So, Minecraft is now coming to the Wii U. Can we just take a moment to accept that this is weird…
It’s not often I get to revisit the same worn track I’ve already covered.
But today, Minecraft: Wii U Edition was finally confirmed. This product, published by Mojang in the USA and Microsoft in Japan, is the first major new platform for the Minecraft franchise since the $2.5 billion purchase was made back in September of 2014. It was such a huge deal, that I wrote an article on it – I found the purchase suspicious, a little malicious, but ultimately concluded that for a company like Microsoft, it was a bit of a bargain when you consider just how many mistakes Microsoft has been making the last few years; access to a broad cross-section of the mobile and console markets is a good use of $2.5 billion, especially when your own products haven’t been getting market traction of late.
And of course, the timing of this announcement is certainly enough to send the cynic in me into overdrive.
So, Microsoft is publishing Minecraft: Wii U Edition? How charitable of Microsoft. Except, Nintendo is in the process of gearing up to mass-produce and reveal to the public a brand new hardware platform, the Nintendo NX. Now, getting Minecraft on the Wii U – it’s a thing, of course. It’s a gesture. And likely to be a hugely profitable one; the potential for texture packs with Nintendo-themed designs is ridiculous when you think about it. And whilst Nintendo will certainly profit from these uniquely Nintendo texture packs, so too will Mojang. And by extension, Microsoft. There’s nothing charitable about this, it’s a smart business move. And had this happened last year – I suppose the inner cynic in me wouldn’t have been quite as rowdy as it was today.
But with the NX Hardware now clearly being nailed down in preparation for manufacturing to begin in earnest, getting Minecraft into the Nintendo stables now is a considerably more loaded proposition. Microsoft isn’t doing this whimsically – it wants to push an NX version. Of course it would want to push an NX version. For a start, getting an NX version in the works means getting access to a development kit – a prized piece of equipment for a developer, but an equally if not more potent score for a competitor! We know development kits have been pushed around for a couple of months now – and initial talk from the industry was quietly positive. But we still know so little about it; one assumes Microsoft knows about as much as we do. And chances are, it would certainly like to know more, right? What better way than to keep Mojang looking independent enough, with just a few… ahem… shifty glances over from time to time, eh?
However – despite this… ahem… coincidental timing, I happen to think there are a fair few positives for both sides.
Nintendo hasn’t had an easy time allaying third-party fears about its future, especially with the NX in the works. Having Minecraft: Wii U Edition isn’t a small gesture by any stretch – it’s a declaration of confidence. Nintendo knows it, and chances are Microsoft also knows it is shoring up Nintendo’s credibility for the next few years. After all, if a rival like Microsoft is happy to put a game on the Wii U, what does this say of other companies like UbiSoft and EA? At a time when third-party strength has been considerably weakened, this kind of old-fashioned and mutually-beneficial arrangement we used to see back in the 80’s with Atari, Amiga and Amstrad (the old triple-A market, narf!) is going to be a bitter blow for third parties, who’ll have to wonder how they got this generation so wrong. For Nintendo, this is a clarion call – and they were right to say it was a big announcement. Even if it had been leaked weeks earlier by a mistimed ESRB rating, the power behind it hasn’t been diminished.
It also gives Nintendo another clever advantage; Mojang and Microsoft will have a vested interest in its success, meaning… and I can’t believe I’m saying this, because it’s so ridiculous that you’d swear it was a Robin Williams joke – it means that they will likely pay for advertising campaigns across the media. Microsoft money funding Nintendo advertising – how delightfully transgresssive!
But of course, it’s not all one-way. Microsoft will make profits from this release – but, here’s a clincher from a business standpoint, it also gives them access to the Amiibo market. Oh yes, I wrote about this not a few articles back, but it is all the more important; Minecraft Amiibo are all but assured. How about locking some of those texture packs behind special Minecraft Steve Amiibo? Or one of those Creepers? Nintendo has spent the last eighteen months pushing Amiibo hard, hard enough to build a profitable market where most people assumed it had arrived years late to the NFC Toy Party (I must admit, I was one of those doubters). The systems and productions lines all exist – and are all capable of producing Amiibo when necessary. All Microsoft needs to do is nod, let Nintendo pull its own weight a little and then rake in the proceeds. Not a bad sweetener, all things considered.
Microsoft is also no stranger to getting involved in other console lines; the Sega Dreamcast was powered by Windows firmware, after all, although perhaps not quite the legacy Microsoft would want you to remember. And so too do Nintendo and Microsoft have shared history – if not always positive. One of Microsoft’s earliest decisions in the console market was to end up buying Rare from Nintendo, in a $375 million total transaction. It was clear that Microsoft had underestimated what it took to get the best out of a company like Rare, a feat it still falters with today. But the process hasn’t always been negative either – Nintendo and Microsoft had to work together to revive the ailing Killer Instinct series, a long-dormant IP that was still technically owned by Nintendo (though Nintendo hadn’t renewed the trademark since 2006). That the franchise saw a successful rebirth on the XBox One is perhaps a testament to how things can work out for the best for both parties.
Nintendo is certainly going to be grateful for the assistance; there’s no question this has given them a killer title for the Holiday season when it seemed the only Wii U title with legs was the niche Xenoblade Chronicles X – a fantastic game, and a technical marvel, but still a thoroughly niche release. And Microsoft get to let Mojang play with Nintendo IP for a little while, clearly not a terrible idea for a company like Mojang, who still only really have one big IP under their belts.
However, I wonder if we’ve got the full picture. Nintendo clearly must know the risks – it’s been quite vocal about them, although with development kits now out in the wilds of the development national park such risks have likely already been taken. And Microsoft must be aware that some of us have been, frankly, waiting for this. So it’s a little bizarre.
It’s not all positive, either; whilst the Wii U Edition is likely to make full use of the Gamepad – arguably making it the superior version on consoles, at least right now – the price has increased from $19.99 pre-Microsoft, to $29.99 post-Microsoft. And there is no word on what the old-$3.99 texture packs will cost on Wii U, but we can assume that those costs are likely to increase as well by as much as 50%.
And even with 10 million units on the market, Microsoft is putting an awful lot of trust in this market – one which systematically rejected Microsoft (and continues to blame it over Rare’s diminished presence today) – to forgive and forget, especially when it has, itself, found itself struggling this generation after a certain Mr. Mattrick stuffed the XBox One launch so spectacularly. Chances are, as I said at the start, this is about buttering Nintendo up for an NX Launch port, and ergo an NX Development kit. A little spent here, paying dividends down the line for Microsoft. Mojang may look “independent”, but there’s no question they’re a Trojan Horse still. Or should that be Mojang Horse? Ooh, title potential!
However, who am I to begrudge Nintendo a little hard-won good news, eh? The consequences – if any arise – will be a year or two down the line, and will no doubt give me ample material to use when/if it happens (with cause to link back to this piece, perhaps!). And Microsoft – who’d have thought they’d be made out to be the good guys in all of this, eh? Quite a change from the usual corporate image we’re afforded the multi-billion dollar corporation.
Oh, who the hell am I kidding?
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You KNOW it makes sense…