In this two-part article, I will talk about Nintendo’s 3rd party troubles, the source of them, and how they relate to the overall health of the industry. Please tune in tomorrow for part 2!
There is one phenomenon that, as a Nintendo fan and critic, I’ve noticed over the past two generations: the increasing anger of Nintendo fans, directed toward 3rd party publishers. This anger is said to come from a variety of places: the lack of 3rd party support on Nintendo consoles, in which most multiplatform games skip Nintendo’s platforms entirely; in the rare occasion that there is 3rd party support, it comes in the form of botched or downgraded ports, often missing all DLC support and being the last version to receive much needed patches; and finally, the indirect and unintended humiliation of the Nintendo fanbase from company executives and public relations employees who run off their mouth a bit more than some would like.
I want to challenge this anger. I want to tell you, the angry people, something important. Nintendo’s 3rd party troubles are the fault of Nintendo. It’s all on them, and no one else. But that’s not too bad: these 3rd party troubles are symptomatic of a change that is good for Nintendo, for the industry, and for us, the gamers.
Why are Nintendo’s 3rd party troubles their own fault?
Because that’s how their business works. Specifically, this sort of situation is the direct result of the blue ocean strategy Nintendo employed with the Wii and DS systems. For those unfamiliar with the term: a company (in this case Nintendo) seeking to exit the fierce, “red ocean” competitive space they currently see themselves in (the violent numbers game the console space was becoming with the Playstation 2 and Xbox) can choose to establish a completely new market, by using new or innovative technology (touch screens and motion controls) to engage a previously untapped audience (the elderly, families, and female gamers, among other demographics traditionally denominated “non-gamers”). This blue ocean strategy is a very high risk, high reward business tactic; a successful move can bring in great fortunes, but a flawed one will cause great losses – and the tightrope is thin and unsteady.
The thing here is that, for a videogame company like Nintendo to leapfrog into what they considered a blue ocean, they had to make a system with a price tag attractive to the consumer they were trying to reach (not the dedicated enthusiast they no longer wanted to cater to), which naturally meant the system was bound to have weaker hardware in comparison to other systems actually being made to cater to traditional gamers. With this in mind, let’s get into 3rd parties’ shoes: should they, as businesses, invest their capital into a risky new market, re-learning to produce games for a new demographic, based on nothing but the hunch that Nintendo had? Or should they continue down the road they already know, making seemingly surefire investments on games they know how to make for an audience they know exists? After all, these 3rd parties couldn’t simply port their existing AAA games, designed for powerful hardware, to the relatively weak and meager Wii, forcing them to make either bold, creative, and risky investments, or none at all.
Furthermore, for consumers who like those AAA games, then, buying a Wii was contradictory to their desires. Why get a Wii to play nothing but Nintendo’s first party games, when you could get a Playstation 3 and play not only Sony’s own first party games, but also all the multiplatform AAA games you could handle? Ditto for Microsoft. The result was that most people who were interested in multiplatform games at all, chose a system other than the Wii – which in turn strengthened 3rd parties’ hesitations in porting their major games to the system. It was a nasty cycle, lived most vicariously in the hateful comment sections of mainstream gaming websites.
And so, it was completely logical, expected, and natural, that Nintendo’s business decisions with the Nintendo Wii would result in the troubles they have, to this day, in attracting 3rd parties to their current-generation platforms.
OK, but that sounds awful. How’s this good for the whole industry, again?
Because sometimes, the new big, blue ocean becomes so appealing that 3rd party publishers will throw themselves headfirst into it, willing to re-learn the business as they go. In this way, the pursuit of money and the pursuit of innovation will be one and the same, bringing great times for everyone involved – but I have to stop here, before this article spirals out of control and looks so ugly and disorganized that not even my loving mother wants to read it.
Instead, please come back tomorrow to read part two of this article, where I explain why the same source of Nintendo’s 3rd party troubles can be the catalyst that brings innovation and health to this worrisome industry.