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Wii U development drama: Nintendo's box is a Nintendo-box

2:00 PM on 01.14.2014 // Steven Hansen

Everyone is right. The Wii U still needs games.

There was a bit of gloom and Nintendoom over the weekend. An anonymous, chronological account of Wii U development hit Eurogamer. It begins as early as Nintendo touring studios for feedback on its next console venture and ends with a seemingly stressful, rushed launch day release. None of it is particularly cheery, as the developer laments being "stuck" trying to make a game for an underpowered system amidst ever-changing development kits and poor communication.

It fits the narrative well enough. Nintendo is struggling to sell the Wii U. Even the likes of EA doesn't seem terribly interested in developing for it because a low install base can mean low sales.

Then, of course, there was response to the anonymous article. Apparently, "the Wii U is not more difficult to develop for than other platforms," says Renegade Kid's (Mutant Mudds) Jools Watsham.

Can't everyone be right?

This mob-anointed expose on the Wii U comes at a time where it fits the narrative neatly. The Wii U is doing badly, barring unreleased holiday numbers of peculiar goodness (Wind Waker HD drove sales up several hundred percent and the holidays were deemed "very strong" by Reggie). However, the Eurogamer-hosted piece is clearly covering pre-console-launch shenanigans and tribulations, which isn't necessarily indicative of how the company has handled itself since or how development woes are affecting the Wii U's prosperity. 

What it is is an interesting snapshot in time by one of many people developing for the Wii U. Some of the recount can be telling. The apparent pitch for, "a console that was the same size as the Wii and wouldn't make much noise, so 'mum wouldn't mind having it in the living room,'" could hint at Nintendo's attempts to recapture the Wii's sales lightning in a Tesla-coiled bottle. It's certainly catchy, the notion that senior Nintendo officials feigned ignorance as to how Xbox Live or PSN worked.

Still, the Wii U, including Nintendo's approach with it, has surely evolved from concept pitches and development unit issues. Just look at how hard Nintendo has campaigned the Wii U as an indie haven after launch, for example, trying to make it easier on developers to get games onto the system. Dan Adelman, who helped developed Xbox Live, is Nintendo's Business Development Manager. He has broken down age old barriers that made it difficult for small outfits to become registered Nintendo developers. 

The responses in this "drama" are levelheaded and plain. Chris Arnold of Nami Tentou explained that points made in the Eurogamer article are based on "pre-retail release SDK problems" and that "the new post release SDK kits do not contain any of the listed problems."

This all feels like a response to the hundreds of comments and arguments the topic has incited more than counters to the original article. The Eurogamer piece wasn't, "Wii U has no games right now because development is a nightmare." It's, "pre-console-launch development was a struggle and possibly because of this a lot of people with money hats put their bets on Sony/Microsoft."

Of course, there will always be back and forth here. Apparently Darksiders II came along for the Wii U in those early days swimmingly -- though one of the anonymous developer's biggest hitches did seem to be on the online infrastructure end. 5th Cell was okay with the Wii U's power. Hideki Kamiya, curt as always, seemed okay developing The Wonderful 101.

But, really, everyone is probably right. The anonymous developer had their trouble. Watsham and company seemed to have had an okay time on the Wii U. Arnold gave a plain reminder that these problems are no longer an issue currently impeding development, whatever their legacy may be.

This just exposes the same nerve we've been rubbing up against since the N64. The Wii U is a Nintendo-Box. It is, first and foremost, the way to play Nintendo games that Nintendo makes for you, as most Nintendo consoles have been for some time.

Barring the lunatic commenters who arbitrarily want to see a company (Nintendo) fail, all of these 600+ comment threads, all of this back and forth, stems from people wanting more games and concern over the release landscape. There are would-be Nintendo fans who want to invest in the system, there are Wii U owners uncomfortable with the checkered release calendar and inexplicably still uncomfortable with the idea of owning a system dedicated, primarily, to Nintendo games.

I love the GameCube. A lack of third-party support is said to be what hurt the little lunchbox that could. My favorite GameCube games are third-party, but Nintendo has never and likely will never aggressively lobby third-parties. And maybe it doesn't need to.

With the Wii U, Nintendo has, again, firmly entrenched itself aloof of where Sony and Microsoft are headed. It's unlikely for the company to pull a SEGA as so many would like. Nintendo doesn't like to sell systems at a loss. Nintendo's software pulls in mad cash for it. The 3DS is explosive -- its 2013 software sales shot up almost 50%.

The Eurogamer piece, a singular snapshot into over a year ago, reads as doom and gloom because the Wii U reads as doom and gloom. Because the internet wants to argue about this and that (and, especially, tell Nintendo what it needs to do). And, hey, maybe Nintendo should farm out some IP to capable developers, like it did successfully with the amazing Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon.

The Wii U is, first and foremost, a box that lets you play Nintendo games. It's been the case for a while. Everything else is gravy. Nintendo would love Wii-caliber sales, but it seems to be doing okay with its current position, playing its own long game. 

The Wii U is still sustainable. A pubescent, PS3-styled push isn't out of the question (see also: 3DS). Other games -- the weird and different and cool -- will trickle in. Nintendo games will do gangbusters. Being "hard to develop for" didn't sink the PS3 and there's no need to trip beyond mild interest over rocky pre-launch tech when development works now. GameCube wasn't terribly profitable hardware as Nintendo slashed prices to compete. Just look at the price of Nintendo games years after release. Nintendo doesn't like slashing prices. If the Wii U was counting on AAA support parity with PS4, Xbox One, and PC, Nintendo would've made a pricier, comparable box.

STFUAJPG, I guess. Even on the Wii U, there are some good ones. And if you've played them all, buy a Vita and play those while you wait for Bayonetta 2 and Smash Bros.

Steven Hansen, Features Editor
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Steven watches anime & sports, buys meat out of trucks, dates a Muppet, and is only good at cooking. He stands before you bereft of solace and well on the road to perdition. ('^ω^) more   |   staff directory

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