Thursday, February 14, 2013

What if... Nintendo turned third party?


For all the negativity surrounding the Wii U there is also lot of praise for the console. It just doesn’t make as much noise within the industry as it probably should.

Recently, Codemasters’ Senior Executive Producer Clive Moody stated: "I think it [Wii U] is the future,” when talking to ABC’s News 10 about the prospects of the upcoming next generation of consoles. Will the Wii U be the “future” of home console gaming like Moody thinks it to be? What if it isn’t – what happens then? Well, let’s take a look through the looking glass, shall we?


Negativity

I’ve already mentioned this, but it seems that it is the negative commentary that is the loudest these days. With the Wii U losing third party exclusives and missing out on key third party titles completely (e.g. Tomb Raider, BioShock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V, etc.), it seems that it is all we hear at times in regards to the struggling console. We’re not debating this here, because most of it is blown out of proportion, but what is understandable throughout all of this is that there are some reasons for concern regarding the console becoming one that’s played primarily for Nintendo’s first party titles.

In our intriguing recent interview with Wedbush Securities analyst, Michael Pachter, one of his statements really stands out in my mind when thinking on this topic: “I expect to see fewer exclusives next generation.” We just saw Ubisoft shift the once thought to be timed exclusive Rayman Legends into a simultaneous multiplatform release – delaying the Wii U version of the title back seven months, when  it was only a mere three weeks from release. But then, Sidhe co-founder Mario Wynands made a shocking statement after he attended the DICE Summit in Las Vegas: “At DICE, nobody has been talking about the new Wii U projects they have started, only the Wii U projects that have just been cancelled. Platform is in serious trouble.”

With the Wii U’s worldwide install base currently sitting at around the low three million units, it is not surprising to see third parties pulling exclusive support for the console, as they have to make a profit. What is surprising though is that some developers are apparently cancelling their Wii U projects completely. There is not any way to spin this news – it simply is not good for the console. It was right about here when this hypothetical idea started playing around in my head: what if Nintendo shifted its entire focus on developing its incredible first party games, instead of developing and marketing consoles that are less-powered than its competition?

Third Party Nintendo

Before we go any further, let’s quickly step back a few weeks beforehand: MCV posted an article that reported that Nintendo was merging its handheld and console markets together into one so that it can, “investigate future platforms that would satisfy both its DS sand Wii audiences in one” and a Nintendo business report gave us some insight into its future strategy to take advantage of merged operating systems and software assets across multiple platforms (including new platforms).

Changes are definitely happening behind the scenes within Nintendo, and while we won't see the fruits of this new strategy for a while, it's going to be interesting what comes of it. The 3DS is doing very well on the market in Japan, but outside of its home territory neither the 3DS nor the Wii U is taking the world by storm. It also looks as if Nintendo is possibly about to tap into the mobile markets. A Miiverse app on the iOS and Android Marketplaces would allow hundreds of millions of people to tap into its new family friendly social network – possibly pulling them into a console purchase thereafter – but there is slow progress here, with Nintendo developing a web application accessible by phones first.

In a recent discussion with a family member on this topic, it was surprising how quickly I heard these words: “I would love to play Mario on my PS3, but I’m not buying a Wii U.” Again, this got me to thinking - what if Mario was on the upcoming next generation consoles? What if the upcoming consoles are indeed über powerful and Nintendo spent all of its time and money creating bleeding edge visuals and stunning gameplay like we’ve never seen before? If the rumours are true that the upcoming console from Microsoft utilizes a new and improved version of Kinect – imagine the possibilities of having first party Nintendo titles that make innovative use of this upcoming technology.

Could we ever actually sneak through a haunted mansion as Luigi, using nothing but our bodies to frantically suck up ghost right from the comfort of our very own living rooms? What about a Nintendo developed version of Kinect Sports in partnership with Microsoft? If Nintendo did not have to worry about costly and inefficient console development, it could instead use its capital to develop unique peripherals to create innovative gameplay mechanics that tap directly into the immense power of these consoles. Its games would sell and would be available to both the Nintendo loyal and the hardcore gamers who don’t typically purchase Nintendo systems. Could this actually be a better alternative for Nintendo?

Possibilities

What are the chances of Nintendo ever actually becoming a third party developer? I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this question. I think it could be a possibility at some point in time, but there are also variables that could lead to Nintendo’s Wii U becoming a major player in the next generation of consoles as well. In our recent interview with Michael Pachter he made another thought-provoking statement that if true, could bode extremely well for the Wii U: “I think that the upcoming generation [PS4 and Xbox 720] has the potential to be somewhat underwhelming, given that advances in processing power will be less dramatic than in the past.” If this is true – is it not possible that gamers decide to stick with their current consoles that have enormous catalogues of fantastic games? If the cost of these two consoles is significantly above the retail price of the Wii U, this could in turn find third party developers finding the Wii U and its numerous control options  extremely appealing once again. Consumers looking to purchase a new console could also be attracted by the (potentially) lower entry price, which would also find them having access to Nintendo’s fantastic first party titles as well. Could this actually be the future of the Wii U?

The Future

The gaming industry is undoubtedly within a paradigm shift. The future of the industry is unclear in what it will look like in just a few years’ time. All we can do at this point is to wait and see the happenings as they come and support the companies/products that we want to see succeed with our pocketbooks. Last year saw a contraction within in the industry and far too many talented developers have closed its doors. The cost of PC gaming is falling and the cost of console gaming is continually rising, while mobile gaming on multifunctioning devices continues to rise in popularity as videogames become more mainstream in digital format. As the next generation consoles loom just upon us on the horizon, it is also unclear if consumers will take to those consoles like some analysts project that they might.

What is clear though is that however the industry shifts in the near future, Nintendo will remain. The chances of Nintendo dropping out of the hardware market is most likely slim to none, but even if it did it’s possible that Nintendo as a third party developer could be nothing short of amazing. In its reorganization it is looking like it’s putting itself into a position where it can be flexible for not only the current shift within the industry, but those in the future as well. However the future unfolds, don’t take your eye off of Nintendo – it just might surprise us all once again. 
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