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Nintendo Going Third Party--The Buffoonery
by Nicholas Behrens on 01/18/13 01:58:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 






If you've read or learned anything about video games in the past few generations, you've probably heard people touting "predictions" of imminent doom for Nintendo and their future status as a "3rd party developer" the way both Sega and Atari bowed out in the past.  This blog will tell you exactly why people who say this are, at best ignorant and wrong, and at worst, malevolent and hateful.

The most recent quip on this, from someone of some apparent profile in the industry is a prediction by Colin Sebastian which can be found over at GameInformer, or by using the power of the internet and merely clicking right here.  If you look over the article, you'll see an impressive number of some of the easiest predictions anyone could ever make about the game industry.  For instance, predicting $350~$400 is pretty obvious for the starting prices of the next consoles--though I expect this will be the "low-end" price range/versions of the next Xbox and Playstation, and the "worthwhile" sets will be closer to $450 or $500.  The bulk of his predictions are so simple and obvious most anyone could make them.

Then he throws out that old stalwart--Nintendo is doomed!  DOOOOMED!  There's no way they can compete!  The Wii U is Nintendo's Dreamcast!  They're going to go 3rd party before the generation is done!  DOOOOOOMED!  (*Exaggerated for effect, in case that wasn't obvious.)

Most gamers yawn at these strangely common predictions, while most Nintendo fans balk and scoff at the foolishness of the statement.  And those who balk are right to do so.  This is a foolish statement.




First, let's compare the obvious common sentiment--one I'm sure we've all heard from someone--that the Wii U magically equals Dreamcast.



When the Dreamcast launched:

Sega was, for all intents and purposes, at the end of a bitter decade of near-constant defeat.  Their only truly impressive success was the Genesis (Mega-Drive for you worldly types), and even that ended it's generation behind the later-launching SNES.  Sega had never held the number one slot for industry leadership or sales.  After the Genesis, they spent years churning out embarrassing and confusing pieces of under-used hardware.  They released 2 versions of the Sega-CD, the 32X, the Saturn, the Nomad, and the CD-X (which was the Genesis and CD built together for more than the Genesis and CD separately).  The Saturn famously launched less than a year after the 32X add-on.  This is a lot of different hardware for a very short time.  

And when the wonderful Dreamcast finally launched, it was after all this hardware had led to a very defeated, very beaten-down Sega.  The Dreamcast was their last best hope to turn things around.  While it's first year saw impressive sales, and an impressive line-up including Soulcalibur, Sega ultimately had lost too much clout, strength, and money in the previous decade to maintain it.




When the Wii U launched:

Nintendo launched the Wii U this past November to pretty strong sales.  Not better than the original Wii, but better than both the Xbox 360 and PS3 when they launched.  It also had a stronger launch library.  While all consoles launch with loads of ports of last or current-gen games, the Wii U got lucky.  Rather than the swath of PS2 sports titles the Xbox 360 featured, the Wii U came out of the gate with the latest Call of Duty, Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, an upgraded Arkham City, a repolished Ninja Gaiden 3, ZombiU, Super Mario Bros U, and more.  Like all consoles, it featured ports, but it had arguably some of the best ports a console could launch with.

Nintendo is also in a much stronger position, both in the industry and financially, than Sega was.  Sega was struggling to maintain the Saturn in a distant "3rd place out of 3" position when they launched the Dreamcast.  They were in deep, with woes and debts.  Nintendo is in deep, too.  With money.  They're launching the Wii U at a time when their hardware dominates both the portable and console markets.  Granted, the Wii did not become a market leader for game design as the SNES or Playstation had, but it screamed ahead in sales.  These are not only the two best-selling platforms Nintendo ever made, but two of the best-selling platforms ever made.  The DS still holds the possibility of actually toppling the PS2's all-time sales high, up past 150 million units.  The Wii will likely top 100 million in sales by the time it's discontinued (if it's not there now).  Compare that to the Saturn, which didn't even top 10 million units for lifetime sales.  The Wii was doing better than that per year.  


Logic Time

If you were Nintendo, and you were sitting on two of the most successful consoles of all time, would you even entertain the possibility of going 3rd party?  Of course not.  That'd be incredibly stupid.  Your investers would be crapping bricks all over the place in bewilderment.  

Sega had to bow out to stay alive.  It was desperation.  The Dreamcast was launched under that air of desperation.  The announcement of the PS2 cut initially strong sales of the Dreamcast down, and the launch was the final nail in it's coffin.  Sega realized they could not afford to face the powerful appeal of the PS2, let alone new consoles from Nintendo and Microsoft, too.  Sega was no longer successful.

Nintendo, on the other hand, saw their first operating loss ever last year owing to some 3DS launch woes.  After dropping the price and evidentally taking uper-staff pay cuts, the 3DS turned around (having games helped it, too) and is out-pacing the original DS at the same point in it's life.  Since that operating loss, they've seen their success continue, and despite their lackluster advertising efforts for the Wii U, it is selling quite well.  


Yeah, but... The other guys... Dated and such...

Oh, Microsoft and Sony?  Yep, they've got powerful new hardware coming out this year.  Hopefully they're smart and their hardware is actually uniquely different from one another.  Part of the reason the Wii was so successful is that it dared to offer a different experience for once.  It said, there are other ways to play than just sitting there with the same old controller playing the same old games over and over again.  While there is a market for that (I like them, too), this industry suffers without the kind of bizarre and rampant innovations like we see with the Wii Remote.  

No, the Wiimote was not always used well, or logically.  Sometimes it was used as a brainless gimmick.  But this happens with all controllers on all systems.  The button-mash nonsense of quicktimes events flooding God of War games is a gimmicky mis-use of a regular controller.  There are better ways to open doors.  But it never-the-less offered unique experiences, delivered some great games, and--something I'm happy about--it made classic arcade rail shooters relevant to the console market at long last.  

Yes, the Wii U will look graphically dated--maybe around 2015 or so (keep in mind, it's taken 6 years for Sony to deliver games like Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us that actually show the PS3 to be superior to the Xbox 360).  We've all seen the technical specifications broken down--it's CPU clock speed about on-par with the Xbox 360, but it has quite a bit more RAM (1GB to gaming, 1GB to OS and other stuff, whereas the X360 uses 512MB for everything together), and it's noted that the GPU has some pretty good heft to it going by the words of some developing the Unity engine.  

The Wii U is not a dramatic leap forward, hardware-wise.  But as I pointed out in another blog, this doesn't matter.  The most powerful system has never been the sales or market leader.  The Wii U is better capable this time around than the Wii was merely because it's HD and because it can handle the engines the other consoles can--Unreal, for instance.  But then, it's not like the Wii was some backwater console from 1983 that couldn't deliver it's own jaw-dropping visuals:





We've reached a level where it's going to be extremely difficult to see the advances--especially graphically--of better hardware.  Even after a good 7 years of tinkering and growing and modding, even the best PC games don't look a full generation ahead of the Xbox 360--and more to the point, they play exactly the same way they have for more than a decade.  We're reaching a point where playing a prettier version of the exact same thing is going to get boring fast.  

Crysis 3 looks amazing, but after watching videos of it, I couldn't help but think that it was still just another FPS game being played like any other FPS game.  Sure the grass looked cool (except for that moment when an explosion knocked down a tree, but did no harm at all to the surrounding grass...), but that doesn't change the core game.  That's just graphics.  What's going to matter more and more in the coming years, generation, and generations will be experiences.  

Microsoft's IllumiRoom concept looks pretty cool, and I sincerely hope it's a part of the next Xbox, because it'll offer a different experience.  Hell, the idea of being able to give me peripheral vision in an FPS game is more than enough to keep my attention on it (can't tell you how many times I've been killed in online gaming from someone standing right next to me).

The point is, the Wii U will offer a different experience.  The graphics will not be to the same level as the Durango or Orbis (the next Xbox or Playstation, if you're not familiar with the codenames), but who cares?  It'll still look great, and it'll offer a unique experience--loads of them.  It's hardware won't hold it back.  The only thing that will hold the Wii U back will be lackluster advertising from Nintendo and the traditional Nintendo fanboys who have, for generations now, tended to drive away 3rd party support.  If the fanboys can start buying 3rd party games, and create a market for them on the system, it'll have no problem being successful.  

The Wii U will not become the Dreamcast, the 3DS is selling really well, Nintendo is not going to upend 7 years of incredible success by shutting down the machines of that success to go develop for Microsoft or Sony.  The system isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is fun and it will survive.

Frankly, if Nintendo was ever going to drop out and go 3rd party, the time to do that would've been with the sad defeat of the GameCube.  A wonderful console that fell to third place in it's generation--only topping the Dreamcast.  That was Nintendo's Dreamcast--and they still survived it.  

And all of this ignores Nintendo's own historical statements that they've dealt with this nonsense before, and have never had any intention of dropping the console business.

 


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