You may have clicked on this article with the thought: “Is this guy an idiot?”. If that’s the case—frankly, I don’t blame you. I have to admit that it is rather crazy to even consider something like this.
It’s a secret to nobody that Nintendo’s platforms have suffered a lot due to the lack of proper third-party support, and this generation has provided the most proof of that; the majority of third-parties have avoided the Wii U like the plague since the very beginning. So considering that fact, why is this even up for discussion?
Well, perhaps things aren’t as terrible as they may appear.
For starters, this problem isn’t new at all. The Big N’s systems have been suffering from a shortage of third-party titles ever since the days of the Nintendo 64. After treating those developers in a dictator-like manner during the NES and SNES eras, combined with Sony’s introduction into the console race, Nintendo found themselves in a pretty precarious position; one that they have yet to escape from, at that. Things gradually deteriorated even more-so with the XBOX joining the fray, and PC-gaming also reaching staggering new heights of popularity. As a result of all this, Nintendo really doesn’t have that much third-party support at all on the home console front.
One may argue that it’s Nintendo’s stubbornness which has led to this; the N64 used cartridges instead of CDS, while the Gamecube’s use of mini-discs vs. DVDs, then the Wii’s focused on motion controls instead of HD-capable hardware, and finally, the Wii U’s complicated architecture. With that said, it’s obvious that Nintendo has been giving developers extra hurtles to cross, which in turn has discouraged those studios. So then, where’s the supposed “good” all of in this? Well—Nintendo is still here.
Imagine this: the XBOX consoles with nothing more than franchises like HALO, Banjo-Kazooie, Gears of War, and Forza. What about the PlayStation systems with nothing more than Ratchet & Clank, Gran Turismo, Uncharted and Killzone, among a few others? Just imagine either, or even both, of these consoles with just their exclusive franchises to support them, and a little dash of third-party titles thrown into the mix, occasionally. Surely they would have some success, no? Possibly, but would it be anything worthwhile? There’s no denying that both Sony and Microsoft have very rich collections of exclusive IPs, but Nintendo is practically in a whole other league.
In the absence of a mass amount of third-party releases, Nintendo has had the opportunity of pushing their own legendary franchises to new heights, and even creating a successful selection of new ones. Almost everyone knows who Mario is, and now the Inklings of Splatoon are known by a multitude of youth around the world. But if you were to ask the average person who Ezio or Commander Shepard was, how many of those folks do you think would recognize them? Even if you provided pictures, do you think that would trigger something?
Nintendo established the majority of their franchises 3 decades ago, and in that time, they’ve only gotten bigger. While the likes of mega franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, Fallout, and The Witcher, haven’t graced Nintendo’s platforms, that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to push ahead in the console race. The Nintendo 64 lost miserably to the PlayStation, and the Gamecube was pretty much the water boy of the 6th generation. The Wii was able to become a worldwide phenomenon, yet was still belittled by many in the industry and ultimately lost its mega-status later in its life, which then caused the Wii U to fly past the radars of many, all while being stomped on consistently by journalists, analysts, and gamers alike. The core reason behind all of these system’s under-performance is definitely their lack of multi-platform titles.
But even though Nintendo hasn’t had a (fully) successful run with their home consoles for the past 20 years, they’ve still managed to keep their heads above water—all thanks to their exclusives.
While both Microsoft and Sony have a solid number of successful IPs, it’s hard to imagine them faring as well as Nintendo has, if they ever were in a similar situation. Nintendo’s fanbase has been consistently loyal and supportive, proving that Nintendo’s household names have a standing power like no other. It’s even arguable that due to the popularity of many of Nintendo’s IPs, third-party developers are left gambling whether or not it’s truly worth it to even bring their games over to the Big N’s platforms. Meanwhile, they have have large, established markets on the other systems.
Even the most major third-party games would have trouble outselling a major Nintendo game released at the same time.
Now then, you may be thinking that I’m trying to say that Nintendo doesn’t need third-party developers at all. Well considering what I’ve already discussed, no, Nintendo doesn’t need them—but they are a valuable asset.
While Nintendo systems have missed out on quite a number of multi-platform titles, the company has still forged relationships with quite a few different studios to create exclusive games. While this has been occurring for quite some time now, the Wii U happens to have quite a number of these collaborative titles. Games such as The Wonderful 101, LEGO City Undercover, Hyrule Warriors, and Pokken Tournament come to mind. Nintendo has even requested the help of some of these studios to create new entries in major franchises, such as Bandai Namco, who assisted with the development of both Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros, or Platinum Games, who’s currently co-developing Star Fox Zero.
Due to their heated rivalry, Microsoft and Sony have consistently tried to ‘1UP’ one another by paying off third-party developers to give them special incentives. Exclusive/timed DLC and games, pre-order bonuses, and advertising campaigns are all evidence of this. Software is almost always the biggest generator of profit, so Sony and Microsoft have to rely on these developers in order to keep their platforms regularly taken care of. While the console-makers may get a cut of the profits, it’s really the developers who win big, as it’s their work, and not to mention the fact that aside of not having to worry about the platforms themselves, but they also get to enjoy the ‘kickbacks’ that they get from the platform-holders. Meanwhile, Nintendo has almost completely avoided this.
While Xbox and PlayStation are fighting over the same games, Nintendo has continuously benefited from its platforms primarily due to the fact that it’s their games going on only their consoles. In most cases, their money is coming right back to them as it is their own product, which is selling on their own product. And to really ‘put a cherry on top’, take into account that unlike Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo is almost completely dedicated to their games and consoles. Xbox and PlayStation are just divisions, meaning that whether or not those specific areas are doing well, the companies’ overall health is still determined how they’re performing as a whole. With that in mind, it should be easy to see why Nintendo has managed to stay afloat for so long.
Now don’t get me wrong, it bothers me that so many games have missed the Wii U, as well as its predecessors. Even so, I don’t think its fair to assume that if they do find themselves in a similar position in the future, it will be the end. Nintendo has spent the last few decades crafting a plethora of masterpieces, which has kept their fanbase quite happy. Even if they don’t sell as much hardware as the other guys, their software ultimately still ends up making just as much of a profit, and sometimes more, as their competitors. Don’t discredit Nintendo’s IPs—there’s some serious power.