Talking Point: Nintendo's Mixed Week With Wii U Third-Party Support
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
If someone gives you lemons, make lemonade
The video game industry is a strange beast, especially for Nintendo and its Wii U system. Since launch it's had some early ups with launch week sales and some thoroughly decent releases, but also lows with a loss of momentum and a fair amount of negative press. Some excellent exclusive software has arrived in recent times, but the attention of many has drifted to multi-platform games posted missing and those low sales figures. It was clear the situation was less than ideal when Nintendo's annual financial report announced lower than expected worldwide sales, and repeatedly ignored the short term in favour of a focus on a big push in the second half of the year.
One area that's important for the system as it gears up for a major assault in the Fall and Winter periods is third-party support, both of the exclusive and multi-platform variety. In some notable cases — such as with The Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2 — Nintendo is tying up exclusives by picking up publishing duties, but perhaps it's the more conventional examples of third-party publishing that are raising eyebrows for followers of the big N. It seems that support for the Wii U, in particular, is constantly evolving, and this week we've seen big news with EA, Ubisoft and, in yesterday's Nintendo Direct, SEGA.
Let's start with the positives. Ubisoft, despite still being a dirty word to some thanks to its shift of strategy with Rayman Legends, is throwing games at Nintendo's system and speaking positively. Our most recent report on the topic quoted the company in conciliatory tones, stating that "it takes some time to grow an established base" while reeling off a fairly exciting list of multi-platform titles coming to the system. Ubisoft reiterated a belief "that Nintendo will take steps to ensure that the Wii U is successful in the market", and in fairness the Kyoto company seems to be gearing up for just that, with big releases confirmed and, if press releases and rumours are to be believed, more ready to be shown off during an E3 Nintendo Direct. Specific release details and dates are still close to Satoru Iwata's chest, but we'd be rather surprised if some blockbuster games aren't unleashed and heavily marketed for the Holiday period.
Another major positive is Nintendo's announced worldwide partnership with old foe SEGA, which will include Wii U and 3DS exclusivity of Sonic's next adventure, Lost World. There'll be a Winter Olympics game, of course, and a third Sonic title in the agreement is yet to be announced. SEGA's financial results — which gave no hint of this partnership — did confirm seven Wii U titles in the coming year, even if that does include a Japan-only release of Yakuza 1 & 2 HD. SEGA, and its iconic mascot, still has a notable fanbase around the world, and it's more exclusive content that can boost both Wii U and 3DS in the medium term. It's a scoop for Nintendo, which should be celebrated.
Those are positives, which Nintendo gamers must hope will offset the unequivocally lousy news regarding EA and Wii U. We've pointed out the irony of EA's E3 2011 declaration of an "unprecedented partnership" plenty of times, but after weeks of snippets suggesting the reality, the company came out and unequivocally stated that it has no games in development for Wii U. That means no Battlefield, Madden, FIFA, Tiger Woods Golf or any EA franchise. Let's not mess around and sugar-coat this news: it's very bad. Madden is a successful franchise in North America, while FIFA is monstrously successful in the UK and other European territories. There are some gamers, arguably an audience that Nintendo will find difficult to "win" in any case, for whom no FIFA or Madden is a deal-breaker unless the Wii U becomes a "second system" for them; it's as simple as that.
What makes the EA scenario extraordinary is the level of hostility in these actions. Whether forthright in the hastily deleted Twitter rants of an EA employee, or in less direct ways with cutting comments stating prioritisation of "next-gen" systems, the company has seemingly gone out of its way to stick it to Wii U. The FIFA decision has cited poor Wii U sales of FIFA 13, for example, but that lacked key features that are selling points on other systems, such as Ultimate Team. Let's not forget, too, that EA is typically happy to sell its games on any old platform — consoles, handhelds, and any phone handset that'll work — and would probably sell a wooden Ball and Cup with a FIFA sticker on it if focus groups said it'd be a success.
We're unlikely to ever know — beyond heresay and wild speculation — but it seems like this tale has something else going on for the Wii U to be completely frozen out. EA isn't even porting games coming to 360 and PS3, and is flying in the face of the enthusiastic major support from the likes of Ubisoft and SEGA, and even the arguably modest endeavours of others such as Capcom and Activision. It's throwing away a piece of the pie, and it'll be interesting to see whether a successful Wii U boom period in the Holiday season — which is a possibility — will change EA's seemingly intractable stance. The shift in tone from E3 2011, though, is truly baffling.
One other big player we feel we should mention right now is Activision, which is still very much on the fence. We've seen 'support' in the form of the abomination that is The Walking Dead: Survivial Instinct and the decent version of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, while Nintendo systems will also have a decent presence with the latest entries in the hugely successful Skylanders series. A big question mark, certainly in terms of the Wii U's wider credibility this Winter, is with Call of Duty: Ghosts. Announced for PS3, PS4 and Xbox 360, initial concern made way to confusion, and perhaps optimism, when a rep for the company uttered the following words:
We don’t have any news for the Wii U at this time, as we aren’t dating next generation platforms yet. Stay tuned.
It wasn't a dismissal of Wii U, while we know Ghosts will feature prominently in Microsoft's upcoming reveal of the new Xbox system. Rumours have swirled that there will be a Wii U release, and that carefully worded quote does give some hope. Regardless of what you think of the Call of Duty franchise, it's the biggest cash-cow in the industry, so it would be a blow for Nintendo if it failed to come to its current system.
And so, as it stands, Nintendo has had some third-party wins and losses in recent times, with some showing enthusiasm for Wii U and others simply walking away. The loss of EA goes up against the full-on support of Ubisoft and the SEGA deal, and Nintendo is likely to find itself balancing claims that Wii U can be a gamer's definitive console — with exciting first-party exclusives and notable third-parties weighing in — while trying to avoid a categorisation as the "other" console, with triple-A multi-platform releases being the preserve of other systems. What these examples show us is that Nintendo's on a mixed run, ready to boast about exclusive Sonic while hoping that the EA situation isn't too harmful.
Whatever the case, there's enough of a confirmed lineup and expected additions to suggest that Wii U can have a good tilt at success in the latter half of 2013. It'll need help from third-parties to expand the games library and make it as diverse as possible and, as we've come to expect with Nintendo, the outcome's unlikely to be a clear victory or defeat. Wherever you stand on the latest entry of the Wii U third-party saga, it's certainly not uneventful.