I spend far too much time on the Internet. I run a small game blog called MINUSWORLDS that I will likely cross-post entries from in an attempt to get more people to read my rambles about toys for babies.
The Wii U launches in North America tomorrow, and more and more information is starting to trickle out. It was announced that the TVii functionality that enables the intermingling of video streaming services won't be up and running at launch, and will be enabled sometime in December. Other reports are starting to come in that some of the third party games are having graphical and frame rate issues. Mass Effect 3 reportedly runs at a choppy, unstable framerate, and has its fair share of issues. It also happens to be missing DLC, with no immediate plans for the upcoming content, either. The Wii U release of Ninja Gaiden 3 also sounds a little sloppy, at least from the early review from IGN. Just what the heck is going on here?
Last year at E3, Peter Moore stood on stage and talked about a great partnership with Nintendo, but at E3 this year, they really had nothing to show for it. It can be assumed that there was some sort of falling out, but there's nothing concrete to say about it. I still don't understand why they announced a port of Mass Effect 3, instead of waiting and just releasing the Mass Effect Trilogy. It's the first time the Playstation 3 is getting the first game in the series, and Nintendo could have gotten the whole trilogy, giving early adopters who might not have played those games something to dig into around launch. Early reports said that porting Darksiders 2 to the console was mostly an easy task, not taking long at all to get the game running on the gamepad.
I understand that developers, namely Western third parties, are hesitant. This is a new system for a company that has primarily subsisted off of first party console support for the last 16 years. Major third party games haven't always done that well on Nintendo consoles. The Wii made this difficult, due to the large gap in hardware capability, but there's really no reason at all for the current wave of third party games not to come to the Wii U. Game budgets are continuing to increase, so studios are becoming more risk averse. Releasing another version at launch can't be that much of an extra cost, can it?
I've had this theory for a while now about Western third parties. In the 1980s, up through the start of the current generation, the majority of big console games were made in Japan. Western third parties tried to find a market with varying levels of success. Games like Mortal Kombat, along with Electronic Arts' sports games on the Sega Genesis found an audience, but the majority mostly floundered. Western third parties did, however, have the Windows PC market on lockdown. Id Software hit it big with the DOOM and Quake games, and Epic (Mega)Games created the popular Unreal series. Yes, Blizzard Entertainment even made a few console games, but their biggest successes centered around personal computers. Throughout the 1990s, the growing Western third parties never had a real partnership with Nintendo, or Japanese console makers in general.
The Unreal 3 Engine changed everything when Gears of War was released on consoles. It was the first retail console game that ran on it, and all of a sudden, many former PC developers started developing games for consoles. Unreal 3 Engine made it far easier to work with, and the technology became more PC-like. Microsoft had found some success building a market for themselves with the Xbox, but with the release of the Xbox 360, it was in overdrive. Throughout the life of the PS2 and before, a lot of the greatest console games were Japanese developed. Yes, there were great Western games, but a lot of the titles that people really remember were made in the East. Now, it's the exact opposite. Western games dominate the market, and Japanese games struggle to find an audience. Many studios on both sides of the pond have shut down from the increases in budgets. Japan has been hit hard by the increase in budgets.
I know they are trying, but I just don't see Nintendo being able to maintain the attention of Western third parties. I'm fully expecting a lot of them to jump ship when the next Playstation and Xbox are formally unveiled. Many of these companies have never worked with Nintendo, so they just don't have that partnership with them that a lot of the big Japanese studios and publishers have. Nintendo will do fine with Japanese support, but I'm expecting Western support to dry up within the next year.
With the announcement of Bayonetta 2 being an exclusive to Wii U, it put the idea in my brain: If Nintendo can't garner the support of Western third parties, they seem well prepared enough to build their own third party support in Japan. They essentially have Monster Hunter and Dragon Quest by the balls, and if you've got those, you've already won the homeland. I'm wondering if Nintendo isn't preparing to buy up more exclusives from Japanese developers to create their own third party infrastructure. After all, they are still a Japanese company, and they primarily focus on their homeland. I'm really interested to see what kind of ideas a lot of Japanese studios have for the console and the gamepad, along with the next iterations of Nintendo's own properties. I know it likely isn't completely sustainable, but I'd love to see these vastly different third party markets, with a return to more exclusives on different consoles.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. In fact, I'd say the launch lineup for the Wii U actually looks pretty solid for a lot of audiences. It's launching with an HD two dimensional Mario title, a unique, survival horror-esque roguelike in Zombi-U, along with Assassin's Creed 3 only three weeks late, and Black Ops 2 only a few days after launching with the other systems. That's a pretty powerful launch. Will the third party games find an audience on a Nintendo platform? It's hard to tell. Considering the issues that have been brought up about Mass Effect 3 and Ninja Gaiden, it could provide a bit of a catch 22. If the buggy versions sell well, and are left to die without patches to correct problems, it could give third parties an excuse to release shoddy ports of their games. If they do poorly, it'll continue the trend of them pulling out because of a bad experience with a single title.
Will the system itself be a success? Probably. At the worst, I think it'll do Gamecube numbers. I'm not expecting it to be the same breakout success that the Wii was. I don't think anyone is, actually. I think when the TVii functionality is implemented, and more people catch wind of the "No TV needed" feature, it'll find an audience. It seems like a very socially oriented system, and I'm actually really excited about all of it.
If I've learned anything, though, it's to never count Nintendo out.