Op-Ed: Will Nintendo Fall Without Third Party Support?

Can Nintendo afford to go it alone, or will a lack of outside software prove insurmountable?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 07/29/2014 13:00 6 Comments     ShareThis

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Nintendo has been on an upward trend since the release of Mario Kart 8 for Wii U, but there’s no denying that the company still has quite a bit of ground to cover before it can breathe easy. Many contend that the continued lack of third party support is proving to be a costly chink in Nintendo’s armor, something that I know I’ve certainly given a great deal of thought to. Without series like Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Madden, and many others to temper and balance Nintendo’s release calendar, there are a number of players who are reluctant to embrace Wii U for fear that they’ll miss out on the latest installment of a beloved franchise. I certainly wouldn’t object to Nintendo getting a helping hand from its third parties, but there’s another angle to consider in all this: does Nintendo truly need them in order to be successful?

Moving toward Wii U’s third year on the market, what started with a decent (if spotty and port-heavy) amount of outside support, has now dwindled to a trickle. EA has jettisoned Wii U outright, while other AAA publishers and developers like Activision and Ubisoft are downright bullish about committing anything outside of Skylanders or a youth-friendly, all-ages title to the system. Ubisoft has gone so far as to declare that it’s waiting on Nintendo to grow its Wii U install base to a larger size before offering more titles beyond Watch Dogs, after it drops. As things stand, Wii U is not and will not be playing host to a great number of titles that Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners have long come to take for granted, and frankly expect to play on a home console. Each lost third party partner should be a nail in Nintendo’s coffin, but someone’s big, brown shoe is keeping the lid from closing: Mario’s.

Not just Mario, in seriousness, but all of Nintendo’s franchises have proven to be enough to sustain the company through dark times. Wii was a brilliant success almost in spite of its third party supporters. There were a number of titles that took advantage of Wii’s unique motion controls, like Zach & Wiki from Capcom and Dead Space Extraction from EA, but ultimately the company that saw the most sales on the system was its own creator. Nintendo’s games dominated on Wii, and though there’s no ignoring that the novelty of Wii in its early days was a big part of its draw, that doesn’t dismiss Nintendo’s knack for knowing how best to exploit its hardware and lure players. When Nintendo is delivering a steady stream of content to a system, it can propel sales of its hardware almost single-handedly.

This school of thought forms the basis for the common 3DS/Wii U analogy, which basically rationalizes that Wii U is in the same trouble that 3DS was at its inception, so if Nintendo follows the same strategy with its home console as its handheld, things will work out just fine. 3DS saw its own troubles within the first year or so of its existence, but things quickly turned around once Nintendo smartly slashed its price and began inundating the console with fun games. 3DS, at the ripe old age of three, is already home to an impressive library of numerous incredible games. At least half of those titles were made by Nintendo. Mario Kart 7, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and Fire Emblem Awakening have all brought bushels of players to stores around the world to buy 3DS; it stands to reason that if Nintendo can bring some equally great titles to Wii U, the system will see a reversal of fortunes. It sounds logical, and on paper, it looks great. Nintendo can save itself. Nintendo can forge its own destiny. Which brings me back to my question: does Nintendo really need third party support?

Looking again at 3DS, I’ve come to think that maybe Nintendo’s situation isn’t so easily resolved on Wii U. The problem is that for all the resurgence that came as a result of Nintendo’s hefty software push, the third parties did play a role. Look no further than Bravely Default, which just hit a milestone of over a million copies sold, to see how playing with friends can be a real boon to Nintendo. In fairness, outside of Bravely Default, a lot of these third party titles are coming from companies like Atlus and Natsume, who service a decidedly niche audience. That being said, 3DS may not be living or dying by its third party support, but it’s a much better system for having them. Also, Nintendo only has so much manpower at its disposal; third parties take a little pressure off the company, allowing it to more efficiently utilize its resources. Which makes me want to rephrase my question: should Nintendo take third party support more seriously?

Nintendo has previously stated that it wants to let other developers dabble in its sandbox, with titles like Hyrule Warriors and Shin Megami X Fire Emblem intended to kickstart exactly that. This is great for those of us who love all of Nintendo’s franchises, but it doesn’t truly diversify Wii U’s offerings and, frankly, it’s not necessarily going to sway those who have no love for Zelda or Mario (these people exist, believe me). Third party support keeps the ecosystem bustling. It also breeds healthy competition, inspiring developers to up their game in order to trump each other (and bring players better games, as a result). Nintendo is a whirlwind of creativity, but I have every reason to believe that if EA or 2K came along with a use for the GamePad that it never thought of, Wii U would see even better games from its creator.

Whether or not Nintendo will ever be able to get third parties back on Wii U’s bandwagon remains up in the air. Once Smash Bros. and the Amiibo figures arrive, I think we’ll have a better grasp of where Wii U is headed, and by extension, whether or not third parties will have cause to set up shop once more. To answer both my questions at once, though, I will say that Nintendo might be able to survive without third party support, but it’s a better company when they’re around. 3DS wouldn’t be as endearing without titles like Theatrhythm Final Fantasy or Project X Zone, and I sincerely believe that the great games third parties keep bringing to the handheld push Nintendo to be better. I’ll always have fun playing Nintendo’s games, but if the company wants to stay relevant with Wii U and beyond, it’s going to be crucial to create an environment that gets third parties back in its corner.

6 Responses to “Op-Ed: Will Nintendo Fall Without Third Party Support?”

  • 75 points
    Robert Palacios says...

    The main reason I got a Wii U was to relieve my childhood fun with my little son. The thought of him growing up a “Nintendo Kid” makes me smile.
    I think Nintendo’s future lies with its fanbase to be honest. Parents like me are raising future fans, but Nintendo has to honor its fan base by creating compelling content at a much faster clip. By now, there should just be more games period. They are sitting on a pile of great franchises like Starfox, Excitebike, Metroid, Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing… the list goes on.
    I realize that they need capital to fund these games.
    They are in a tough spot. I feel like SSB and MK8 will grow the install base a touch, but only third party devs with an interest for younger skewing or family game will come back. I just don’t see the Wii U as an appropriate platform for something like Destiny or Titanfall. Nor would I personally want that. I see Wii U as a nice little oasis for fun, quality gaming that my kid and I can enjoy together. I just don’t know if that makes fiscal sense for Nintendo!

  • 819 points
    Toadlord says...

    Nintendo games brought me to the Wii U. Anything else is a bonus. Currently I have two third party games that I plan to purchase for the Wii U: Lego City and Watch Dogs.

    I would like to see that number grow, but after this E3 I think there are plenty of games coming to the system to keep me happy.

  • 1379 points
    xeacons says...

    Agreed. Survival and Thriving are two different things. Nintendo will survive on their own, but they only thrive with 3rd parties. One of the major blows to the Gamecube’s line-up was the loss of Rare.

    P.S. While I agree, you might want to choose better examples for missing franchises. The Wii U has Assassin’s Creed, Rockstar has never supported Nintendo and it’s never hurt them before, and no one cares about football.

  • 1288 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    Wii U had AC, but with Ubi dropping support, it seems unlikely to get whatever the supposed last-gen AC is that 360 and PS3 will be receiving (it definitely isn’t getting Unity). Rockstar has made games for Nintendo consoles, including Bully on Wii and GTA on DS; admittedly, their presence has never been strong, but it would still be nice to see them again. And football is amazing! I miss Madden.

  • 402 points
    geoffrey says...

    Was the loss of Rare that big of a deal though? There hasn’t been a Rare game since Banjo-Tooie that I was dying to have, and the only game of theirs that I’ve played since then are BK: Nuts and Bolts and Perfect Dark Zero, both were mediocre at best, and Viva Pinata, which I played once for a few hours and haven’t touched since. I suppose one could argue that I missed out on Conker’s Bad Fur Day (and I ~do~ wish I had played it), but that was still on a Nintendo system.

    Even if it was a coincidence of timing, I think Rare suffered more from the loss of Nintendo than Nintendo did from the loss of Rare.

  • 45 points
    Oranje says...

    I look at my wishlist for games, and few of them are third-party. Then again, I don’t play the franchises that move so much for Sony and Microsoft. I think Nintendo, along with a host of second-party developers and indies, is creating a distinct market for video games, much the way the iOS and Android have. It’s simply a different experience. One I want.

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