Developers Weigh In On The Way Forward For Wii U
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
"The system plays host to a bunch of great, very unique games"
Following Nintendo's E3 exploits, we now have a greater idea of what content is coming to the Wii U in the remainder of 2014 and beyond. It was an event with some genuine surprises, combined with expected details, and laid out the path for the system — GamePad included — for the short and medium term.
Of course, the fate of the Wii U remains a hot talking point in the game industry, primarily due to its struggles pre-Mario Kart 8 and questions over how big an impact the racer and future titles will have on its prospects. There's still optimism, of course, though the sales future of the console is undeniably uncertain.
For its part GamesTM magazine's latest issue has produced a feature exploring the Wii U's troubled history to date and its route forward, all from a pre-E3 perspective. Four development figures are consulted, and have various views on why the console has struggled for impact. Independent developer Dan Pearce partially attributes its early struggles to it being a transitional system, arriving at an awkward time to capture a userbase.
I think a large part of it is down to the Wii being a plug for a huge gap in the market for casual players and the Wii U being kind of a transitional console. Between the Wii launch and the Wii U launch, the App Store blew up, and it made the Wii U's position as both a core gaming machine and a casual gaming machine kind of redundant. Obviously there are many, many more factors at play here, but that's the one that sticks out the most to me
Brjann Sigurgeirsson of Image & Form, which has seen success with SteamWorld Dig on the 3DS eShop and is now bringing the title to Wii U, highlights problems at launch and with subsequent branding.
There were no real system-sellers at launch, strange hardware specs which ruled out the [Basic SKU] as a viable purchase, and stronger next-gen competitor consoles looming on the horizon. But mainly I think Nintendo has failed to tell the public what the Wii U is, who should buy it and why. I've never seen the unit itself properly branded. Is it a family console? In that case, how and why should people let it replace their Wii units. Or is it a gamer console? In that case, where are the really strong titles?
...Maybe Nintendo doesn't feel the need to brand or even push the Wii U. But if not worrying in the past becomes the strongest argument for not worrying about the future, then we have a meta-discussion instead of a clear vision forward. It's not like Nintendo can simply whip out a new console and apologise for the Wii U. That would drive the community mad, and could put them where Apple was in the Nineties, with short hardware cycles and confused customers in droves.
Dakko Dakko's Rhodri Broadbent, whose studio just recently released Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails on the Wii U eShop, highlights that the system struggled with a slow start and lack of word-of-mouth, though emphasized that "the system now plays hosts to a bunch of great, very unique games". He also addresses comparisons between Nintendo success at revitalising 3DS with its Wii U efforts.
They're definitely applying the same strategy, but the scale of the work required to bring games out on HD home console hardware is daunting. Delays are commonplace if not standard nowawdays, right? Having to schedule a constant stream of big hitters is a big task, but hopefully the eShop provides a good way to keep games coming at a steady rate.
The eShop is widely considered as a key selling point for the system, with a general consensus that it can attract exciting products due to the potential exposure it can offer as opposed to the excessively busy iOS and Android markets, as examples. Sigurgeirsson suggests that promoting third-parties on the store should be an even higher priority, while Pearce explains that he's heard that communication with Nintendo can be difficult. Dakko Dakko's Broadbent suggests the tools are all in place with the Wii U store, but that Nintendo may not be as vocal as its rivals in courting download developers.
They are at all the right shows, and the Unity deal is a great way to bring in more games — and they did that early, too. Could they shout about it more loudly? I think it's a cultural thing, and I guess that might prevent some developers from feeling that they are being suitably courted by Nintendo, which would be a shame. But from our experience, we saw the system, approached them with an idea, and got on with it. It strikes me this is all that's really needed.
Plenty of interesting comments to digest, though we will leave you with the sign-off from Lorne Lanning, best known for the Oddworld series.
Everyone was starting to write [Nintendo] off, and then the Wii hit. And not long after that, it was the most successful entertainment company in history. I don't know what its next steps are, but — I've said this before — I wouldn't be against Nintendo.