EA has had some interesting comments to make about the Wii U lately. Well, by interesting I mean ugly. The company has no games in the works for the system right now, and considering this is the company that will try just about anything to make a buck, that seems a little worrisome for a system I dropped an entire paycheck on. EA’s lead engineer, Bob Summerwill, has made some claims that have cut through the PR screen that tends to go around these kind of announcements; at least being refreshingly clear on how he is feeling about the system and the folks at Nintendo. Summerwill’s tweets about the matter have since been removed, like anything even remotely honest tends to be in this industry. It’s not nice to call the Wii U crap, but I’m having a pretty hard time defending it from that claim.
Despite spending a week combing the city for the system when it came out, I haven’t booted up the system since my New Super Mario Bros Wii U review back in December. I picked up ZombiU at around the same time because I wanted to give it a shot, but I literally haven’t turned it on since I finished the Mario game. From the look of the release schedule for it, the only game I can see myself playing on it in the near future is Pikmin 3, which won’t even be available until August. If you don’t feel like doing the math, that’s about nine months between plays. The only thing that’s come even close to getting me to consider turning the system on now is the downloadable release of Super Metroid, and to be honest it’s the game I’m most excited for on the system. When the thing I want most from your system is a game that’s a year shy of twenty years old, we have an issue.
EA seems to be one of many that aren’t developing any games for the Wii U. A couple of studios tried a handful of releases during the first few months when the system came out (mainly providing ports of games that were already going to other systems), but even that seems to have all but dried up. Those ports did have some new features added to them that took advantage of the Wii U’s fancy gamepad, but it doesn’t look like much of anyone is actually buying them. As even the stale ports of old games start to fade away, who is even making anything for this system any more that isn’t already on Nintendo’s payroll?
Nintendo systems have always sold based on the franchises that Nintendo owns, though, so who cares if the other guys don’t want to hop on board. It’s a phenomena I’ve been seeing since before the days of the Gamecube, but it’s Nintendo games that move Nintendo systems. Every once in a while you get a daring project like Eternal Darkness or Resident Evil 4 that comes out of nowhere and just blows my expectations away, but fundamentally it’s the Nintendo releases on the system that make it worth my while. I have very few memories of almost any game on a Nintendo home console, even going back as far as the N64, that wasn’t made by the company itself.
What if Nintendo’s not releasing much of anything, though? When I’m waiting a good nine months between releases, one thing I’m seriously considering doing is selling my Wii U just as I was considering doing during my first year with the Wii. I have nothing to play on it for the better part of a year, so why would I keep it? This is the third time in a few years that I’ve been burned by Nintendo for buying a console early in its life cycle; and while dumb purchases like mine are the reason they can still get away with this stuff, that hopefulness at their consoles launching is now completely burnt out. Given my issues with the Wii and 3DS I wouldn’t have even considered buying the Wii U at launch if it hadn’t been an important part of my job to be able to play new games.
How many people out there don’t have any feelings of attachment to the system, though? How many of them are going to be having a hard time re-selling their system because there’s nothing out there to play on them? The system has been available for six months, and the section for its games at my local Gamestop, both new and used, doesn’t even take up four feet. To give you an idea, the used PS2 section takes up more space in the store than the entire Wii U section. If someone looks at that and sees the twenty-some feet each for PS3 and Xbox360, and then notices a price tag of at least one hundred dollars less, where do you think that customer is going to go? Nintendo is hoping there is a lot of good faith out there for its system, and that’s good faith it absolutely hasn’t earned this generation.
The Wii was a mess. It started out as a neat experiment; one that didn’t use its gimmick as it promised, and it made a lot of the people who’d believed in it a little upset. When all of the casual and non-gamers flocked to it for how accessible it made games for them, though, Nintendo didn’t much care what the core audience felt any more. Sure, a lot of us had been backing their systems since they’d first gotten into console making, but they had a shiny new audience of soccer moms and the elderly to appeal to. The games that got them to where they are today fell by the wayside while Nintendo courted its newer, more fickle audience; finding out the hard way that trusting the casual market to support the system was like building on sand. When the casual players all got sick of their games, who did they turn to with their hats in their hands?
The Wii U came out of Nintendo’s realization that they needed the games that had kept players buying their systems for years, but they’d fallen far behind the PS3 and XBox 360. Instead of working toward the future, they built a stopgap system with another gimmick: turning flat screen televisions into the world’s largest DS’s. They’d already ripped through most of the good will they’d built with their customer base by ignoring them for almost the entire life cycle of the Wii, so it doesn’t surprise me that things aren’t looking too good for the system now.
I’m not just talking good will with the players, though. The Wii was an absolute disaster for anyone making a game for it that wasn’t Nintendo. Whether through poor implementation of motion controls or Nintendo just not supporting third party development, Nintendo made a lot of developers upset over the Wii’s life. When the money was rolling in for Nintendo products that wasn’t a big issue for them, and it was that attitude that has probably stuck with developers. Not only do you have a company whose systems historically sell only games made by that company, but that company did nothing to support your third party games during the last console cycle. Considering those third party games are what fuels a lot of sales in between in-house game releases, you end up with these huge gaps in releases that are absolutely killing the system.
I love my Gamecube for the Nintendo games that were released for it, but I never once considered buying one until it was in its last years. The reason for that was that I already had systems with consistent release schedules that were filled with excellent third party games. Other companies were jumping in so that I always had something to play on my PS2, and the system wouldn’t go more than a week or two without something interesting coming out for it. Even when I couldn’t afford the new games I was always excited that there were new creations coming out for my system. I didn’t need a system that would only produce something worth playing every couple of months, if that. Given my limited funds I had to go with the system that was the most consistent.
With the Wii U it looked like Nintendo had finally learned its lesson, and that it was going to support third party development in a new way. It looked like the company knew that it had to do something to stop these dry spells from continuing to be synonymous with their home consoles, but in the time since the system’s release we’re still seeing the exact same pattern as before. Third party developers are doing abysmally most of the time, and it’s at the point where many of them have gotten sick of it all. A couple of them are toeing the water, but with companies as big as EA jumping ship I can’t imagine all that many more sticking around for long. Again, those that are sticking around just seem to be putting out tired ports of older games; trying to pull in some easy sales with products that are already dead and gone to most players. All it’s done is make the system look even sadder than it already does.
With player and developer faith at an all-time low, how is this system supposed to survive? Nintendo has really painted themselves into a corner with their behavior over the past couple of years, making mistake after mistake that has alienated third party developers and the core customer base alike. Still, Nintendo just does what it’s always done whenever it was in trouble: make some quality games. At least, it’s trying to. If New Super Mario Bros Wii U and the Game & Wario demo I played at PAX East are any indication, the system may be in trouble from that front as well.
I love Nintendo and its products. I’d be willing to bet their games are the main reason why most of the people on the planet love video games as much as they do. This is what makes it so painful to have watched the way the company has been run over the past decade. If EA wants to back out of making games for their system, then Nintendo needs to realize that they have to do something about that. Nintendo needs to really reach out to third party developers and do their best to keep them on board. They need to see that having huge gaps in their release schedules is not all right, and that their system sales are going to stagnate as long as they do nothing about it.
I may not like games made by EA, but a system needs a variety of games over the course of its life if it’s going to do well. A new system shouldn’t be coming right out the gate lacking features and games that the cheaper, older systems do offer. There’s no way something like that can be sustainable forever. Nintendo has been surviving off the strength of its franchises, but with every generation a few more of the games that support it have faded away, and soon there may not be anything at all besides the Nintendo releases to keep the systems going. If that’s the case, it’s not very hard to see why so many people think Nintendo should get out of consoles and move straight into publishing. Their games are all that people want, so why keep up the hassle of systems?
Because it’s Nintendo, that’s why. I’ve never seen a company try so hard to keep this industry going in new directions while providing a concrete base in solid, well-made games. Nintendo’s name is still a seal of quality to me, and I don’t want to see the company and all of its odd console ideas fall by the wayside because they can’t get their third party developer relationships to work. It’s time for the execs at Nintendo to start tending to their third party developers as they promised they would, and to do their best to get other developers publishing games for their systems. It will take some doing after so many years of poor sales and indifferent relationships, but I think it can be done.
Nintendo, it’s time for you to reach out. You can’t support a system all on your own. I may not like EA, but you need them and as many other developers as you can get right now. Gamers need to know they can get your games and the other ones they want from your system. Nine dry months of stone age ports is not enough anymore. It never has been.
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