Could the Wii fail?


posted 8/9/2006 by Sean Colleli
other articles by Sean Colleli
One Page Platforms: Wii

3: Third Party Support.

During Hiroshi Yamauchi’s long rule over Nintendo, the company took on a very isolationist strategy.  Developing for Nintendo was considered a privilege, and if a developer didn’t like the strangling restrictions Nintendo put on them, well, they could hit the road.  This approach worked at first—Nintendo had tight control over all of the games being developed for their home consoles.  This made it easy to regulate their reputation as a family friendly company, as well as maximize profits.  However, as competitors like Sega entered the market, Nintendo began to lose support.  When Sony came along with the Playstation, a notoriously easy system to develop for, Nintendo began hemorrhaging developers and cash faster than energy from a ruptured Metroid.  Sony’s friendly attitude and loose regulations made them even more appealing to developers.  One of the heaviest losses was Squaresoft and their Final Fantasy series.

Yamauchi stood firm, declaring that Nintendo didn’t need Square’s help, he formed the Dream Team, a core of Nintendo’s best developers, and put them to work on the N64.  Nintendo supported the N64 admirably, but the isolationism eventually cost them in the form of long delays between software and a relatively sparse library in comparison with the Playstation’s massive game lineup.

So, why the history lesson?  Because current Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata is trying to reverse his company’s stubborn image and offer the hand of friendship to developers once again.  Let’s see how he’s doing.

Admittedly, the GameCube saw a great gain and loss of development houses.  Rare was taken out of the picture when they were purchased by Microsoft, Factor 5 stayed long enough to make two Rogue Squadron games and then went to the PS3, and Silicon Knights is now making the Too Human trilogy exclusively for the Xbox 360 exclusively ,with no plans for an exclusive Eternal Darkness sequel in sight.  On the other side of the coin, Nintendo built up a great deal of support.  After a very rocky start, Retro Studios braved the fire to become one of Nintendo’s most prestigious assets.  One look at any of the Metroid Prime series will show you that.  Capcom came back around, with Resident Evil 4 topping the charts as a CGN exclusive, at least initially.  Kojima Studios is warming up to the Wii, with one unnamed title confirmed for the console and, above all people, Solid Snake in the new Super Smash Bros. Brawl.  Clover and Grasshopper and hard at work on their twisted designs for Wii, which will no doubt be compelling.

But what about emerging support, new blood, so to speak?  It seems there is plenty.  NiBRIS, an indie Polish house is working on Raid Over the River for Wii and DS, and a psychological thriller called Sadness that will take place entirely in monochrome, much like Sin City.  nSpace, a minor industry presence, made themselves known with Geist on GCN, and they have stated support for Wii (hopefully a sequel to the ambitious but under-appreciated Geist).  Nintendo Software Technology, a new internal branch that proved themselves with Metroid Prime Hunters is moving up to the Wii with Project: H.A.M.M.E.R.  Monolith surprised all with their edgy survival title, Disaster: Day of Crisis.  Konami meanwhile is delivering Elebits, with other projects on the way.  Lucasarts recently pledged support; maybe that lightsaber game isn’t an impossibility after all.  Hudson has several new projects going at once.  This is only a brief list of the people working on the Wii and the titles in the works.

Probability of Disaster: Small

That is, if the developers stay with Nintendo.  The GCN had a healthy stable of support, but it dried up quickly due to the lack of online functionality and Nintendo’s “less is more” strategy in regards to graphics.  The sparse opening lineup didn’t improve any reputations.  Wii is in decidedly better shape, with a much more appealing launch list made by respected industry names.  If the Wii and its ambitious concept work, most of the talent will stick around to produce successful second and third generation software.  If not, well…we can always wait another four years for the next Zelda.   

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