I've been a Nintendo fan since I was 2. From the very first time I picked up a Zapper and played and beat Gumshoe at the same age, ever since then, every single Nintendo console was a must buy for me. I've owned every single Nintendo system since then. NES, SNES, N64, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advanced, Gamecube, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3Ds, Wii, hell even the Virtual Boy.
But when the Wii U was released, my fanboy-ish nature suddenly hit the brakes. Believe me, I was excited for the Wii U when it was first announced at E3. When I saw it hit the stage, I firmly believed that this was the dawn of a new renaissance for Nintendo in the next generation of consoles. And then the system had it's release day, and I wasn't in line for the launch. Seeing the launch of the system and the surrounding events that occurred later on in the next couple of months, that streak of dedication to Nintendo just broke.
But why? A question I found myself asking later on as I continued to watch the Wii U's life develop, only to find that the faith I once had in Nintendo continue to dwindle further and further away. I've read the stories of controversies and conflicts surrounding the Wii U when it comes to third party companies. Activision won't release the Elite service and DLC for Call of Duty Black Ops 2 for the Wii U, Ubisoft delaying the release of Rayman for the Wii U for nearly half a year, the whole EA debacle that arose recently with the pull back of development for the Wii U and the twitter comments. However, if you think about these events, and how much support that Nintendo received from third parties prior to the Wii U, does it really make any sense?
Of course you're all going to say "Sure it does. Third party support has been dwindling ever since the N64." But that couldn't be further from the truth. There's a certain mindset that's floating around not only amongst gamers, but developers as well. The base of it being "People only buy Nintendo consoles to play Nintendo games." How does that make sense? Plenty of third parties have had major successes on Nintendo consoles before Wii U, before Wii, before Gamecube, before Nintendo 64, and so on and so forth. Madden was released on the SNES and N64 and Gamecube before, people still bought and played them on Nintendo consoles. EA sports has had plenty of moderate success with Nintendo consoles, as well as companies like Activision and Ubisoft. Not as much as say with the Playstation 2 and 3 and Xbox and 360, but certainly enough to keep them interested in game development throughout the life cycle of the Wii. The same pattern behaviors also affecting Japanese third party developers like Capcom, Konami, Square Enix.
So what happened? Did straying away from the beaten path taken by Microsoft and Sony really give 3rd parties a distaste for developing games on Nintendo consoles? There is quite a lot of evidence to support this theory, and yet at the same time, a lot of evidence to disprove it. In order to come to a conclusion to this conundrum, a different point of view must be taken, not from Nintendo's view on hardware, but Nintendo's view on software. How does Nintendo ideas and development behaviors on software affect 3rd parties?
Now again of course, the thought pattern goes back to "People only buy Nintendo consoles to play Nintendo games." There is no doubt in everyone's mind that Nintendo games have certain type of magic to them that entrance people into wanting to buy their consoles in order to play their games. The unique franchises, characters, gameplay, and stories is something that almost everyone wants to be a part of. But if this were the case, shouldn't Nintendo be doing better sales hardware wise? We have to look back at the legacy of Nintendo consoles. The NES, the SNES, the Nintendo 64, the Gamecube, and the Wii. When the NES first started out, video games were at this point was something everyone wanted to stay way from after the market crash. Nintendo came in with this little box, full of new ideas, bringing franchises like Mario, Zelda, Kirby, and Metroid to life and changing the rules of the industry. Third party companies started to crop up again all over, flocking to the NES with a sense of hope and ambition, creating other franchises that would make their mark in history along side Mario and Zelda, like Mega Man, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Contra, and Ninja Gaiden.
Those ideas continued into the era of the SNES, when Nintendo brought out revamped titles of their old NES franchises like Super Mario World, Link to the Past, Super Metroid, but also gave us some new worlds to explore and play, bringing out F-Zero and Starfox. At that point, third parties just flocked and flourished to the SNES, creating revamped versions of their old classics that debuted on the NES, and bringing along some newer franchises to the table as well.
And then came the Nintendo 64. Many would claim that this is the point when Nintendo lost their way, but reflecting back upon the decisions and ideas that Nintendo came up with during that period, it was a golden age for Nintendo. Franchises weren't just improved in the life span of the Nintendo 64, they were perfected. Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64, Star Fox 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Big hits that came onto the scene that weren't Nintendo franchises even shined on the system like Goldeneye, Turok, Rouge Squadron, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark. When it would come time for the next generations to follow after, the Nintendo 64 set the standard for software and hardware development.
However a bleak time for Nintendo was to come shortly afterwards in the form of the Gamecube. Some would hold steadfast to their faith in Nintendo, but many others would move on to the Xbox and PS2 to find a less restrictive library. And thus was the point in which the company was shaken. Many would assume that Nintendo would follow the path of Sega in their failure with the Dreamcast, so too would the Gamecube have the similar fate. And yet, no such event occurred. Third parties had their devotion to Nintendo shaken, but still remained to develop games on the Gamecube. We still had our Maddens, our Call of Duty's, our Resident Evils, our Metal Gear Solids, but for some reason, it just didn't feel like the generations before. The majority of their efforts was focused on the PS3 and the Xbox. So much so that many questioned why bother developing for the Gamecube at all? And yet they did. Nintendo still came out with an extensive library of their first party franchises, but something changed. We had Super Mario Sunshine, The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker, Pikmin came onto the scene, along with Animal Crossing, Metroid returned to the scene in the form of Metroid Prime from a 2nd party developer, F-Zero came back as well with F-Zero GX developed by a partnership between Nintendo and Sega, 1080 and Wave Race made a great effort to go on, Super Smash Bros Melee would become the heartbeat keeping the system alive for the many years of life for the system, Mario Kart Double Dash changed the formula of the game and yet was still successful, and we had plenty of Mario Parties, The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess would be the last hurrah for the system, and we finally saw the Fire Emblem franchise brought overseas from Japan to the US. But there was one franchise returned to the system that was less noticed, and yet would mark the start of a slippery slope for Nintendo...Star Fox. Star Fox came back onto the scene after a glorious revamping on the Nintendo 64 when StarFox Adventures was released, developed by our good friend Rare, but when the game didn't perform as expected, the next people to carry the franchise on further, oddly enough, would actually be a third party developer instead...Namco. Coming out with Starfox Assault, developed by the same team who created Ace Combat, it looked very hopeful when bringing back the original air combat and shooter formula that the Starfox franchise was built upon. And yet it also slipped under the radar. From this moment on, the franchises that were still very much beloved by fans, but less important to Nintendo, would be passed on to second or third party companies, and rarely to see development in house again.
Thus began the era of the Wii. Nintendo had started making some questionable decisions with regards to graphical power and features of the system when compared to its competitors, the Xbox 360 and the PS3. Yet, Nintendo had once again managed to change the rules, and had gotten the gaming community curious and excited. But there was a problem....Nintendo wasn't catering to the gaming community anymore. We had all hoped that this would finally bring 3rd party support back to Nintendo. When Ubisoft announced their exciting round of titles for the system, Nintendo fans were estatic. And then they actually got released. Our hopes were shattered by a over-bloated library of shovelware and cheesy cash-in titles. When other third-parties followed suit in the pattern, our hopes for Nintendo's redemption was not only shattered, they were devastated. Nintendo still tried to do what they did best, coming out with extraordinary titles like Super Mario Galaxy, Mario Kart Wii, The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword, Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn. However, many other titles that Nintendo produced didn't seem to live up to their former luster. Titles like Wii Sports, Wii Play, Wii Music, they may have kept the attention of the crowd that Nintendo was actually marketing to at the time, but for gamers, they were merely a distraction, if not irrelevant.
By the time the Wii U was revealed, fans faith in Nintendo had been weakened and waning. They've lost the audience that built them to what they are today, they confused the audience that they tried to win over with the Wii, and the launch of the system started dry and awkward. No killer apps presented themselves, putting out Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros U to keep their consumers busy, but not nearly long enough for the many promising titles that Nintendo had planned to release much much later in the system's life. Ubisoft delaying their promising Rayman title, and EA's support diminishing significantly certainly hurt the reputation of the Wii U in a bad way.
Disclaimer: I started writing this article prior to Nintendo's E3 direct. The following is a revision to react to the announcements that Nintendo made.
Nintendo's attempt to win back both their fans and third party support with the Wii U in their Nintendo Direct video for E3 seemed to be unenthusiastic and droll. Yes, titles Super Smash Bros Wii U and Mario Kart 8 was certainly a surprise, but still just not enough. With their release dates seeming so far away to current owners of the Wii U, and those who are just waiting at the edge for a reason to purchase the system, like myself, still find themselves rather cautious to take the plunge. It seems achieving redemption for the Wii U is becoming more and more difficult as the trials and tribulations that Nintendo must overcome to see success continue to pile up.
Which brings us back to my initial point of this article. With many of you questioning after reading all of this "If you're such a big fan of Nintendo, why would you want the Wii U to fail?" The simple answer is this. It's because I believe that through failure that Nintendo can achieve success. There have been times when Nintendo has faced disaster when it comes to their systems, a more recent example would be with regards to the 3DS. Initially when it first came, out, people were reluctant to see the appeal of the portable handheld, and thus sales suffered because of it. Nintendo having realized this went back to the drawing board, lowering the price of the system, and filling the software library with plenty of great titles developed in house. Soon after third parties began to flourish to the system, and the 3DS achieved the same success that it's older brother the Nintendo DS achieved at the same point in it's lifetime. But more to the point is the push for software.
A recent article that Kotaku had posted had Nintendo's global president Satoru Iwata stating "Our focus is, first of all, to regain the momentum of the Wii U towards the end of this year. Then, we'll try to establish successful third-party Wii U software titles. I believe in the importance of third-party support for Nintendo platforms. I’m very willing to change the current situation." So essentially, the problem has been targeted. And yet the question remains "Why did these issues with the Wii U's lack of software support occur?" Many would argue that after so many long years of questionable decisions by Nintendo, gamers just seemed to have lost faith in the house that Mario built. But I tend to disagree with that argument, because there are many of us who want to see Nintendo back on the pedestal again, who want to see them be on the forefront, to be the leader in making games again. Nintendo may have changed the rules on hardware many times in the past, but when it came to software and games, Nintendo made the rules. There was a certain standard of quality that Nintendo had set, and that third parties wanted to follow, not only on Nintendo's consoles, but on other consoles as well. Any outstanding element that has been put into a game today was something that either Nintendo did first, or Nintendo did best. When third parties started to flourish after the video game industry crash, there was a proverbial playbook that third party developers had to follow which they essentially stated "This is how Nintendo did it, we need to do it as good as them or better."
So why isn't that the case today? Nintendo hasn't been putting out the shining luster of software that they had used to do in their previous generations of consoles, so therefore third parties have nobody to lead them anymore. If Nintendo can't, or won't show them what they can do and accomplish with the Wii U, then what is the point of developing for it? Essentially, I don't think that gamers have lost faith in Nintendo, I think Nintendo has lost faith in themselves.