Sometimes less can be so much more…
Everything you’ve read about Nintendo recently has been wrong.
If you were to listen to the mainstream press, you would think that the sky was falling upon the head of Nintendo. Never mind that the company has enough money to weather several years of minor losses thanks to the appeal of the original Wii, or that this is set to be a year where Nintendo releases several highly anticipated video games onto the market. It turns out that Nintendo burn at the stake for not releasing the games that we desperately wanted sooner.
However, in the rush to condemn Nintendo for its own inaction, many are giving Sony a free pass. Never mind that the current PlayStation 4 software line-up in the as barren as your average desert, or that Microsoft is intent on pushing some of the more heinous business principles into its software releases; none of that matters, because Nintendoomed, right? It’s easier than ever before to talk about Nintendo for many, and after in some cases twenty-five whole years of waiting to stick the knife in, some are actually really desperate to make up for the significant delay.
This said, Jim Sterling had a point this week; more content is good, but the only way it can be good is if the content provided is worth consideration. If it isn’t, then frankly it doesn’t matter what you put on the machine in question, because hey, there’s no reason to buy the software, is there?
Currently, Nintendo is having some third-party problems. Whatever most say, the simple fact of the matter is many of these games arrive onto the Wii U minus certain important functions and/or features; such as lack of multiplayer modes, or future downloadable content. People can criticise the Wii U for this; but the developers and publishers make the conscious effort to cut such functions – and then, of course, not even bother discounting the price for the game to make it a more appealing purchase, to drum up some support and consider if adding the missing content down the road might be a viable option. No, the games are often just as – if not more – expensive than their full-featured bretheren on the PC, PlayStation 3 and XBox 360.
Let’s level here, why am I going to buy a third-party game on a Nintendo platform if they cannot be bothered to make the damned game properly, or even make some monetary concessions in order to appeal to me. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t actually mind the lack of a multiplayer mode; but I see why its absence can worry people. It’s what cutting that entails; Warner Bros. Interactive cancelled Batman Origins DLC, but no-one mentioned that the game is still extremely broken on the Wii U, arrived without multiplayer and hasn’t worked properly since its release – all far more concerning to me, as a consumer, than a horrible publisher withholding content. Cutting the option, it seemed, destroyed something deep in the game. But that’s fine, because those who DID buy it are not worth worrying about, right? Just let them chalk it up to a mistake.
This never used to be the way developers or publishers worked; there was always a concerted effort to appease customers, no matter how small the install base. It’s easier to instigate change and transition with kindness and support than demands and ultimatums; this is why the Wii U’s third-party issue is actually largely down to certain third-parties themselves. Blame Nintendo all you want; Nintendo did not force them to remove those features. They chose that path, they chose to publicise it, and then they act all surprised when the Wii U sales are so tiny – compared to the recent results that Super Mario 3D World hit a million sales, and so did The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD.
So third parties have set themselves up for becoming irrelevant on Nintendo hardware; people can suggest the reverse is true, but Nintendo still holds many of the trump cards in terms of software IP, and it is unwise with so many years to go to presume that a Nintendo backed into a corner won’t savagely fight back.
But it’s also true for Nintendo as well; NES content and Nintendo DS ports are not what people bought their Wii U’s for; they wanted SNES, N64 and Gamecube titles on the Virtual Console. Nintendo does get several NES conversions done in a month, it is true; but it isn’t meaningful content. Some of the releases have been curios, or generally utterly asinine decisions; Golf, Tennis and Baseball? That’s Wii Sports territory, Nintendo. If you’re going to port a Tennis game, why not port Mario Tennis or Mario Golf from the Nintendo 64? Even if releases like Super Mario Bros. 3 seem like good ideas (although All Stars would have been a more sensible choice, I’d say!), and getting titles like Earthbound is superb after all this time, the reality remains that the majority of the current batch of Virtual Console games could – nay, SHOULD – be better.
Nintendo also needs to watch its own indulgences as well; Dr. Luigi was a terrible mistake, a sloppy mish-mash of a game that was priced way too high for what it actually was; an update of a game that has entered the gaming lexicon, but without the realisation that time has not been kind to it. Super Luigi U was… alright, but it was a half-hearted attempt to try and push the two-dimensional titles into a sort of hardcore challenge mode arena, and half-hearted just doesn’t work when your aim is also to comedically but brutally punish players for every little mistake.
Such titles do not add to a systems software line-up; indeed, for all the games released on the Playstation 2, a huge majority of them were mediocre to rubbish. The same is true for the Wii, the PlayStation 3 and the XBox 360; but we don’t count the crap, do we? We only hone in on the games worth playing on a system; things 7/10 or above, games that work and feel like worthy purchases.
Steam, as Jim Sterling said, has a similar issue; it’s becoming harder to sift the wheat from the chaff, because quality control is lacking in the pursuit of “More is more”. The idea that the more games you have, the better you are; forgetting that games also have to work, they have to entertain, provide value for money and a myriad of other issues that come way before you even get to the quantity debate. It used to be third parties doing this; but now indies too are releasing unfinished, broken messes. The end result is that the landscape of Steam – one of the most heralded platforms of our age – is quickly becoming less a Garden of Eden, and more akin to the Fresh Kills Landfill.
But we, as consumers, have become accustomed to accepting quantity over quality; the concept that we’ll buy any old crap as long as it looks half-pretty and comes at a reasonable cost. But the Wii U is proving that discerning gamers don’t buy into that; they would much rather wait for something better. Steam is proving that accepting everyone – even from renegade publishers – is only filling its pages up with a litany of titles that no-one could recommend (and it also lets said developers approve/reject reviews and forum comments, to stifle critical feedback. Nicely done Valve! Resistance is futile, eh?). Heck, Knack for a period outsold Mario, despite reviewers stating how awful it was. But hey, you just HAD to have something for that PS4 purchase, right?
Software droughts are horrible things; but the alternative is a free-for-all scramble where quality and content is sacrificed for speedy regurgitation. Nintendo’s current Wii U audience may simply not care for the slash and burn approach, did that ever occur to the industry? That people are smart enough to see when they’re being ripped a new one, and avoid a purchase accordingly.
For all the noise, my games purchasing these days is more selective than ever before. Tons of new releases and most of them I can’t play – I just don’t have the time for it. Add to this an aging consumer base, and a shrinking market, and you’ve got the recipe for a seriously volatile little explosion down the road; a messy, convoluted pile-up where consumer confidence is dented and games perform less and less well overall.
This is probably why Nintendo’s software shortage hasn’t bothered me too much; firstly, it’s not my primary console (and I don’t believe in exclusive relationships with a console anyway. They are not your girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other [delete where applicable]). And secondly, that I value quality above all else. When I see reports of a game getting customer backlash, because the support is shoddy and the game launched terribly broken and messy to start with, I’m more likely to give it a miss – at least, until down the road when there’s a sale and it’s at a price I can’t quite ignore. And even then, I’m starting to resist the urge to buy games that I sort of know I missed for a reason. I’d much rather fewer – but better – releases than a cavalcade of crap that no-one can stem.
But I know I am in a minority. A quick glance at the recent UK Games Charts tells you everything you need to know; Aliens: Colonial Marines is still hovering in the top 40. Yes, the game we spent a whole year knocking and demonstrating how awful it is, the game which is being taken to court this year as a demonstration of how badly we need better consumer protection – THAT GAME – is still selling enough new copies every week that it features in the sales lists. It’s not like there aren’t better games to be buying; but somehow, it still sells. And that just baffles me. I don’t understand it and I don’t WANT to understand it; if you’re buying a new second or third copy, I just… I blame you.
If Nintendo can push out five or six games a year of the quality of Super Mario 3D world or Pikmin 3, then by the end of the generation I doubt Nintendo has any major issues to worry about (but they do have to be good games!). The same with Sony – it has less studios than it used to, but it has enough that it could turn out some seriously quality product in the coming years (and heck knows Sony needs it).
But all of this is an aside, because we’re not likely to see much – if any – major news on brand new releases until June, when E3 2014 begins. Because for all the progress we’ve made with connecting to companies and having responses and meaningful dialogues, it still prefers in many ways to bottleneck its biggest, hardest-hitting debuts for a small three-day window in the middle of the year. Until then, we’ll have to deal with the games we’ve got and are getting.
And with Mario Kart for Wii U and Dark Souls 2 for the PS3/PC/360, I’d say my Q2 2014 is fully booked for the moment. Perhaps it’s for the best there aren’t many games that interest me, or on the horizon I must purchase.
After all the hours I’ve sunk into Dark Souls, and Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 2 alone is likely to consume most of my free time in 2014. Why would I buy or play knowingly broken games when I can buy and play a game with hundreds of hours of replay time? Both Mario Kart 8 and Dark Souls 2?
It makes no sense. The argument makes no sense, either. Why settle for more rubbish when you can have a dozen or so diamonds each year? Why have more average, when you can have better quality? This isn’t to say third parties can’t do good games; they absolutely can. But I’m categorically not buying a Wii U version with features cut, unless you cut the price to compensate for those missing features. And I can’t buy every indie release on Steam either; and nor would I want to.
Ultimately, it’s about striving to be better; to change for the better, to deliver better. And I still believe that we need a few stinkers in order to provide a low-set yardstick by which to show how far beyond rubbish some games actually are. But I won’t be buying those stinkers; I cannot, and will not, support games which make me feel like I’m being taken for a mug.
It might mean I buy less games; but chances are, I’ll probably enjoy them more.
And that’s not the worst trade-off I can think of.