UbiSoft’s recent comment on the Wii U is remarkably simplistic and may be wildly missing the point of the issue at hand.
It’s very easy for third parties like UbiSoft to criticise Nintendo.
To some degree, I sympathise with third parties; they obviously do need to make a profit from their games and to put it bluntly, it’s clear that some games aren’t pulling their weight on the system. However, at a time when the Wii U appears to be turning a corner and has plenty of exclusive and ‘mature’ games such as Bayonetta 2, Fatal Frame: The Black-Haired Maiden and Devil’s Third, UbiSoft’s comment that “mature games don’t sell on the Wii U” might actually be missing the point somewhat.
It’s easy for UbiSoft to continue to comment that games like Rayman Legends and Just Dance sell better on the Wii U; but there are reasons for that, primarily of which is the business models attached to them. Rayman Legends was, ultimately, a complete game and sold more copies on the Wii U than on any other machine. Just Dance is a perennial favourite on most platforms but moreso it transpires on Nintendo platforms, where the addition of extra content is not compromised. Since neither game was compromised, diluted or broken apart, they sold quite well. A lot of developers have been noting this of late; support of Nintendo isn’t the death-knell it was considered a year ago, but rather a good and surprising niche waiting to be explored and exploited, in the positive sense. Get it right and Nintendo faithfuls will hold you aloft on a pedestal made of gold and possibly myrrh.
There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to Nintendo’s image; that’s always a danger when you aim yourself as a company that wants to represent content for everyone – pleasing all the people all of the time is a mammoth task that usually ends in humiliating failure. All too often, critics reach for Mario to expose Nintendo for its more egregious errors against games for a more adult audience, yet historically you can go back and Nintendo has been surprisingly good when it comes to identifying content for a more grown-up audience; the Super Nintendo had Clock Tower (in Japan, sadly, because the West was still worked up on Mortal Kombat – how silly do we look now?), a grizzly little game with some quite shocking graphic content. The Nintendo 64 had Turok, a fantastic version of Resident Evil 2 and oh, Conker’s Bad Fur Day. The Gamecube? One might argue Metroid Prime and Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem null that argument, but let’s not forget that it had the Resident Evil Remake and Resident Evil 4. The argument that Nintendo shuns or doesn’t support mature M-rated games is one based on a quintessential untruth – Nintendo does, and let’s not forget that it currently owns the rights to things like Fatal Frame and Eternal Darkness.
Indeed, the upcoming slew of games on the Wii U are united in a more mature, almost traditionally gamer-esque front; focusing on visual spectacle, violence and gore. The notion that Nintendo doesn’t do mature games is just silly. Nintendo funding these games is evidence enough that this notion continues to be untrue. And so far, all signs point to these games being great, with Bayonetta 2 previews making it sounds like this years first stand-out Game of the Year contender.
So why then do companies like UbiSoft struggle to sell Assassin’s Creed on the Wii U? Well, it’s nothing to do with the mature theme and likely everything to do with their business model; one that may be fundamentally incompatible to the core Nintendo audience, and to some degree, incompatible on a wider multi-platform basis.
I make that point carefully – we’re discussing a CORE Nintendo audience, in much the same way we discuss any knowledgeable audience. Nintendo has amassed quite the following over the years, and its customers have to a certain degree come to expect a certain degree of service from what they buy on the console. They’re also likely to be more passionate and less willing to part with their money for a company that isn’t treating their machine with the respect or dignity expected of them. UbiSoft themselves are largely to blame for this; the Rayman Legends delay was unforgivable, especially now in light of evidence that the Wii U version sold the most copies, but moreso withholding additional downloadable content from the Wii U market on Assassin’s Creed, or cutting the multiplayer out of Splinter Cell: Blacklist. The latter UbiSoft used to hammer the Wii U because of its low sales, forgetting that actually the game sold really, really badly across the board. In a more current capacity, the lack of information or footage of a Wii U version of Watch_Dogs continues to drive a serious wedge into the fray, with many console-exclusive gamers impatiently waiting for evidence the game even exists (in much the same way they’re waiting for evidence that Project CARS exists – and that’s a reason why that game probably isn’t going to sell!).
In a sense, these owners of Wii U consoles will take the slight far more personally than Nintendo; they’ll see it as an affront to them, how they aren’t being respected for their choice, and ultimately that’s when you’ll see their focus naturally drift towards companies who will naturally make them feel good about their choice of console. Those who do not fit into this demographic will simply find that users ignore their content. End of discussion for them. If third parties won’t try, then they won’t support them.
On a wider perspective though, UbiSoft cannot continue to show surprise at low Wii U sales when some of these games will not only have been on the market longer on other platforms, but also have more content. A late arrival of a game at full retail price on a Wii U, with cut features and content, isn’t ever going to gain market traction. Unsurprisingly, I’m a multi-console gamer and it’s sort of true that I don’t buy Assassin’s Creed on my Wii U; primarily because I’ll have bought or rented it for my PlayStation 3/4. It’s silly to expect a market to bend over backwards for your game when they aren’t even getting a comparable experience; getting angry at Wii U owners over not supporting these games is somewhat hilarious because that’s the exact thing I expect from a healthy market and a sensible audience. The Wii U isn’t short of actually really good games, and there are plenty coming for those who have consumed them all, so why should they buy a game which is more expensive, has less features and is extremely late to the party?
UbiSoft simply demonstrate a shocking lack of intelligence on their own part; they’ve boiled it down to being an image problem, when it really isn’t. Well, certainly not one of a mature rating anyway. They’re surprised that a choosy market with plenty of options isn’t buying more expensive, inferior versions of games with cut features and which are also released weeks, if not months later than the primary release on other systems? It’s remarkable that UbiSoft could say this with a straight face, really. It’s almost enough for me to actually think ‘I’ll skip UbiSoft games for now, thanks. At least until they treat me as an intelligent person and not an idiot.’
Because only idiots will believe UbiSoft here. It’s treated the Wii U audience like crap; and now it’s shocked that sales of its big franchises that it compromised for release on the machine might not have the same importance on the system? No UbiSoft. That’s what happens in a good market. You get punished for being dicks. You get rewarded for good behaviour. It’s a fundamental business lesson, one of the earliest a business should learn; treat users like crap, and they’ll move on. People like me will already be over Watch_Dogs when it hits the Wii U. I didn’t much care for it on the PS4. It’s the sort of thing that is forgettable and trying too hard to be smart, but ends up feeling padded out and a little lazy.
Contrary to that, I’ll likely be buying Bayonetta 2 (which comes with a full remaster of Bayonetta at no extra charge!), Hyrule Warriors (Because Tecmo-Koei have done a bang-up job with it, a good 10+ hour story mode and a challenging adventure mode? Oh yes please – also, yes to extra DLC content on that which doesn’t feel tacked-on!), Devil’s Third (it looks kinda old-school but also kind of fun!), and if it comes West, Fatal Frame. I’ll buy these games not because they’re mature, or Nintendo-exclusive, but because they look fun, aren’t taking me for a financial mug and won’t be scrimping on what they offer from the outset in order to save a few pennies.
At a time when Nintendo appears to be pushing the Wii U harder than before, where interest is higher than before and at a time when the Wii U is outselling the XBox One in the West, and the PlayStation 4 in Japan, UbiSoft may yet regret its decision. A shocking lack of foresight, and wheeling out one of the most lazy arguments in the business, it’s all too demonstrative of their business ethic of late; one which simply doesn’t feel like they’re trying.
Sadly, I fear that will be reflected in their games. All sound and fury, signifying nothing. Maybe it is horrible for a business like UbiSoft to be so burned by the Nintendo audience. Perhaps there are deeper reasons for it. But on a basic level, expecting an inferior product to sell when much superior offerings are available – even from your own stables on other platforms – is simply ludicrous.
Everything else is just pandering to a sneery demographic. And shame on UbiSoft for that. Shame indeed.