be the last publisher to comment on “quality”.

I’m doing to disregard the first sentence for now and start with the second: “Less powerful than an XBOX 360”. Is this true: unknown. What is obvious is that the Wii U will not stack up against the new Xbox or the PS4. Nintendo hasn’t been coy about this, they’ve been very open that graphical horsepower is not an area where they feel they can directly compete (they are a much smaller company than Microsoft or Sony). So, just how powerful is the Wii U? Unknown (there’s too few games out to see for certain) but Nintendo has commented on its horsepower fairly recently, stating that they are aware that some companies do not believe the Wii U is powerful.

“It is a fact that some software development companies assume that Wii U is not powerful enough,” Iwata said. “On the contrary, some developers say in interviews that Wii U has a different architecture from other consoles and that, when utilized in the right way, it can perform well. At the moment, there is a great deal of contradictory information… Nintendo is required to make more efforts to dispel such a misconception,” he said. “In fact, some software companies are actively supporting Wii U and others are not. It is important to have supportive companies enjoy successful sales of a game and feel that their decision to develop something for Wii U was correct.” That comes from Satoru Iwata, one of the heads of Nintendo. Interesting to note that right now the Wii U is sounding like the PS3: another system that took heat for being poorly designed (even first-party developers had/still have a lot of trouble with it).

Okay so more talk (we still need to see games to be sure) but really, is this point even relevant? Since when did EA and other publishers care about graphical power? They were in full support of the Nintendo Wii back in the day. You can’t tell me that the Wii U will have as great a power differential as the Wii had with 360 and PS3. No but the Wii was a cultural juggernaut in the way that Wii U (so far) is not. But still, a Wii supporter criticizing graphical power? That doesn’t make sense.

You guys were really on board on this when it was being developed. What really happened to get you to abandon it so quickly? Don't say graphics.
You guys were really on board on this when it was being developed. What really happened to get you to abandon it so quickly? Don’t say graphics.

Now we come to the part that rings with the most truth (at least for EA). “Poor online/store.” Hmm, that is telling. While there is no evidence (at the moment) to support the following article, I would advise everyone to read it. Very interesting stuff that would explain why the “EA-Nintendo partnership” evaporated over night: Could that be a conspiracy theory: yes. Does it make sense without anything super crazy or illegal: yes.

I want to be fair to EA and other third-party publishers. Nintendo does have a bad online system. Their lack of profiles or the ability to register your games into an account is really poor. But the largest group wronged by these decisions is the consumers. We’re the ones with a lack of security. If anything, Nintendo’s system makes it more likely I would have to repay companies for games. I can see them supporting a flawed system like that.

If this is the reason why EA won't make Nintendo games anymore, all I can say is good for Nintendo for not allowing the Wii U to be a puppet for Origin.
If this is the reason why EA won’t make Nintendo games anymore, all I can say is good for Nintendo for not allowing the Wii U to be a puppet for Origin.

Okay, let’s move on to the main point for most companies: “weird tablet”. Look at that thing (pictured above). It is not the average controller. Moreover it creates a new problem for console developers who are used to making games for one screen (now they have two). It means that companies need to put more people (whole teams) on developing for the Wii U. That’s a lot of man power for an investment that is anything but financially secure (at the moment). Nintendo has a long history of third-party games being nowhere near as financially profitable as first-party titles. Yet if tablets are such a big deal, why am I not hearing more about problems with this:

Sony: succeeding without original ideas since 2007.
Sony: succeeding without original ideas since 2007.

The PlayStation 4 also has a tablet controller. I’m not a betting man but I wouldn’t be surprised if the “Xbox Infinity” also has one as well. Touch screens are very viable control options that allow for a tremendous increase in ability to control certain aspects. Also these companies were quick to jump on board with the Wiimote, Kinect and Playstation Move (see previous comment about lack of creativity). This proves that new methods of control are not a crippling blow to development. So “weird tablet”, sorry but if that’s valid criticism against Nintendo, it applies to Sony as well.

So what’s the deal? Why all this hatred? The Wii U is barely half a year old and yet it seems that many game developers aren’t willing to give it a chance. Remember the PlayStation 3? It did not sell nearly as many units as the Wii U did at launch and while I remember concerns being voiced, it was nowhere near this level. Also let’s remember that the Xbox 360 console launched with  a failure rate of 23.7% (that’s in 2009 so they had already had a couple years to try and improve it). So when nearly 1 in every 4 Xbox 360s broke, I still have heard less people calling that a crappy system.

Because Sony and Microsoft make nice with the giant third-party developers. No secret that Nintendo has a track record of changing games and keeping companies in the dark when it comes to third-party. These companies had quiet anger during the Wii’s success. Now that time is over and the Wii U has become the new whipping boy because it is different and people aren’t taking to it like they took to the Wii.

This is sad because, in my opinion, the Wii U is the best chance (console-wise) to inject innovation back into the AAA market. Games play differently on it, it’s not just about graphics. Funny story, after playing Rage this past weekend, I think the debate “do graphics make a game” can finally be put to rest (seriously it was one of the prettiest and most BORING games I have ever played. You know what game looks worse but is infinitely better? Fallout 3).

Has Nintendo made mistakes: yes. Are they a stupid company: in their own way, of course. Do they care more about getting your money than making a good game: that one is actually debatable. It is because of that last answer that I want Nintendo to succeed. They are driven by the dollar, they need it to exist. However they are also the last video game company making a console (both Sony and Microsoft are media corporations). I want the Wii U to have its fair chance.

So call me a fanboy but I’m not ready to denounce a system as “crap” six months out of the gate. I will and have already condemned the handling of the launch but as for the system itself: the Nintendo Wii U is anything but second-rate. I only hope that Nintendo can convince enough people of that as time is running out.

Sad to see EA stop supporting Wii U as it had the perfect controller for Sports games.
Sad to see EA stop supporting Wii U as it had the perfect controller for Sports games.

On a side-note: you know what would have helped? A killer E3 press conference showing off games like the new Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Mario and Zelda titles. Apparently all those games will be there yet Nintendo didn’t feel like the major media spotlight of a press conference was the way to go. Better use those Nintendo-Directs that so many less people are aware of. Seriously, what are they smoking over there and how do I get some?

Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of shit or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.

Also, get informed on the discussion with help of these informative links:

Team Ninja head fires back at Metro developers in defense of Wii U

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