A sporting chance…
So, as I’ve stated before, third party titles clearly aren’t big system sellers.
I don’t want people to think that somehow I have anything against third-party games; not at all, quite the opposite, in fact. Some of my favourite games have been third-party, a man cannot live forever on Zelda and Halo, after all. Well, I can’t, at least. I like third party games, and I like the diversity they create and the new ideas that spring up in their wake. Be it the narrative complexity of BioShock Infinite, the pure gameplay of Dark Souls or the perfect exploitation of a control scheme like Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, saying that third-party games do not matter is ridiculous. They are a necessary element of a games console.
However, as the link to the VGChartz database shows, there is definitely a case to be made that third-party support can, in many cases, be over-emphasized and made out to be more of a deal than it actually is. For an example of this, you only need to look to Nintendo and the Wii-U for all the evidence you need for this.
Now, you can say what you like about the Wii-U. Personally, I think it’s got a lot of potential; the Wii demonstrated that power, once again, is not what sells a games console – rather, it is the games you release on it. Nintendo scored a blinder with the Wii in terms of game sales. Of course, many will argue the Wii had problems. Not that the Wii lacked big-selling third-party titles; the Just Dance series sold millions – across four titles, the series accumulated a total of 31.49 million sales, which is a lot. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games sold a total of 7.01 million units. Even LEGO Star Wars reached over 5 million sales. The Wii had big-selling third-party titles; you just have to look.
Nor did the Wii lack critically-acclaimed games either; Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition is considered the finest version of a damned fine game, as Capcom walked in and nailed the control scheme with such unbelievable precision it was devastating; for many, the Resident Evil control scheme has never quite been the same since, it’s very hard to go back on perfection. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is the one title in the series since The Room that people look at fondly; sure, it was later ported to the PSP but it was great on the Wii and everyone knew it. Even EA had a hit on its hands with Boom Blox. No More Heroes, Little King’s Story, MadWorld, Zack and Wiki, Red Steel 2, Sin and Punishment; yes, these are before you get to the in-house stuff like Super Mario Galaxy, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Kirby’s Epic Yarn and the huge-selling Mario Kart Wii.
So what is so different about the Wii-U then, if we look at the Wii and its lifespan and have to conclude that, in reality, it was a rousing success story? I’d say it’s quite likely the barren launch window that right now hurts it the most. Nintendo dropped the ball; Nintendo Land isn’t a replacement for Wii Sports, and I think we all knew very early on it wasn’t going to be a replacement for it. I never expected it to be: having said that however, it’s surprising just how divisive Nintendo Land actually became to purchasers of the Wii-U. It was experimental, sure, but it… lacked that innate simplicity and heart that Wii Sports was famed for. Where Wii Sports was easy to understand, Nintendo Land had rules, and guidelines, and explanations. It was too much of a muchness and a poor demonstration of the potential at the heart of the Wii-U.
This is all the more surprising when you consider that in the run-up to the Wii-U launch, in trailers for it, there were demonstrations of a potential Wii-U Sports. This was something I expected to hear Nintendo make a huge deal about, after all – when you have by far and away the biggest ever video game of all time in the form of Wii Sports, a continuation of the franchise on a new console is a complete no-brainer. When the original game is so synonymous with the machine it was sold with and for, when the original game was so unbelievably successful, that Nintendo didn’t pool their resources and push a variation out for the launch of the Wii-U does seem one of the oddest business decisions of the last few decades. Some may argue the full-priced sequel might have fared poorly, but in reality Wii Sports Resort sold almost 32 million units – again, that’s 32 million people who liked Wii Sports enough to want a second helping! The original Wii Sports chalked up 81.14 million units; double what the original Super Mario Bros. ever managed in more than two decades.
It’s not merely the numbers which speak volumes. Wii Sports was accessible and had masses of depth. At a time when Nintendo was talking of expanding their market, Wii Sports was easily the epitome of that dream; something for everyone. When people talk about a “Killer Hook”, this was that hook the Wii needed; some argue that it was cheaper, which helped. And novel, which generated interest. But it was the word-of-mouth, the adulation of Wii Sports which pioneered the interesting design ethos of the Wii to the masses and delivered its keynote speech. Be it golf, boxing or bowling, the games were self-explanatory. People didn’t need a manual, or an explanation, just the idea. It was that innate simplicity and the precise execution of that simplicity that really managed to capture the imaginations of the world. We didn’t need endless tutorials, we didn’t spent five or six hours getting to grips with the innate intricacies of the system, we didn’t need constant reminders of what to do next. Everything just made sense. Everything was there, and in terms of design, it’s the holy grail. Neither Sony nor Microsoft have managed to achieve what Nintendo did with Wii Sports; and they have tried, heck knows they have tried. But whatever they do, the reality for them is that to differentiate means to complicate, and to complicate is to detract from the very thing that Wii Sports relied upon; common-sense simplicity. You can’t improve on perfection, except perhaps updating it into HD with more sporting examples in the box – although after the twelve in Wii Sports Resort, I’m not sure what else can be added…
And weirdly, I do feel that all Nintendo had to do at the start was, simply, to recreate those games in HD. It’s obviously unwilling to discard the Wii Remote, and it can be tied to the Gamepad, so surely all Nintendo needed on this front was to take Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, tart it up to high-definition, make it look pretty and package it in. Considering the eShop addition, Nintendo could have bundled future game additions into the system as downloadable content and easily I fear have created a monster that would compete with the likes of X-Box Live and PSN+. Keep it relatively inexpensive, a few quid per addition, and you’ve arguably got a launch title that keeps on giving; a title that can sustain itself, and the machine on which it is on. This is the holy grail of video gaming. This is what the likes of EA and Sony and Microsoft would do dark, unspeakably evil things for (in EA’s case, they’re probably already doing unspeakably evil things…). Nintendo has the ingredients here for the perfect burger; the best burger in the history of the universe. And… they’re just not doing it.
That does perplex me; it’s obvious that third-parties won’t flock to a machine without a killer hook anyway. The third-party world has a symbiotic relationship with consoles; it maintains an illusion of it being busy whilst the companies pushing the consoles work on their huge-sellers. As these huge-sellers generate more console sales, the more willing and daring third-parties are to bring new ideas and concepts. Without it, you have the early days of the Wii-U; ports of games we’ve already played, done quickly and cheaply and in most cases, badly at that. There is no reason to risk the farm on a brand new console unless you know it will sell; launch windows are always like this, tentative and quiet as third-party developers gauge interest in the machine and watch its sales figures, wondering if it is worth their while. Whilst Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Zombi-U are fantastic games as well, it’s again telling that they’re not selling the console to the masses. Those of us who already see the potential enjoy these games; but they’re not big system-selling games in their own right. It may not be “cool”, or “fashionable” to say it, but I don’t care. Objectivity is more informative than blind faith, after all.
For everything Nintendo has in its stable – Donkey Kong, Zelda, Mario, Metroid, Eternal Darkness and more – none of these games hold a candle to Wii Sports and the potential value of it in the market. It’s not unkind to say that without a Wii Sports for the Wii-U, Nintendo are stifling its own sales pattern; it is creating a rod for its own back, and when it has enjoyed years of profitability and genuine market dominance, that it seems to have learned little from that is quite concerning not just from a video gamers perspective, but from a market and shareholder perspective too. When you are sitting on a franchise which is modern and already can boast as being the biggest video game of all time, not continuing that tradition and franchise on is akin to professional self-harm. I can’t imagine that it would be hard for Nintendo to do a Wii-U Sports. I can’t imagine that it would be that expensive either. I can’t imagine that it would hurt them to focus on getting a version out before the end of the year. And I can’t imagine myself not buying it. Maybe that betrays me a little, but such an exercise in great game design is always welcome in an era when complexity can be distracting.
Without Wii-U Sports, Nintendo are deliberately making life much harder for themselves. It’s hardly rocket science, is it? A game franchise already over a hundred million sales in total, which would (and does) make the biggest selling game of all time. The best? Perhaps that depends what you look for in a game, but it’s impossible to deny that it really was the game the Wii needed. And as the Wii-U struggles to find its market, as it desperately scrambles for third-party support which isn’t there, as it tries to find its identity, Wii-U Sports is the game the new console desperately needs. Not merely because it will give Nintendo a good chance to demonstrate once again why simple gameplay matters, and not merely because of the sales it could generate; but because it’s what people wanted. And I can’t imagine that tastes and the expanded market will have changed so dramatically that they wouldn’t lap up the same thing all over again: but this time with things like online leaderboards, Miiverse support, downloadable extra games for your title and much, much more. The Wii-U seems to not only be a perfect fit for Wii Sports, but seems like the place to advance and further it in ways that could only have been dreamt of on the Wii.
At this moment, as everyone decries the Wii-U as dying or dead, the system needs Wii-U Sports more than it ever did at the start. Nintendo need to remind us why we fell in love with the Wii; why it became such a huge success, and why this game in particular has become one of the biggest video games of all time. It may feel moving on is appropriate; but discarding such a massive market at a time you need it most is, frankly, borderline suicidal. We accept the Wii was not a disaster; whatever the vocal gamer crowd may feel, the numbers don’t lie. I thought I’d look back on the Wii, and Wii Sports, with total disdain as we moved on. It’s with hindsight that you see that money went into getting some truly stonking games out there; Nintendo invested it in the games. The volume of machines attracted third-parties. There were lots of very good games on the machine. Some truly stunning “hardcore” titles too. Looking back, sure, the Wii hit critical mass too early; but heck, how is hitting critical mass early a bad thing? I’m sure the billions of dollars Nintendo made will have made up for it, after all.
It’s not like Nintendo to miss a trick. Perhaps it wants to be taken seriously, or be something it isn’t? I don’t know, but what I do know is that right now, I need something I can replay indefinitely. Something fun, engaging, interesting, enlightening and can last. If you have a barren launch window, then something like that can go a very, VERY long way to easing the absence of content, whilst creating a market that tempts and coerces the industry into your playground.
Nintendo had that with Wii Sports. And without it, I doubt the Wii-U will ever get close to the sales of the Wii or show us the diversity of content of the Wii – no doubt it will succeed in making money, but nothing near like the company enjoyed with the Wii. Throwing away such a massive success is ridiculous and perhaps one of the most ridiculous business moves in many years. It’s important it continues. It’s important for the machine and it’s important for Nintendo; creating a market that attracts people in, whilst giving people something they want as well. And even if you are not part of that market, the increased sellthrough, income and marketshare will be beneficial for future titles as well from all sides, both first and third party.
It’s in everyone’s interests to want to see this happen, regardless of if you share my sentiments on the game itself. Come on Nintendo. It doesn’t take a genius!
Do it. The sooner, the better.