The Wii’s Success: It’s time for developers to put up or shut up

Wii winsOPINION — It’s officially time for 3d party developers to put up or shut up.

The act of complaining about developing games for a Nintendo console and turning a profit against the big bad Ninty and its cadre of 1rst party behemoths has officially been exposed as the pathetic, cry baby act that it is.

Recent offenders include the much ballyhooed Goichi Suda, whose No More Heroes isn’t selling as much as he would like in Japan. The title drops in the U.S. on January 22. “Whilst the sales weren’t as high as I hoped, other titles for Wii aren’t selling so well either,” said Goichi Suda in an interview with CVG published on Wednesday. “Only Nintendo titles are doing well. This isn’t just because of the current situation in Japan, as this is happening outside Japan.” He went on to say, “Before I was making this game, I wasn’t expecting that Wii would be a console targeted only for non-gamers. I expected more games for hardcore gamers. The reality is different to what I expected.” Suda, here are some boo hoo berries to chew on while you await the US numbers next week.

It’s ironic, don’t you think, that people only complain about the Wii 3rd party problem when it’s their game that isn’t meeting expectations?
There’s no money in it you say? Nintendo sucks it all up because they hold the keys to the castle? Rubbish. Ask Ubisoft, which managed to do just that with a stable of borderline dead on arrival quality games in 2007. Can you imagine the pile of money that company would be sitting on if they managed to slip just one A+ quality game into that pile?

When people like Goichi Suda say that only Nintendo can make games for Nintendo consoles my college education, which was steeped in courses on Logic, takes over. And I get a headache. This is because Nintendo titles don’t sell well simply because they have the Nintendo logo in the publisher’s spot on the DVD case, they sell well because Nintendo is an incredible developer and publisher. Simply logic says that if you create a great, fun to play game, you can make the same kind of money that a Super Mario Galaxy or a Twilight Princess can make in a year. The formula exists and yet developers, through ignorance or laziness or a mixture of both, are unable to tap into it. Developers are ignorant because they continue to think of the video games industry as a one dimensional playing field where only Xbox 360 games succeed and produce those incredible Halo 3 software sales numbers. If we subscribe to Suda’s logic, all he’d have to do for No More Heroes to be a runaway favorite it to slap a Nintendo logo on the box where his publisher/developer logos should be be. Viola! Instant million seller!

There are other bogus points of contention about the Wii too, including the infamous MSRB ratings system, and how a little black and white box holds such immense power over whether or not a system passes or fails.

There are no mature M rated titles? Let me do you the courtesy of arranging a sit down with Tony Montagna of Scarface; or the Don himself from Godfather. Ports, sure, but beyond that, who is the all-powerful game guru that declared only the best games are M-rated? Who was the bastion of video game stardom that said from on high in Redmond or Japan a system is only truly successful if it has a larger stable of M-rated titles that those less, more childish ones? When we examine these objective questions more closely, and begin to shed the Old World thinking that’s dominated the industry for the past 10 years, I think we’ll all begin to see that those who raise the maturity objection about any system, not just Nintendo’s, are probably raising it not to expand the industry, or enhance the experience of the gamer (read: customer), but to keep things the way they are so they can continue to make money, off of us, with the same old schlock. It’s funny though, and again very ironic, that those who bash Nintendo titles for not being mature would use the same breath to bash the ESRB system as a whole for being useless or inaccurate or a detriment to gaming when it censors titles like Manhunt 2.

Perhaps the craziest thing is we’ve been through this tired old song and dance before with the DS. Let’s go over it again though, just in case these bellyaching development houses, with their millions of dollars in resources, missed it. With that system there was a slow start; one which was so slow in fact that developers, “gaming journalists,” and “analysts” — all put into quotes on purpose and for obvious reasons — dismissed it as a clunky, useless feature ridden failure the instant Nintendo started the supply chain conveyor belts. As an early adopter of the system, even I was slightly skeptical when I picked up the system in May 2005. The killer app at the time was a port of Super Mario 64, and my gaming library consisted of a less than stellar tournament poker game and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005. If you thought the deer looked bad in the Wii version, the DS version made that deer look like Crysis. Even so, I put all my chips into the system because there was a certain buzz in the air about its upcoming software. Sure enough, in August 2005 Advance Wars Dual Strike dropped as did a game that would change the system and the industry forever: Nintendogs.

And therin lies a very important point. To see it however you need a little more vision than the sore losers that currently bitch and moan about the Wii have cared to exercise. The point is that while Nintendogs was by no means a game for everyone, the effect it had touched upon every type of gamer. On the one had it welcomed the cas-core sect in with open arms, and created this amazing new world where video games were not a hobby to be shunned by the masses, and you could officially play your DS in public on the bus or in a plane without any insecurity whatsoever. In fact, that cute girl sitting near you on the subway probaby has a pink DS sitting at home and didn’t think twice about asking for it for her birthday or for Christmas. On the other hand, Nintendogs’ immense sales numbers meant that there was money — incredible amounts of money — to be made on a system with low development costs, a quirky interface and a built-in audience with widely diverse tastes. Truly, the DS was a system designed with the developer in mind (fun fact: according to Nintendo, DS also stands for “developer’s system”).

Simply put, the DS literally stares whiny developers in the face each and every day from their pockets or their desktops, and they ignore it because that’s easier to do than accept that their way of thinking when applied to the Wii is an utter failure. The DS, like the Wii, is no powerhouse. Its components are not new or groundbreaking, but then again that’s never been the point of software development. The point has been to create great software that makes the end user experience a relatively enjoyable one. Software developers should focusing on creating great software. Why they obsess so openly about hardware specs and why they must by X or Y for a game to be a moneymaker is beyond me. The DS has proven if you build it, they will come. Square Enix, Ubisoft and Tecmo are just a few of the developers who “got it.” Why the Wii will be any different has not been sufficiently proven by any person, developer or analyst thus far other than the occasional half-assed “just because.”

All these points, of course, are readily available via a simple Google search. And, while I realize that our search foo skills are not as robust as we once believed, I do think they’re good enough to discover these games and easily dispell whatever myths have presisted about the Wii for the past year. So, if this information is so easily procured, what’s the deal? In my single, solitary and not-speaking-for-all-of-Infendo opinion, it’s quite simple: we’re starting to approach the cusp of the last gasp before the storm (mixed metaphor alert). One the one side are the developers who’ve made the decision to work and get a game that hums (and therefore makes money) on the Wii, just as so many did over the past three years with the Nintendo DS. On the other are those developers that believe only ports can succeed on the Wii, or mini-games, or any of the other labels that are used to demean the system because it’s different and therefore will always be perceived as too a difficult a task to undertake.

The future looks bright though, at least for those developers who’ve decided to make 2008 the year they’d seriously consider the Wii as a money making platform. The first half 2008 release list for the Wii is 90% 3rd party, and the DS list isn’t to shabby either. And yet, I’m still seeing the same recycled garbage from analysts and devlopers. It’s not surprising, but it’s my opinion this year will start to see much, much less of it. 2007 was the year where it was cool to complain, as is customary for etsbalished players to do with any disruptive technology, and 2008 will be the year the complainers put up or shut up.

It’s all just my two cents. The formula for success was established by the DS and will be enhanced by the Wii. It’s all but inevitable.