Why the Wii Has Poor Third Party Support
An editorial morphs into a staff-wide free-for-all discussion.
Nick: As I read through forums and websites, I often see complaints of Wii third party support. I think everyone forgets something pretty critical:
They compete with Nintendo.
Every time Nintendo brings out a stellar game, it's vying for people's money just the same as a stellar third party game. The thing is that Nintendo's games, as a rule of thumb, are almost always better. They know how to use the hardware better, they know how to make great software, and they have industry legends staffing their halls. The hardware they make is specifically designed to meet their own needs; if third parties can take use of it, great, if not, it doesn't seem to concern them. Nintendo can and has sustained themselves on their own software (see: N64, GameCube), and believe it or not, the Wii is not much different.
The third parties out there are businesses and they made a smart business decision: they produced the games that are known to sell on the Wii and they effectively marketed them at that crowd. It's great that the Wii has the largest user base, but I would argue that it doesn't have the largest user base of core gamers – the very ones who would actually buy the types of games people are decrying the Wii for lacking. Let's also not forget that the Wii is also quite underpowered, meaning publishers need to put up extra dough to port their core games to Wii from the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 (if it can even be done). Most third parties aren’t going make the investment to do so because historical sales figures have suggested that it wouldn’t be a fiscally sound decision. Better off they funnel said resources to a new product that has better potential.
Third parties who know what they're doing are aware of the trends and the markets that each console provides. Subsequently, they release their games in what they feel is the right environment to garner the most sales. Is that decision always right? Probably not, but they have far more hands in the decision than you may realize. The ones that choose poorly these days are going out of business and being swallowed by other, more successful companies.
I can only hope that Nintendo fans can see that no matter what Nintendo does, its consoles will never see the support once garnered on the SNES and NES. With such a strong library of intellectual property, Nintendo constantly threatens the same third parties who want to support their system.
Matt R: Third parties have had to compete with Nintendo... for over 25 years now. It's nothing new.
What's new is that the Wii has turned them into the laziest and stupidest companies that have ever existed. There is no reason on earth that SF IV should come to 3DS and not the Wii. They turned the system into the bargain bin console with no regard for their reputation.
Nick: It is true that they have competed for this long, but when is the last time they honestly tried? It wasn't this generation, it wasn't last generation, and it certainly wasn't the N64 generation either. Arguably third parties haven't brought their A-game to Nintendo's consoles since the SNES -- which is the exact point I'm getting at.
Once Sony released the PlayStation and devs could produce games on cheaper media, they made the switch -- and since then they haven't bothered to really come back. This is more of an analysis of why that is.
Quality-wise, I honestly don't think the Wii is any worse than the GameCube or 64 was. I think there's just more shovelware than ever before, but the number (not percentage) of great games has remained constant.
Matt R: If they wanted cheap media and a giant install base, they got the Wii. The handhelds have just as much Nintendo competition as the consoles. It's madness.
Joaquim: Sales? I think that 3rd parties assume that their games sell better on either Sony or Microsoft's console. Whether 3rd parties luck out on such assumptions or not, is an entirely new lesson for them.
Stanton: What about support?
I know one of the reasons the PS3 had such trouble against the 360 was just the fact that Sony treated their 3rd party people like shit. Almost no support for a complex new system, outrageous dev kit costs, etc.
I'm not saying Nintendo does any of that, but what is their reputation in that area?
Jason R: As far as the development tools and such that Nintendo made available, with none of us being Nintendo developers and all, it's difficult to say. From what I understand, to receive a devkit, a place absolutely had to have an office building or something similar. A separate, non-home address. Anyway, I believe basic dev tools had to have been widely available at the beginning of the Wii's life cycle. The sheer number of quick PS2, Xbox, GC, and PSP ports is pretty astonishing in the initial year.
I'm one who believes that graphically, the Wii takes less effort to produce visuals "on par" with its other games. Since the graphics budget is lower on the Wii, the design budget also takes a hit, and even with major publishers, they give game design to their second-tier developers. Take a look at Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers. It clearly didn't receive attention from the best team at SE, and it clearly wasn't on par with their major console work.
That said, I also think publishers expect the Wii to be an automatic money-making machine, which it can be, but isn't always. When a big-budget game flops on the Wii, publishers suddenly decide to withhold support. Meanwhile, NBA: The Elite 11 is so bad on the major consoles that EA, caring about its image, pulls it from stores and still plans a 2012 version. Meanwhile, Dead Space Extraction is a relative flop, likely because Wii owners probably didn't want to experience a side-story of a much larger title that wasn't available on their console. The result? EA pulls back support for the Wii.
Kyle: Sounds about right. If there's a console being bought by tons of people who are "new to gaming" and don't really know a good title from a bad one, that's where you'd expect all the crap to show up. Kind of a sad reality. And the solution isn't just not to play any more Nintendo games, 'cause the Nintendo developers themselves still know what they're doing...
The last big third party venture with Nintendo that comes to mind is all the Rare stuff on N64. Rare was responsible for a large percentage of the good N64 games in my opinion.
But, my gut feeling is that the DS has a larger number of good third party titles than the Wii. Like Nick said, total number, not percentage, but I definitely see a difference. Specifically the DS is way better for RPGs. (Makes sense, Nintendo has never really been good at making those on its own.)
Stanton: Seems Nintendo is a bit of an elitist bunch: Nintendo Turns Up Its Nose at ‘Garage Developers’
Jason R: I believe that's slightly out of context, Stanton: Nintendo 'won't work with garage developers'
Yes, Nintendo is talking about limiting access (or forbidding access all together) to their eShop for the guys that develop as a hobby, but that alone isn't a terrible thing. In an ideal world, Nintendo would open a second marketplace with lower fees and lower-cost devkits, but that likely won't happen.
It is interesting to see how this reflects onto the issue at hand though: even the big publishers have issues flooding the Wii retail market with crap. Can you imagine how terrible the 3DS eShop could be if anyone could get their content onto it? It might seem a tad hypocritical of me to say something like this, as I'm a fan of Android over iOS partially because of the open marketplace, but I believe a smart phone and a handheld gaming console are still two different worlds. On the latter, and would rather see premier titles rather than having to search for a diamond in the rough anymore than I already search now. Any truly interested garage developer who creates something incredible could probably find a way to get publisher support at this point in time, provided major publishers don't flood the marketplace like they did with the Wii.
Stanton: You say tomato... I say elitist totalitarian regime
Nate: I'm going with Stanton on this one.
One of the requirements for being a WiiWare dev is having an actual physical business address. You cannot work out of your home. If I were to start a small independent games studio I would probably start in the basement of my house. Renting a business building is an expensive endeavor, especially for those just starting out. Imagine if we as a news site were forced to have an actual physical building for our work. Nick, would you be able to start up the site with a condition like that?
Nick: I believe we're sidestepping the real issue here. When we say third party support, WiiWare is only a small portion of that argument. I'd say the bigger and more important question to answer is why companies like Ubisoft, Capcom, EA, etc. haven't provided the Wii with real support. Instead of mainline games, they contribute spin-offs that offer a portion of the quality of the "real" version.
It's almost like the Wii is a Gameboy and instead of getting the awesome version that everyone wants on the SNES, you get the stripped down, POS version of the game. Sure, there are some Link's Awakenings in there, but they are significantly less frequent.
Sure, it may be prohibitively tough to become a WiiWare developer for a start up, but where are the big guns in all of this? Was the Wii just not good enough for Resident Evil 5? What about Dead Space or Assassin's Creed? Something is holding these companies back from producing Wii games.
Kyle: Honestly, just imagining myself as an exec for one of those companies, I can understand that choice. So my company is working on this great new game, we've got all our best developers on it, what are we going to release it for? 360? Maybe. PS3? That would work too. Wii? ...Why? Who would play it? It would be an embarrassing version compared to the other two. The people who would even be willing to try it on the Wii probably already own one of the other two consoles. And if the game doesn't already have motion controls, those are likely going to have to be added for a Wii release.
It's like the two sides are too firmly entrenched in their niche to feasibly share games.
Jason R: But Kyle, c'mon. Developers weren't embarrassed to work on the PS2 or the original Xbox, were they? No one mandated that every Wii game needs motion controls either. The Wii launched with a bit of Mature game support, they were just terrible games in most cases, or old versions/worse versions for reasons other than graphics of games on other consoles. Red Steel? Some Call of Duty title without multiplayer?
Didn't No More Heroes sell well enough to see a sequel? It did have some stylish motion controls, but clearly the game can be done without them.
I can see an exec of Ubisoft saying something like "Oh, our mediocre Wii exclusive title 'Red Steel 2' didn't do well, and it had a pack-in, just like Wii Sports Resort! Why wasn't it the year's best seller?!" Maybe because they didn't put good talent on the game, and its prequel, Red Steel, was just a miserable title. Will Ubisoft ever acknowledge that and stop making Rabbid mini-game collections? Nope.
Kyle: I should rephrase that: if not motion controls, then still wiimote/nunchuk controls. They can be limiting too.
I'd still like things to be released for Wii, it's the only one of those three consoles I actually own. It just tends not to make as much sense. I mean, it can be done. Resident Evil 4 comes to mind. But I can understand the mentality that leads third party developers not even to try.
On the other hand, I completely agree with "There is no reason on earth that SF IV should come to 3DS and not the Wii."
Matt M: The thing with No More Heroes though is that Grasshopper isn't exactly a grade A developer that doesn't see grade A sales. The sales they saw back from the NMH games on the Wii probably impressed them, though Marvelous thought otherwise and decided to go ahead with HD versions of NMH1 on 360 and PS3 and Japan. And that game flopped.
While Nintendo didn't make a powerful system, they are making more money then any other developer in the world. The GameCube was the exact opposite. It was more powerful then the PS2, but it always placed third in total overall sales. They tried to throw moneyhats too, but that didn't help much in the long run.
Nintendo knows the Wii has had poor third party support, but they are not entirely to blame. If third party games can stand up to Nintendo's own games, why should I buy them?
Nate: But devs are being lazy in the wrong ways. They have very nice Wii/GameCube engines and I don't see why they couldn't use those and place the new content in them. RE5 and Soul Calibur 4 both could have been put in their Nintendo console engines from RE4 and Soul Calibur 2 and I'll bet Nintendo gamers would have been happy. I adored the Wii version of Modern Warfare and that has the actual CoD4 engine in it. It can be done. Devs would just rather be lazy by throwing sub-par products and mini-game collections on the system.
Though, Matt, do we have confirmation that poor sales was the reason for the No More Heroes ports? Or could they have just wanted more money by making a quick port?
Matt M: Well, in Grasshopper's eyes, NMH1 and 2 sold more then a typical Grasshopper release on any other system, sans Japan. Marvelous thinks more success could be found on the HD systems, but that proved to be very wrong.
I actually talked to Nick about this over Gmail one day, and basically it amounted to this: even if Nintendo did make a console just as powerful as the next HD systems, it's highly unlikely western third parties will step up to the plate, nor will Nintendo even consider them when getting feedback. Nintendo handhelds and Nintendo consoles with western third parties are just absolutely ass-backwards when it comes to support.
Then again, third party support for Nintendo systems has been shit since 1996. I think the Wii generation has proven that even if they made mistakes, Nintendo has better karma than most developers out there.
Then again, I could be wrong.
Joaquim: The whole gaming industry is a gamble.
Nick: Games haven't come to the Wii that have released on the 360 and PS3 because the down-port effort would be significant and place the titles over budget. Since all of the assets would need to be downres'ed, and in some cases, engines may need to be rewritten, the effort and cost isn't worth it because the executives don't perceive the audience to exist on the Wii.
Given that point and the resistance to compete head to head with Nintendo's products, we've gotten the situation at hand. Honestly, while Nintendo was executing their Blue Ocean strategy, everyone else was too. Devs hit the open spots on the market, mainly non-AAA Wii games that could make a quick buck. Of course, any pick up they made was mostly squandered on big budget games in the bloody HD ocean, but that's neither here nor there.
I think that regardless, the Wii saw lots of great games (with a couple more from Nintendo still on the horizon) and in the end I can't complain much. If anything, this generation has driven home that being a single console owner is tough if you want to experience the full breadth of experiences on the market. Arguably this has been true in the past, but most gamers could've easily gotten by with any of the 3 consoles last generation.
Matt M: Honestly, all of Nintendo's third party problems began with the Nintendo 64 and has never stopped. Smart, wall-balanced Nintendo fans own more then one console (though with my thoughts on the industry as of now, I might just stick with the WiiU next gen). Wii was the market leader this gen, DEVELOPERS HAD THE TECH FOR THE WII FROM THE GAMECUBE. What did we get instead? Shovelware and lame spin-offs.
But should Nintendo be to blame for that? Honestly, not really. Sure, they could've controlled what could and could not get released on the Wii (like they did with the NES in the old days), but that would've further soured third party relationships. Seriously, there is no easy fix.
Though things are looking bright with the WiiU and 3DS... kind of. 3DS has had a rocky start, but it is picking up. However, third parties shouldn't hold their big hitting games back to 2012 just to wait for Nintendo to release Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7. Seriously, its the DS's first year all over again.
Matt R: Anyone think the Dragon Quest announcements will move the needle of public opinion?
Joaquim: I think that only the Japanese public opinion might increase towards Nintendo's home console reign, as I think that the North-American and European populace are already set from DQ IX for another DQ game on a Nintendo platform.
Jesse: First off, I find it a little odd that anyone is surprised that DQX is coming to the Wii. The game had already been previously announced as a Wii title quite some time ago, so this shouldn’t shock anyone.
Given that we’re not seeing this title until 2012 it isn’t a huge shock that the game is being tooled for the Wii U as well. This will do wonders for the Japanese audience, but then again, Nintendo hasn’t had much of an issue there. Still, this shows that Nintendo is serious about getting quality 3rd party titles on the Wii U. It’s a good step, but this alone won’t change the opinion of North American gamers. Dragon Quest is a fantastic series, but it doesn’t have the following that it has in Japan.
What I think Nintendo really needs to do is land a cross platform game in which the Wii U version is superior. They actually ended up doing this with Soul Calibur 2 by making Link an exclusive character – this made the GameCube version the highest selling of the three. They really need to sell developers and gamers that the Wii U can add something truly awesome.
Matt M: Nintendo basically mentioned when DQX was revealed three years ago that it was backing it. What we're seeing now is Nintendo doing what Sony did in the PS1 era: spread moneyhats around for exclusives. Now I just need Nintendo to start backing Platinum Games.
Hideki Kamiya and Star Fox... I'm still waiting, Nintendo.