EA has pulled support from Nintendo in a major way. Crysis was canned. Battlefield is a no-show. EA Sports games are MIA for the first time in decades. Things have gotten so bad between EA and Nintendo that there are rumors that the two board of directors from both companies will not talk to each other. (Speaking of EA upper management, since John Riccitiello stepped down as CEO, EA has laid off 900 employees and paid $16 million in severances.)
Can any console survive without EA, the largest video game publisher, backing them? EA currently holds 22 active franchises in their grip, from Star Wars to Mass Effect to The Sims. That represents a large amount of gaming over the course of a full console generation.
Nintendo Has Survived with Weak Support in the Past
It may be unsettling and frustrating for Wii U owners to see a big publisher act so hostile towards their new system but Nintendo has been in worse situations before and still made it out just fine. Nintendo is formidable enough in their own right as a developer and publisher that no one will go starving. (Excluding the ever-troublesome post-launch months.) You may remember when Square Enix and many other publishers backed away from Nintendo in the N64 days. At that time it had more to do with Nintendo’s arrogance (read = Hiroshi Yamauchi) as opposed to the current situation which has more to do with EA’s arrogance (read = John Riccitiello.)
Back in the N64 days Nintendo managed to survive with hardly any third-party support at all by finding ways to replace the “missing” content with other exciting content. In those days, Rareware was a beast of a second-party developer and almost single-handedly made us forget our thirst for third-party games. On the GCN Nintendo had thawed some of the frost with third-parties and received a bit more support and ports. But Nintendo hadn’t yet achieved a prolific rate of development and some franchises, such as Mario and Zelda, only came around once per generation. While those specific iterations are known to be incredible classics (Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Super Mario Sunshine), there just wasn’t enough to fill out the library even once the system hit its second and third generation.
Nintendo’s Rate of Output Has Been Increasing
On N64, Nintendo published around 20 games, most of them big hits, and Rareware chipped in with its own 10 gems. On the Gamecube, Nintendo managed to push out around 30 games by itself, although they didn’t all invite equal amounts of enthusiasm (e.g. Mario Party 4-7, Donkey Konga 1+2, Star Fox: Assault, Odama, Mario Superstar Baseball, Kirby’s Air Ride.) Despite some great third-party games such as Resident Evil 4 and Viewtiful Joe, the lineup felt a bit sparse in between the massive first-party successes.
Contrast all of this to the Wii, where Nintendo published around 45 solid titles. (I’m not even counting less significant titles such as FlingSmash, PokePark, etc.) How did they accomplish this amazing increase in their rate of output? Four ways.
1. The Teams Got Larger
First of all Nintendo had grown internally. For example the EAD teams had become much larger and split up into many teams. Although there are officially 7 numbered teams at EAD, each of those teams has one or two smaller divisions. This is how Nintendo managed to release two Super Mario Galaxy games and a handful of New Super Mario Bros games within a few years of each other.
2. Nintendo Mentored and Outsourced to Talented Smaller Studios
Secondly, Nintendo started to work closely with a lot of smaller outside studios to the point that they are practically second-party studios. Until then Nintendo had only dished out work to official second-party studios but now Nintendo felt comfortable developing a close relationship and providing mentorship and guidance to teams such as Grezzo, Good-Feel, Monster Games, AlphaDream, Treasure, and many others. This trend has only continued as you will find that many of the Nintendo eShop games are actually outsourced to new teams that Nintendo has begun to mentor.
Have you noticed a new little studio named Vanpool who has been making some of the games you thought came directly from Nintendo? Yes they made Paper Mario Sticker Star and the two Dillon games on 3DS eShop. How about Grounding Inc., who made Sakura Samurai for the 3DS? Or Curve Studios, the talented team, who Nintendo has been mentoring as they made the two Fluidity games? Or Ganbarion, who made Jump All-Stars for DS and Pandora’s Tower for Wii? Yes, Nintendo is often like a baseball scout or pitching/batting coach, constantly recruiting new talent and helping them to grow into full-fledged athletes who can be relied upon.
3. Nintendo Acquired More First-Party Studios
Thirdly, Nintendo actually went ahead and purchased talented studios such as Retro Studios and Monolith Soft, who joined their stable of first-party developers and have made such small games Metroid Prime and Xenoblade.
4. Nintendo Took Less Time to Make New Games
And fourth, Nintendo has learned to speed up their development cycle over the years. You can almost sense how the Mario Galaxy teams and the New Super Mario Bros teams can go on auto-pilot when need be and craft new Mario-quality levels quite easily. The level-design that they have perfected over the years has almost become an instinct. The same goes for the Zelda teams. Sometimes Nintendo uses this acquired skill to push out sequels as fast as possible, but other times they save it up for extremely innovative titles, such as when the original Super Mario Galaxy and Skyward Sword were released. All in all, though, where you might see Ubisoft churning out Assassin Creed games by the year and Activision doling our Call of Duty games every time you blink, Nintendo also has learned to stagger the development cycle in a way that makes sure Nintendo fans have a constant drip of their favorite franchises throughout each console generation.
Those Methods Will Continue Into This Generation
Those four methods of pushing out new software is the way they already established in the last generation. How will these four methods affect us in this generation?
1. Now that Nintendo has larger internal teams we can expect more first-party games than any other generation. For example, there are now enough Zelda teams to coordinate simultaneously one team working on Wind Waker HD, another on Link to the Past 2, and the main team working on Zelda Wii U under Aounuma’s care. (While Grezzo handled Ocarina of Time 3D, and will probably make a Majora’s Mask 3D one day.) The same goes for Mario games. The New Super Mario Bros teams were big enough to coordinate New Super Mario Bros U, Super Luigi U, and New Super Mario Bros 2 (what will they do next?) Whereas the main Galaxy team is working on the upcoming 3D Mario Wii U game, the Super Mario Galaxy 2 team is free to do something else. (Super Mario Sunshine HD remake, anyone?)
2. The small studios Nintendo is mentoring will constantly provide us with new games, and often they will be small gems. One thing I really like about the new teams is that Nintendo lets them try out new IPs such as Dillon’s Rolling Western, Sakura Samurai, and Fluidity. Here’s a trailhead for you to follow up on: under Nintendo’s lead, skip Ltd made six bit Generation games for the GBA, six Art Style games for the DS, and six Art Style games for the Wii. It seems they’re good at making franchises with many small puzzle games. It’s only a matter of time before we see what they’re up to on the Wii U and 3DS.
3. One of the most exciting prospects of this generation is Nintendo’s new first-party studios. We already saw a glimpse of the incredible looking X from Monolith Soft and at E3 Retro Studios will drop their bomb on us. Word has it that both of these studios have also expanded enough to siphon off enough members to create a second small internal team. Will we see Monolith and Retro 3DS games to go along with their Wii U games? Also, Brownie Brown has now changed their name to 1-Up Studios. That doesn’t interest me. What does interest me is that the name change followed an internal restructuring that was precipitated by their co-development efforts with Nintendo. Does this mean they will take a more prominent role at Nintendo? They’ve already succeeded with Mother 3, Magical Vacation, Magical Starsign, and even helped out with Super Mario 3D Land. It looks like they’re getting more skilled as the years go on.
4. On the Wii there were three platforming Mario games, two Metroid games, and two Zelda adventures. Expect these quick development cycles to continue on Wii U. True, Wii U is suffering from the very common launch-year blues, but once all these teams begin to roll out their content, it won’t stop.
Nintendo Also Has Some New Ideas of How to Increase The Wii U’s Library
But these four methods from the Wii generation aren’t the only changes to the software development cycle that Nintendo will be using for this new generation. There are entirely new ways being added on for the Wii U. What are they?
1. Collaborative Exclusives
The first of these is partnerships and collaborative exclusives with third-party developers. We’ve already seen some of these in The Wonderful 101, Bayonetta 2, and SMT x Fire Emblem. I’ve heard that Nintendo has a few more of these up their sleeve that they will be showing off close to or at E3. Even if PS4 and Xbox ____ end up getting third-party games that don’t end up on Wii U, Nintendo will make sure to reciprocate the love and license some exclusive third-party games that the other consoles won’t receive.
2. Indie Developers
3. Leverage the Support of Other Publishers
EA isn’t the end-all. There are other third-party publishers that Nintendo is making sure to get on their good sides. And there are other important ones, well underrepresented on Nintendo systems, that they should be focusing on recruiting instead of EA.
For example, Ubisoft, has taken quite nicely to Wii U. Nintendo of course, will try and make sure Ubisoft performs well and no doubt Nintendo hopes they one day surpass EA as the biggest publisher. With ZombiU standing tall as one of the best third-party exclusives so far for Wii U, we also heard a rumor a while back that the ZombiU team has an exclusive for Wii U in the works.
I believe Nintendo is also getting closer with Square Enix and we should see some of the dividends in time. What we’ve seen so far from this relationship is Deus Ex Human Revolution Director’s Cut and Dragon Quest X. I anticipate that we’ll see a Final Fantasy game on Wii U, as well.
Capcom obviously feels Monster Hunter is a good fit with Nintendo systems. Resident Evil, Mega Man, Okami, and Street Fighter have always had some kind of place on Nintendo systems, so we’ll probably those in some form on the Wii U.
Konami, Namco, Sega, and Tecmo Koei all have their own positive relationships with Nintendo and that usually leads to projects of different sorts. There should be varying levels of representation of these on Wii U over the next five years or so. Atlus and Level-5 both seem to be buddy-buddy with Nintendo, so they will continue their excellent output.
Where Nintendo does need to create better relationships is with Western publishers. Nintendo used to have good relationships with Activision, Ubisoft, EA, THQ, Warner Bros, and Disney. THQ is no more. EA is practically an enemy. Disney is good for everything other than Star Wars, where it has partnered with EA. Activision, Ubisoft, and Warner Bros are still quite reliable. However, there are a few publishers that Nintendo seems to have next to no relationship with at all.
ZeniMax Media is an important one. Through their subsidiaries such as Bethesda and id, a lot of important franchises get released, like Elder Scrolls, Doom, Quake, Fallout, etc.
Another is Take-Two Interactive. It’s clear Nintendo has some form of relationship with them as seen by the releases of Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars, Manhunt 2, and Bully. But there are a lot of other important franchises that completely skip Nintendo systems. These would be Borderlands, Bioshock, Max Payne, Mafia, Midnight Club, Serious Sam, Red Dead, and more.
And the last is Valve. Valve does have a lot of focus on PC but they did publish Portal 2, Half-Life 2, and Left 4 Dead 2 on consoles. So, there is a big gain in having them on board with the Wii U.
In conclusion, the fallout with EA may lead to the loss of franchises such as Battlefield, Dead Space, Crysis, Mass Effect, and the EA sports games. But that doesn’t mean the Wii U won’t survive or have great games to replace them with. If anything, Nintendo should be working hard to foster better relationships with other developers. And you never know, when a new CEO is chosen and/or when the Wii U sales pick up, EA may have a change of heart.
What are your thoughts on the current situation with EA? Will it greatly affect Nintendo or will they thrive despite it?
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