Should Nintendo Become a Third Party?

July 23, 2015 by

With Nintendo constantly stumbling on the hardware side of things, maybe it’s time they focus their attention on bringing their great games to better consoles…

Fifteen years ago, after countless pleas and empty promises to finish my homework on time, my parents finally decided to get me my first game console – the Gameboy Colour. I remember joyfully walking back home through the dimly lit streets of London, squinting into its tiny square screen, picking my Pokémon of choice (Squirtle, obviously) and single-handedly sending the Pidgey population to the brink of extinction. Those were among my first steps of being a gamer, and, since then, Nintendo have been the authors of many other memorable gaming moments. Who can forget their first journey sailing in WindWaker, as seagulls flock to either side with grace-like precision? Or snaking your way to first place on Mario Kart DS?

Nintendo’s illustrious past of the 90’s and early 2000’s has therefore made its current predicament tough to swallow. To date, the Wii U has sold less than a measly 10 million units, whereas the PS4 has doubled this figure in half the time. The lacklustre showing at this year’s E3, and the announcement of the NX, has left the Wii U sharing the same life-expectancy as your favourite character from Game of Thrones. This new platform won’t solve all of Nintendo’s worries, forcing it to be as forward thinking as ever. Perhaps making a dreaded admission of defeat, and delivering its software on competing consoles is the best future Nintendo can hope for.

If you’re a Nintendo fan, you’re probably sick of hearing that the Japanese company’s console-making days are over. Its golden years remain a testament to its ability to craft innovation right into their system’s DNA. The N64 introduced us to the analogue stick, now synonymous with console gaming, and shaking the Wii remote to send Mario spinning into the air in his two Galaxy adventures still remain as vivid as ever.

Nintendo’s difficulties began with the Gamecube. It featured more power under the hood than its closest rival, the PS2, more controller ports – so what went wrong? With games like Windwaker, Metroid Prime 1 & 2, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Luigi’s Mansion, and Resident Evil 4 reaching the system, the culprit wasn’t a drought of quality titles. It was Nintendo’s failure to adapt to gamer desires. Gone were the days when a console could get by with just the merit of it’s games. The PS2 capitalised on this trend, by offering a DVD drive. It also responded to the growing demand for mature titles. Modern classics, such as God of War, Grand Theft Auto III, and Metal Gear Solid 2 made the GameCube’s library look like child’s play.

Nintendo reassessed their next console, and took a more novel approach. Though its name became the punchline of a few too many jokes, and its controllers continued to divide fans, the Nintendo Wii’s success was undeniable. Global sales now stand at over 100 million, a task all the more impressive considering this was achieved with standard definition graphics and a half-baked online network. It didn’t always resonate with Nintendo’s core fans, who demanded less mini-game compilations and more core titles – but it ushered in a new generation of casual gamers which secured its victory, and Nintendo’s return to the top.

So, why is it that Nintendo’s latest offering has been met with such a tepid reception? A survey was carried out which found that people often mistake the Wii U as the name for the new gamepad. It doesn’t help that the Wii U shares many of the minimalistic curves and demur size of its predecessor. Difficulties differentiating the two were inevitable. Also, despite being innovative in some respects, the gamepad, which jumped on the tablet bandwagon, disappointed. Its low resolution display could only respond to a single touch, requiring a stylus for accurate input. In the age of the iPad, it couldn’t compete and served only to bump up the price of the console.

Its online platform is also hardly changed from the Wii-era; still serving up the much maligned friend codes that has the same conviction to life as Rasputin. Whether we like it or not, games are shifting towards a more social experience. Ignoring this trend has been one of the more recent nails in the Wii U’s coffin. Local co-op and single player experiences have been at the cornerstone of Nintendo gaming from the start, and they’re still great fun. But gamer demands are changing, becoming more focused on online experiences, something Nintendo acknowledged far too late.

The Wii U’s gamepad didn’t resonate with fans the way Nintendo had hoped.

However, it’s the company’s weak relationship with third parties which remains its most significant issue. These problems began during the company’s N64 days, constraining developers with the relatively small storage space on its proprietary cartridges. It caused them to lose out on RPG-darling Final Fantasy VII which later became a defining title for the PSOne. Even Metal Gear Solid, which was in development for the N64, was rumoured to be cancelled due to memory-hogging cut scenes too large to cram into Nintendo’s grey blocks. Nintendo decided to repeat its mistakes with the GameCube, by using the mini-disc format. The paltry 1.5 GB of storage found in a miniDVD disc meant that some developers were forced to scale back content for the GameCube. This either meant that material was omitted from release, or compressed heavily. In comparison, the Xbox and PS2 granted third parties to 8.5 GB on a dual-layered DVD. However, it was the Wii which suffered the most. Despite starting off with strong third party support, the Wii became ignored by developers who lacked interest in creating bespoke Wii-remote specific titles, or entering the saturated party game market.

This downward trend will continue unless Nintendo addresses their issues with the platform; one being the difficulties of creating games for their console. The Wii U has chosen to ignore the PC-like hardware of the PS4 and Xbox One, and instead created its own proprietary hardware. Developing for it has been an effortful process, one not justified by its poor sales performance. Even older titles like Arkham Origins, Assassin’s Creed 3, and Mass Effect 3 chugged along at an anemic pace, even when compared to older consoles.

Despite Nintendo’s recent hardware disasters, the benefits of creating in-house hardware are plentiful. Nintendo’s more-than-stellar game development was only made possible as a result of this. By providing direct access between the software and hardware development teams, Nintendo’s game designers are able to fully understand the limitations and strengths of the platform. The results speak for themselves: Ocarina of Time, Metroid Prime, and Mario Galaxy all rank among the greatest technical achievements of their respective consoles. This is a unique advantage, one which would be lost if Nintendo made the transition from competitor to friend of Sony and Microsoft.

Federation Force wasn't the Metroid game we were looking for
This isn’t the Metroid game we were looking for

Anyone hoping for a comeback by Nintendo were left disappointed by its presence at E3 this year. Unless you’re a massive fan of Amiibo’s, spin-offs and yarn-based visuals (am I the only one surprised by this trend?), then you most likely felt underwhelmed by Nintendo’s efforts. When rumors cropped up of a new Metroid Prime game, fans were ready for the Wii U to give us one last hurrah. Instead, they got Metroid Prime: Federation Force, a multiplayer 3DS game which holds no resemblance to Samus’ explorational space-facing adventures the series is known for. Even the Zelda game, which was shown more than a year ago, was a no-show.

Nintendo’s past as both software and hardware developer has been fruitful, but perhaps it’s time to change tact. Both Sony and Microsoft know this, which is why both of their systems share similar DNA. Creating an environment for third-parties to thrive and nurture their content, with fewer financial risks, should take far more of a precedent for Nintendo than developing its own console. Either it takes a similar route as its competitors, and releases the NX with similar hardware standards, or its looks at ways to bring us the same level of quality to other systems. Releasing a console with similar hardware to its rivals didn’t help the Wii U which had to fend off more beastly competitors shortly after release.

As Nintendo still supports its console with seminal works in the form of Splatoon and the new free-roaming Zelda, few can argue that they remain one of the industry’s best contributors. Bringing these experiences to other platforms is enticing, especially when it means you won’t have to forego quality titles from third parties. For the sake of new generations of gamers, eager to send a Pokemon of choice hurdling toward extinction, I hope the company thinks carefully about its next great step.

About Nathan Piccio

Nathan resides in London. Its dreary weather makes for an excellent excuse to spend time in his gaming bubble.
  • So all consoles should be the same and only offer graphical improvements rather than innovation? That sounds like an awful idea and that is the last thing Nintendo needs to do. You don’t go to Nintendo because you want the experience you get with PS4/Xbone. You go to Nintendo because they offer something fresh and innovative and different. In fact, when Nintendo did try to do what your suggesting with the GameCube it ended up being their worst selling console up until the Wii U. Nintendo is known for quality, innovation and taking risks, and without it gaming is going to be stuck in the same old rut and with the rise of affordable PCs for gaming, Consoles built solely for power are starting to become a thing of the past. If you have lots of spare money and want a powerful gaming device you’re going to get a PC. If your a little more strapped for cash but still want to play amazing fun games a lower price, Nintendo has and always will be there for you.

    • nathan piccio

      Heya,
      I agree that having a company like Nintendo innovating within the industry can only be a good thing, but in recent years it hasn’t been that way, at least in the hardware department. Maybe Nintendo can prove me wrong with NX, I hope they do, but from their activity recently I’m uncertain whether that’ll actually happen. Innovation is important, but not for the sake of being different, but to drive the industry forward in a meaningful way.

      • So the wii wasn’t a major innovation in the hardware department? I’d say motion controls were pretty major. Auto-stereoscopic (glassless) 3D on a handheld device wasn’t an innovation in the hardware department? Having a controller with a second screen synced (for all intents and purposes) perfectly to the main screen wasn’t a major innovation in the hardware department? Nintendo have always drove the industry and will continue to for many years to come. And I think the Wii U which most would call a flunk, was more of a stepping stone to the NX. Develop the hardware to have a second screen synced flawlessly with the main one first, and then once god enough hardware is available for a reasonable price, make the second screen completely portable (assuming that’s where the NX is going, and there’s been a general consensus that that’s the case). We should be congratulating Nintendo for continuing to take risks and go in new interesting directions, not giving them crap because they took one big risk that didn’t pay off, especially after they’ve been uncannily successful in that department time and time again.

        • nathan piccio

          Motion controls were a huge innovation. It would be wrong to not give them credit for that, and for bringing in more casual players who otherwise wouldn’t have touched a game pad. I have no complaints about the 3DS’ innovative display either! Perhaps I don’t give enough credit to Nintendo for these efforts, but these technologies weren’t always ready on release. Glassless 3D is great, but in practice it didn’t always work, something it has now fixed with the New 3DS. The Wii remote was brilliant at the time, and definitely was a risk worth taking, but Nintendo shouldn’t have relied on it alone to propel itself through the 7th console generation. And it was short-sighted of them to consider that Sony and Microsoft wouldn’t create their own rival motion trackers.
          I can only praise the Wii U somewhat, it’s perhaps deserving of less praise? It offers the lowest latency performance when streaming in comparison to rivals, but it lags behind in almost every other regard.
          The point of the article was not to punish risks, but to highlight that more is needed to remain competitive. Something which Nintendo has issue with. I do not conclude saying Nintendo should explicity become a third party, but that there are benefits for doing so.

          • Nintendo gains nothing by being “competitive” because that implies that they have the same market, which they don’t and shouldn’t. The way Nintendo survives in this industry is by always being the outlier, being different. People don’t go to Nintendo for ridiculous graphics or hardcore games. They go to Nintendo for quality affordable hardware, something refreshing and different, and the best first party titles you’ll find. That is what Nintendo is at the core, and that’s one thing it shouldn’t try to change. Expand and innovate? Sure. But if it can keep those 3 things, then they’ll be just fine.

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  • dcj91x

    … @ Nathan Piccio .. Basically you want all consoles to be the same. Sony and micro offer little differences and a majority of the games are the same. There’s not really a point in getting both. Nintendo on the other hand gives you a choice. Not only from the other two systems but also in the way you play and the variety of games to play. I’m not saying Nintendo hasn’t made mistakes recently but when you think about… They still have more $$$ than the other two.

    • nathan piccio

      Hey, thanks for the comment. I think that Nintendo consoles are different, but the benefits of their systems are derived from their titles. The innovation of Nintendo has quickly dissipated in terms of hardware, with second screen experiences available on both platforms. I’m not sure if they have as much money as Microsoft, they do have more than Sony (as of 2014, not sure if Sony’s overtaken them recently).