While it does have it’s saving graces, NintendoLand has been derided and open mocked in some circles. It is certainly no Wii Sports and will not be as influential in pushing consoles sales. As a collection of, glorified polished tech demos, it is more akin to Wii Party — that was bundled with the second Wiimote on the Wii — than bearing any similarity to Wii Sports – but to say this is wholly representative of all the console can do is a mistake. I think that this is a very deliberate ploy (at least partly) on Nintendo’s part, to clearly show third party developers that it has listened to some of their concerns.
Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort virtually killed any chance that any third party developers had of producing widely successful sports games on the Wii. If the Dreamcast proved nothing else it was that a console will not be as successful without the backing of publishers and developers such as EA sports. With sales of Wii games falling off dramatically, Nintendo may have learnt that the long term success of software sales requires more than just Mario and friends.
I publicly predicted that there was a fair chance that NintendoLand would NOT be a pack-in game. This may have seemed unlikely, but Nintendo had previously not included Wii Sports in Japanese Wii bundles. While NintendoLand does come bundled with the standard Wii U Premium bundle, I still find it interesting that the premium console bundle being most heavily promoted is the one that is packaged with Ubisoft’s ZombiU rather than a Nintendo product.
Between ZombiU being an official pack-in title and Ubisoft being the only developers to release a sports game collection at launch (Sports Connection), I speculate that certain assurances may have been given to Ubisoft from Nintendo when making ZombiU (or Killer Freaks as it started life as) a Wii U exclusive. It’s not that unusual for a hardware manufacturer and a development studio to partner as a pack-in game — Sony did so with Ubisoft recently with the Vita and AC3: Liberation — but it is a bit more unusual for Nintendo to do so at the expense of promoting their own games, especially at the launch of a new console.
Nintendo usually bring the big guns out alongside a console launch, often to assist in proving the value of their new hardware. The best examples of which were Super Mario 64 on the N64 and Wii Sports on the Wii — both of which were launch titles and both were still considered primary examples of what the hardware was capable of and remained part of the most highly regarded software available throughout the life of their respective consoles. The same will not be said of NintendoLand.
New Super Mario Bros Wii U, a simpler 2D Mario title, is the only other Nintendo published game available at launch. Nintendo recently discussed this with it’s investors, from a quote taken from an article in GamesTM, Nintendo President, Iwata-san stated;
“Nintendo tends to release too many titles at the launch of a hardware system and as a result suffers a drop in new games for quite some time after launch, and for the Wii U launch we are being very careful not to let it happen.”
Satoru Iwata, Nintendo President
Nintendo may have chosen to not place all of it’s mascot eggs in their launch basket for the benefit of it’s consumers, but it is equally as likely that it was also influenced by the desire to increase software sales of it’s own products and maintain the relevance of it’s hardware. Nintendo are fully aware they need to save as much ammunition as possible to better prepare them for the fight they face when the next Xbox and PlayStation are launched.
Despite their successes, Nintendo appears to have learnt lessons from the Wii and 3DS hardware launches and this time is looking to ensure that the hardcore audience doesn’t see another Nintendo console lost below mounds of shovelware or just not supported with any major titles shortly after the launch window. By not filling the shelves with marquee first party titles at launch, Nintendo also allows third party supporters to gain traction on the system.
Nintendo have also announced that they will be aggressively attacking the download market by offering developers a greater percentage of the profit share than currently offered by Sony and Microsoft. For the first time in the company’s history, Nintendo will be launching a console that does not make profit directly from the hardware (albeit that they only have to sell one game per system to move into profitability) It all adds up to the same conclusion; Nintendo clearly know they can’t make a success of the Wii U all by themselves. They will be all the better for having learnt this lesson, but it may take some time for consumers to see the benefits of this.
The Wii U is highly unlikely to even come close to matching the Wii in terms of hardware sales, but it really would not have to do that much to better the Wii’s appalling attach rate (the ratio of software:hardware sales). Gaining better third party support will probably be the biggest aid to this aim, but a steady stream of high quality first party products will still likely lead the charge. By drip feeding the Wii U audience with regular doses of Metroid, Zelda and Kid Icarus (trust me, this will be a system seller on WiiU if the 3DS game is anything to judge by) and the rest of Mario’s world of Karting and more, Nintendo will look to keep giving customers strong reasons to turn their consoles back on and not have the WiiU become another plastic white dust collector that used to play Wii Sports.
It takes time to make a quality game. It is no coincidence that the first batch of Wii U software largely consists of ports of games that have been available on Xbox or PS3 for some time. It’s much quicker to port an existing product than make something from scratch. While multiplatform games often help to act as a direct comparison of the technical capabilities of hardware, the same can not be said of ports, as you are often constrained by the limitations of the previous systems. This is even more so the case with Wii U titles such as FIFA 13, which is actually an update of last year’s FIFA 12‘s engine. The developer explained that the extra time needed to develop the Wii U specific features could not have been implemented in the time from the 360/PS3 versions being completed before the launch of the Wii U.
Although developers such as Ubisoft appeared to get early access when compared to previous Nintendo hardware launches, for most game producers, the time constraint between getting access to Wii U development kits and the necessary pre-Christmas launch date, was reasonably short. Any game looking to take full advantage of the systems capabilities and demonstrate innovation in game design, will need to have been conceived from the ground up with the Wii U in mind and will likely still be in production for the next six to twelve months. The Wii was a much simpler interface, without HD graphics and without the added complication of having to program for the second screen. Developing games for the Wii was a much more simply prospect than developing for the Wii U.
The best selling point I have seen for the Wii U so far, is the ability to switch to and control your TV using the GamePad. While this is a universal function that all developers can take advantage of, the actual gameplay implications of having a second screen may take longer to realise. I see development of Wii U games taking a similar path to that of the original DS. Initial games may make use of the second screen by having a separate area for inventory or maps to be displayed, by the true innovative uses that will impact and influence new styles of gameplay — and perhaps the creation of whole new genres — will not be seen until developers have had time to react to the feedback to the initial batch of Wii U titles, to see what works and what doesn’t and then iterate upon those ideas.
From what I have seen from some of the Wii U’s early software and as yet unreleased tech demos, I can confidently state there is much more to come from the Wii U. How successful Nintendo are at selling the software that goes alongside it remains to be seen, but it would not be the first time that Nintendo appeared to be one step behind the gaming market, only to emerge two steps ahead. The 3DS recently sold more than 22 million units worldwide and as I have maintained throughout the slightly “troubled” launch of the 3DS; Bet against Nintendo at your peril! The Wii U may be a gamble, but whatever game you play, the house always wins.