Controller Ports

Has Nintendo dug its own grave with the Wii U GamePad?

By Lewis Hampson. Posted 02/01/2013 10:00 13 Comments     ShareThis

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.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars cover art
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.

13 Responses to “Controller Ports”

  • 1570 points
    penduin says...

    I don’t see this as a long-term problem. Look at the first wave of DS games – many developers were scared off by the wacky new inputs and dual screens, and many games kept getting released on GBA, or weren’t brought to a portable at all. The higher-power, more-traditional PSP was going to kill the DS, remember?

    Once it becomes understood that you can pull an Assassin’s Creed 3 – port to Wii U with essentially no Gamepad-specific changes, this will start to dry up. We eventually saw plenty of DS games that made little or no use of the touch screen. Launch and near-launch games, for understandable reasons, feel pressured to show off the new stuff. Wii U is still very much near-launch.

    And then there are the studios who have invested mega bucks in the Next Big Sequel and simply won’t put stuff out on a new, still-small-install-base platform. It’s valid, if irritating, business. Over time, more U’s will be out there, and this side of the problem will go away too. This is what hurts the PSP – few studios were willing to deliver their big stuff to the small install base, so the install base never grew. On U, there’s guaranteed big-stuff support from – at the very least – Nintendo, Retro and Ubisoft. Count in Monolith and even half-assed support from Sega and EA, and we’re really talking.

    As for scaled-back versions, maybe I don’t know where to look, but I just haven’t seen anything on the way that looks to be a discernible “generation ahead” of Wii U. MGS: Ground Zeroes is current-gen, and looks incredible. We’ve gotten to the point where any developer who can’t achieve a decent framerate at 720 or 1080p is just being lazy, not limited by hardware.

  • 1379 points
    xeacons says...

    What’s with all the depressing articles? “Is Nintendo done for?” “Is the Wii U the next Dreamcast?” First off, we’re talking about developers who have no respect for Nintendo.

    Rockstar wanted Chinatown Wars to fail. They finally gave in after years of fan complaints, made a great game (not to soil their reputation) and released it right before the launch of the long awaited DSi, to “prove” GTA doesn’t sell on Nintendo platforms.
    They left, never to return, regardless of the fact low sales of neither system nor game prevented them from making not one, but two GTA episodes for PSP, and rereleasing on PS2. There’s no doubt where their loyalties lie.

    • 225 points
      wombatguy880 says...

      It seems like there is just a lot of stupid negativity amongst Nintendo fans. This particular article even assumes that everyone is hard at work on the competing next consoles from MS and SONY when those consoles have a userbase of 0 and no announced games. I’m tired of us being so hard on Nintendo and then giving every benefit to MS/SONYs next console. The 360 and PS3 currently do have userbases so there is reason for their support but this idea that they get more benefit from losing to the Wii in hardware sales this generation and then launching late after the WiiU is plain idiocy. The argument is literally that it’s hard to put stuff on a second screen but spending more on modeling, animation, and general development is easy? It’s just a dumb dumb argument. Physics, AI, increased animation is not free. Every small increase would require much more debugging and overall cost and in this generation those increases were shown to generally not benefit sales performance.

      Chinatown Wars did not fail and Rockstar did not want it to fail. They would have preferred millions of units in sales but the title has never sold better elsewhere than on the DS. The PSP port was also not a huge hit. This shows an issue in marketing and possibly the design of the game as it appeals to the masses. I do doubt this loyalty bs. Their loyalty is to themselves and their shareholders. They are multiplatform and benefit from that strategy. I see no reason for them to ignore the WiiU if they have any plans for the 720 and PS4. This is the same type of nonsense as the writers for Nintendojo you mention are practicing. You are being critical of a situation as it relates to Nintendo and not as it relates to the rest of the industry. GTAIV sold better on the 360 this generation. Does this seem to indicate sticking just with Sony would be a better business plan? Wouldn’t this actually suggest that more money can be made multiplatform?

      Nothing to do with this article but why are we also assuming EA is saying that Nintendo is not next gen. They just don’t believe the cycle starts until the other consoles exist. To ignore the 360 and PS3 just so that you can make a game that utilizes a gig of ram and a better gpu for the WiiU and it’s small userbase would be ridiculous. So most games are and will be ports from those consoles for now. This is what EA meant. I also do not see this news that they have not announced a WiiU Madden as indication that they will not announce such a title. They may be holding the announcement back though. I just don’t see how supposed journalists can run with this story. EA would not praise Nintendo then not port Madden of all things to the console. They would say directly that no future support would be offered. They are saying the exact opposite and yet everyone is freaking out because Madden 25 was only announced for 360 and PS3. It’s more likely that the Madden 25 the WiiU gets will be related to end of the year efforts and therefore may be a surprise announcement EA is holding back for their big next gen unveilings for WiiU, PS4, and 720 which are also platforms for which no Madden is currently announced but we don’t see every PS4/720 fansite proclaiming doom on them? It’s ok to be realistic but this is just stupid.

  • 66 points
    Demyx says...

    I don’t understand all this negative articles lately to be honest. I love nintendojo because of the overall good positive attitude. If I wanted to read doom type articles I will be reading ign.

    • 225 points
      wombatguy880 says...

      To be clear I’m not against real negativity that is valid. I do have an issue with this sites recent articles because they are treating Nintendo unfairly in them. Nintendo needs every game announced today or its not coming and MS/SONY can announce nothing and every game is being developed specifically for them. This isn’t just saying I wish we got more games or even I wish batmans framerate was better but supposed journalists for a nintendo fansite claiming that Nintendo is in a different league then consoles not announced and nothing is known about. EA did not announce Madden 25 for PS4 or 720 but those consoles are supposedly coming out this year? Let’s see that doom article.

    • 33 points
      Matto says...

      This is the same website that said Nintendo should go third party during the 3DS launch. This brand of stupid is nothing new to them, they have had this stupidity for nearly a decade. They are obviously banking on the recent news, but the fact a major third party publisher just recently ceased to exist and brought some studios along with it is not traffic hit generating enough.

      Want to know what I do know? Microsoft is betting heavy on Kinect since the snobbish gamer base they aimed for isn’t helping their billions of dollars in debt. Sony has lost all the profits they made in the PS1/PS2 eras on PS3, Vita and PSP alone, and they have closed tons of studios within them. How the hell can they afford to make a PS4?! Tons of developers of died and developers these days have to sell a million copies to break even.

      Want to know the only company that is capable of making profit? Nintendo, because they made a system that will be affordable to them and their partners when Sony and MS will claw at each others throats and throw away money.

    • 285 points
      Kyle England says...

      I agree that there have been a good bit of negative articles on here this week. This week’s issue is called “Maelstrom” so I guess that would be the theme? A tumultuous storm of speculation and uncertainty?

  • 1 points
    Kevin Knezevic says...

    I haven’t gotten around to reading this article myself until just now (mostly to find out why it’s gotten such a negative reception), and I have to say, I don’t see anything incisive about it. o_O This piece is more speculative than it is critical of Nintendo, and it’s certainly much tamer than what you’d find on a lot of other gaming Web sites (like Wired’s lovely piece of flamebait after the most recent Nintendo Direct).

    That said, I don’t particularly agree with Lewis that the GamePad is the reason third parties are shying away from developing games for the Wii U, but at any rate, that doesn’t change the fact that they are, and that’s a bit of a problem, especially because it seems like nothing that Nintendo does can appease them.

    Now, this doesn’t affect me personally because I’m generally not interested in the games that those studios develop, but it pretty much proves that Nintendo consoles will never have strong third party support, which is bad for the overall health of the platform. Case in point: the Wii market effectively collapsed in on itself partway through the system’s lifetime (largely, I’d wager, because developers didn’t support it), and the GameCube– Nintendo’s poorest-selling home console to date– was just barely kept afloat by nothing but first-party offerings.

    None of that is doomsaying, of course, because Nintendo ultimately profited from both of those consoles, but it nevertheless shows that you can’t grow a platform if you only cater to one kind of fan. That’s why it’s so disconcerting to see all of these third parties pass over the Wii U without giving it a chance.

    And Matto, I don’t recall anyone here saying that Nintendo should go third party when the 3DS launched. Unless that was something James said, but as you can see, he doesn’t write here anymore. :P

    • 225 points
      wombatguy880 says...

      “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.”

      This quote is the offending one. It assumes that everyone is making games elsewhere and noone is making games here. Madden 25 wasn’t announced for 720 or PS4 and we know that most the largest games we’ve seen are not yet announced for those consoles either. The journalist here though claims that despite no evidence that everyone is hard at work for consoles that require even more work and have less of a userbase. It’s nonsense.

      I don’t want to offend you but I believe you are the person I’m talking about here. You don’t see the problem because you agree. Nintendo won’t have third party support…. even though the launch of the WiiU had 29 releases which is more than prior consoles save the PS2. The 360 launched with 18. The PS3 had 12. No 3rd party support here though? It’s nonsense often spewed by actual nintendo fans because they’ve been beaten into believing it. It’s time to stop being the victims and fix this issue.

  • 150 points
    Lewis Hampson says...

    Firstly, thanks everyone for reading the article, and I am glad it has brought some debate to the issue of third parties supporting Nintendo consoles.

    I suppose the main reason that this article (and a few others) I have written come across as negative is because I generally don’t feel Nintendo are doing enough to court third party support. It’s just an expression of my fears going forward for Nintendo, and I expect them to prove me wrong, but at this moment in time I just cannot see them doing so.

    I (and every staff member at Nintendojo) would never write something just to be inflammatory. Its just my personal expression on a matter that some people may agree with and others will not. Nintendo has a real fight on its hands this generation, far removed from the dominance they experienced with Wii.

    I genuinely hope they can make publishers and developers stop and think about Wii U, but at this moment in time all I can see three years down the line is amazing games from Nintendo first parties and the shoddy third party offerings we have been unfairly accustomed to over this past generation.

    • 225 points
      wombatguy880 says...

      I understand your basic point and right now GTAV is not announced (as GTAIV was also not announced for 360 in this period for 360) and maybe that’s a reason to be worried because we don’t know what will happen. This pessimism by itself could be easier understood if you were a pessimist about all consoles but you already seem to have decided as many others have that Sony and MS will get more support for losing valuable marketshare to an SD console with an average attachrate greater than 8. It’s this that I find troublesome. You can certainly be negative about things not yet announced. I can be positive on them but until they are announced that is just me waiting. I do, however, feel you should apply the same rules to MS and SONYs next systems as you do Nintendos.

      Those new consoles from MS and SONY certainly won’t have a larger userbase than the WiiU. They currently have no games announced. The past we saw a 360 with 18 titles and a PS3 with 12 on their launch and many of those were ports that also showed on older SD consoles. Why should everyone automatically assume that MS and SONY will do something more amazing this generation? I’m not saying they couldn’t but I don’t see why it’d be some automatic assumption they will. Let them announce something before we start burying Nintendo and their newest console.

  • 75 points
    Rawbiz says...

    Fans and supporters of Nintendo have all rights to be concerned about Nintendo’s relevance this new Generation. Realistically the points in this article are valid, and it is also true that MS and Sony are going to have to launch their respective system and try to avert many of the pitfalls Nintendo is trying to navigate right now, the difference they’ll have is what’s considered next gen games with 3rd party support for this new gen. Why is it that Nintendo expected 3rd parties to put faith in their user base when the hold debate over operation rainfall shows Nintendo’s shortsightedness, I mean if I were a developer and saw Nintendo’s own fear in supporting a couple of great games then what chance do I have let alone want to take. Nintendo needs traction now, and not the trend in how the Wii fazed into a system of irrelevance. Who cares what the industry says. If a system goes out the way it came in, strong, then that base can trust that brand again. Right now no one trust Nintendo which is always the case amongst the industry but hasn’t been the case amongst their gamers but this is whats happening even with their hardcore base. The things i Hate or ruins my trust in Nintendo are 1. don’t hide info(specs)trust gamer its a investment in your vision 2. complete the hardware (wii motion plus should have been completely installed for launch of wii system) 3. Nintendo of past understood batteries and what it meant to establishing trust and brand loyalty (Gameboy) Seriously the gamepad and 3ds are literally tethered to a wall 4. How do you miss the whole analog L and R buttons racing is something thats expected and loved and this $160 controller should easily have 4. the slow death of wii, no support for your community and hardware with games. Sadly a majority of these mistakes were made by Sega and even Sony but not so much by Nintendo, you could always trust Nintendo’s hardware to be complete not so much lately though. All in all I trust Nintendo to weather this and I offer my support while they figure out this gen mistakes which i feel they’ll learn the hardway

  • 33 points
    mailorderninja says...

    I think that these concerns are incredibly valid ones and I think that Nintendo knows these things as well. Especially lately we’ve seen article after article on other sites with the heads of the company saying they know they don’t have enough and need more support.

    With them bringing things like Project X Zone and Pandora’s Tower to the states, after pleasing fans by doing the same with Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles, I think Nintendo has sort of proved to me that they know what fans want and are ready to deliver.

    The big question though is will third part developers follow suit? Is there really that much unannouced that we will be blown away by?

    With new systems coming up the urge will be strong for developers to move on to where they feel the big money is. However, Xbox and PlayStation could have it wrong throwing the next prettiest thing at us and calling it a day. If the systems cost too much and aren’t very innovative Nintendo may not only find itself on top in sales like with the Wii, but in hardcore gamers books again as well.

    I guess only time will tell whether Nintendo can truly right itself, but so far I’d say they are off to a pretty darn good start.

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