Nintendo’s GamePad is a brilliant idea. To be able to switch between the TV and GamePad is in itself is a leap forward for gamers. Throw in the touch screen, gyro sensors and asymmetric gaming possibilities, and you have yourself something that should be a developer’s dream, a new canvas on which they can display their imagination of gaming’s future. But will this be the case?
Nintendo has a long history of innovative controller design; from the original NES, to the SNES and revolutionary N64 pad, right through to Wii and Wii U, Nintendo have strived to make the way in which we play games just as new and exciting as the console itself. But maybe this time, in the current console climate, they have gone too far.
To put as much emphasis on the way we play games on Wii was a huge risk. But ultimately it paid off for the big N with over one hundred million console sales since release. Many of these sales can be attributed to the Wii Remote, and how it opened doors to new gamers and game types. However, many of these new gamers, including many I know personally, gave up on Wii after only a few months, and show no intention of supporting Nintendo in the near future.
Now the problem here is that Nintendo are no longer making a profit on each console sold (yet) and if we are honest they can only dream of having the same success with Wii U as they did with Wii, which could present quite a problem for developers. Already we are seeing it. No Bioshock Infinite, no word of GTA V and now no Tomb Raider.
No Lara for Wii U this time…
The question for developers is: why should they care? With AAA game development costs spiralling out of control, why should developers concentrate on a console with a comparatively small install base and slow sales to boot? Third parties are undoubtedly working hard on next generation games for Nintendo’s rivals, the likes of which we have no hope of playing on Wii U, unless it’s a cut down version à la Wii.
The same thing is happening with Sony’s PlayStation Vita. The Vita seems to be somewhere between a Wii and and 360 in terms of graphical capabilities, something which sounds exciting on paper, but in execution is a very different kettle of fish. Companies simply cannot justify allocating a large team to work on AAA games for the system. Even Sony’s first party gems like LittleBigPlanet PS Vita and Uncharted: Golden Abyss were farmed out to smaller developers rather than keeping Media Molecule and Naughty Dog busy, when they undoubtedly have bigger fish to fry.
I imagine the same can be said for Wii U at this moment in time. Developers are probably looking at the GamePad and dreaming up possibilities for new and existing games; the problem lies in whether we will ever see these dreams realized. If the public no longer care for the console brand, they will never own the GamePad. Wii U is somewhat of an oddity. A brand associated with younger gamers, pushing a controller aimed at an older demographic, that controls a console that no one knows much about. It makes for a worrying mixture, one which many developers will pass up on purely because they now realize, as Rockstar did after the Chinatown Wars debacle, that the profit margins are just not high enough for AAA games on Nintendo’s home systems.
Will we ever see something like this happen again? Maybe not…
Sure, we have third party games like Assassin’s Creed III and the best console version of Aliens: Colonial Marines to look forward to, but aside from a cool radar on your pad, and other novel ways of displaying the games’ HUD, we don’t have any truly mind blowing ideas utilizing the GamePad on the horizon, and in a climate where the bottom line is what matters for publishers it’s unlikely we will see such a risk taken in the near future.
If Nintendo are going to push this controller to the point it completely overshadows the Wii U console, then they need to make sure third party developers have the funds and manpower to dedicate full teams onto exclusive, or genuinely superior content for Wii U, and if I’m being honest, I just cannot see that happening. Before we know it Sony and Microsoft will announce their new consoles and launch games and a lot of the hype for Wii U will be swiftly forgotten, swept up in the tidal wave of hype for two consoles arriving within such a short space of each other. The question has to be asked: where can you see most third party developers’ priorities lying when this does happen?
Of course no one should count out Wii U just yet, with the latest Nintendo Direct announcing some brilliant looking games, it looks like Nintendo are really trying to change gear when it comes to getting exclusive content out from their first party studios, whilst also bringing titles like The Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2 to the system from third party developers. These announcements should drive sales, and if the games do well, it will certainly give publishers food for thought in the future.