It is a secret to no one that Nintendo’s home systems have really been lacking in the third-party games department for quite a number of years now. Specifically, since the days of the N64. With it having been such a long time since a Nintendo home console actually had decent third-party support, is it reasonable to think that this could change in the near future?
It isn’t rocket science—software sells hardware. Seeing that these are game consoles, naturally their biggest selling point is none other than their selection of titles. While Nintendo has been able to provide strong first-party support over the years, the lack of third-party games has drastically affected the value of its home systems. Meanwhile, it’s these games that are primarily responsible for PlayStation and Xbox’s success.
While Sony and Microsoft both have IP of their own, third-party titles typically tend to make up the majority of software sales charts on these platforms. Between all of the bundles that include these games, along with the constant battle over exclusive content, and a large amount of advertisement, it’s no wonder why so many third-party games have found great success on these systems. Sony and Microsoft have embraced these games and their development companies and things have obviously been working out. Nintendo on the other hand mostly stands alone in this regard.
Nintendo’s handhelds have continuously enjoyed having a wide variety of titles from all sorts of different studios, but when it comes to the home systems everything changes. The sales of the Big N’s home consoles have been on a decline since the days of the SNES. Had the Wii not have blown up the way it did, it more than likely would have continued that unfortunate trend. Taking it out of the equation completely reveals that the Wii U’s low sales are just a continuation of a process that began long ago. The rise of rival platforms and abandonment by third-party developers are the primary factors of this continuous drop.
Third-party franchises have become synonymous with PlayStation and Xbox, leaving Nintendo’s home systems out of the loop.
So, we’ve established that third-party franchises are currently thriving on the other platforms and that third-party developers have been avoiding Nintendo’s home systems for a long time. With these two points in mind, I present the question again—can third-party truly be able to thrive on a Nintendo home system?
As mentioned before, both Sony and Microsoft are already entangled in a passionate battle for marketplace dominance. The third-party franchises that make up the backbone of their systems are doing more than fine right where they are. If a new system were to join the mix, you may think;” The more, the merrier!”, right? Well, not necessarily.
Considering the position of Nintendo’s home systems over the past two decades, many Nintendo fans have simply bought one of the rival platforms or play on PC in order to gain access to these third-party games. Having third-party titles on a Nintendo home system would negate the reason to look elsewhere, but the challenge is actually getting the games on the system and more importantly, getting the people to follow.
If Nintendo can get decent third-party support on its next home console, it would be a force to reckon with. But, that’s much easier said than done.
PlayStation and Xbox have grown synonymous with a number of major third-party franchises. Even if Nintendo’s next system were capable of running these games just fine, that wouldn’t be enough to properly attract both the developers and the consumers. For starters, developers want to make sure that they will be able to turn a profit. Game creation isn’t getting any less expensive, and with projects getting more and more complex, this doesn’t seem like it will change anytime soon. So, then, the primary concern of the developers is having a suitable audience to sell to. Since that type of audience is already on the other platform, then it’s only natural that the developers would want to stay there. To add insult to injury, there’s also the issue of the consumers. Seeing that quite a number of them already own the systems that have the games that they want, unless they actually enjoy Nintendo consoles in the first place it’s going to be pretty difficult to get them to leave their existing consoles.
Developers want to know they have an audience to sell to and consumers want to know they’re buying a product that they will enjoy. Quite the challenge, is it not? So, then, what’s the solution? Well. exclusives! As mentioned already, Nintendo’s franchises are massive—there’s no doubt they will attract a good amount of attention. But, that’s also the other issue.
Because it’s been such a long time since a Nintendo home platform has had truly decent third-party support, Nintendo has been supplying its user-base with major first-party releases, thus keeping them occupied. As a result, these first-party franchises have grown bigger and bigger, resulting in major competition for the third-party games. This isn’t exactly something developers have to deal with on the other platforms.
Third-parties have to contend with Nintendo’s first-party games when releasing on Nintendo platforms. That’s not really an issue on the other systems.
A good example of this is what happened with Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs. Originally intended to release towards the end of 2013, the game was pushed back entirely until May 2014. As the new release date drew closer, Ubisoft opened up about the game more and started generating excitement. That was, until, a pretty surprising announcement for Nintendo gamers. The game was announced for Wii U quite some time before, but even with the game having already been delayed by a few months, the Wii U version was somehow not ready. As a result, it was pushed back towards the end of 2014. While Ubisoft claimed the reason for the exclusive delay was to further polish the Wii U version of the game, this really wasn’t the case. Excusing the fact that the Wii U version is riddled with issues to this day, the real point lies within the timing. Watch Dogs was released on May 27th, 2014. Do you know what else released that same week? Mario Kart 8.
Sales charts show that the Mario Kart franchise is one of the best-selling in the whole industry, thus making it quite a jewel for Nintendo. With that in mind, consider this. Mario Kart 8 was released on May 29th, 2014—just two days after Watch Dogs. So, with that said, do you really think it was merely a coincidence that the Wii U version of Watch Dogs was the only one held back for the sake of “polish”? Considering the quality of the final game, that argument really holds no water. The real reason is that Ubisoft realized that had it let the Wii U version of the game launch side-by-side Mario Kart 8, there would literally be no competition. Thus, Ubisoft chickened out. This is yet another hurdle third-party developers would have to get over—standing up to Nintendo’s franchises.
Nintendo has huge franchises. Somehow, a balance is going to need to be achieved to make it a fair playing field for third-party games.
Developers may get a little ‘hot under the collar’ if they happen to release a game close to that of something like Gran Turismo or Forza, but to release next to a major Nintendo game like Mario Kart is another story entirely. Nintendo’s home systems have been primarily living off of these first-party exclusives for two decades now—it’s basically what they’re made for. So, then, is there any real way to find a balance?
If Nintendo wants to get third-parties on board with its next system, then these are the factors that are going to need to be in place. Hardware capabilities play a big role, but ultimately it’s the audience that really matter most. Nintendo is going to have to make the system attractive enough so that it would be an almost guaranteed seller. If developers think the system has the potential to sell well, they will be keen to create games for it. Once the consumers see these games, they will be enticed to buy the system. One of the biggest selling points will no doubt be the exclusives. If Nintendo can find a balance where it isn’t interfering with major third-party releases, then things could potentially work out.
All-in-all, this is no easy task. It’s been a long time since Nintendo has been in a similar position to that of what Microsoft and Sony are in now. We still have no idea what the NX is, but many are crying out for it to be simple and efficient enough to handle today’s third-party titles. It can be done, but it’s going to take a lot of time and effort before we really have a balance.