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Monday Musings 2/13/17: How Nintendo can win back third parties on Switch


Jason Clement
  • Monday Musings is a feature where every Monday, I'll shoot the breeze about what I've been playing and what my thoughts are on various news and events in the game industry.

This week I'll be discussing something that's long been on my mind -- a topic that's especially relevant given that Nintendo's Switch launches in less than a month now. Of course, I'm referring to Nintendo's relationship with third parties (especially western publishers) and how they were quick to abandon the Wii U, but how Nintendo could begin to win them back.

 

How do they do such a thing? Is it even possible? I think it's definitely feasible, but a lot of it relies on Nintendo themselves. Hit the break to keep reading.

 

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Okay. So.

 

If you've regularly followed Nintendo news and trends regarding their consoles, you know very well that Nintendo's third-party support has been diminishing for years. The decline of third parties really started with the Nintendo 64, but surprisingly the Gamecube had more support than most probably remember, at least for the first 3 or 4 years. Wii had good support for the first four years or so (the games that weren't shovelware), but things really dried up for the Wii U after its first year on the market.

 

We've had countless articles from different writers across varying outlets with their opinions on how Nintendo could "win back" third-parties for years now -- everything from focusing more on hardcore gamers to making hardware that's on par with what Sony and Microsoft are offering and so on and so forth. You've likely heard almost everything in the book at this point.

 

And to put it bluntly, none of that is likely to work. Or at least not without tons of money behind it and possibly a generation or two of great reception from fans. But really, Nintendo doesn't have the luxury of waiting that long.

 

The real answer is actually laying right in front of them. That answer is two-fold.

 

First, before anything else, the Switch needs to sell. If it doesn't sell well, nothing else really matters.

 

But despite a meager launch lineup, things are looking promising for the Switch in the longterm. It already has a better and clearer message behind what it is and what it does -- much more so than the confusion the Wii U's messaging generated. The year one game lineup is looking pretty strong, starting with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and leading into an enhanced Mario Kart 8 port followed by Splatoon 2, ARMS, Fire Emblem Warriors, Super Mario Odyssey, and maybe even Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

 

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And that's what we know of; there might be even more announced at E3.

 

Anyways.

 

Let's say the Switch takes off. It's on track to sell... at least 8 million units this year.

 

The next thing that needs to be addressed is the reason behind Wii U third-party games selling poorly. Let's look some of them below.

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They didn't sell on Wii U because they were late releases of games released on better consoles

 

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Some gamers didn't like the gamepad controls and preferred Sony and Microsoft's controllers more

 

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Online multiplayer was largely gimped compared to Xbox and PlayStation

 

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Many game ports were not great ports, leading to them being the worst ports

 

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No trophy/achievement support

 

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People want to play games on the consoles that look best

 

Unfortunately, the only one that is largely out of Nintendo's power to address at this point is the last one. Some people want the best-looking experience. There's little Nintendo can do about that now.

 

The rest, however? They can all be addressed one way or another.

 

But as long as most of those bullet points remain unaddressed, expect them not to sell anything like their competitors' versions. And expect third-parties not to fully care or put any real effort into anything they put out on Switch that isn't exclusive or built exactly for it.

 

So. What does Nintendo do?

 

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They could pull strings behind the curtains with third-party publishers and work out some business deals by either offering greater ad support or higher revenue share of games. But realistically, that probably won't happen and we've yet to see it happen.

 

If Nintendo wants to show third-parties that their games have an audience and can sell on their console, they need to show proof. And what better way to show proof than creating it themselves?

 

Here's what I propose - if Nintendo wants to show publishers how serious they are about getting games to sell on the Switch, they need to make deals and do whatever they need to do to create great Switch ports of these games on their own, even if that means paying out of their own pocket to make it happen.

 

But I'm not talking about paying EA to get their devs to make a Switch port. That's counter-intuitive for a number of reasons. No. I'm saying Nintendo should largely take control of the Switch port, give it to one of their partners like Tantalus, and make sure it gets the quality port it needs.

 

This would require working closely both with the publisher as well as the developer who's creating the game. But Nintendo would be footing the majority or the entirety of the bill for the port. They depend on their port studio to deliver something excellent and right on par with what the core developer is putting out, as good as the Switch can handle.

 

The publisher then gets a revenue share in the port's sales, as they normally would. Ideally, there's little risk to them throughout the whole endeavor; the heavy lifting mostly falls on Nintendo to get it done. But even more so, they get proof of concept.

 

What happens when you remove that bullet list of why third party games supposedly don't sell on Nintendo platforms? Show them what happens. Address those points, grab the bull by the horns, and give them reason to believe there's worth in putting games out on Switch.

 

It won't be easy. And the results probably won't be immediate. But if Nintendo could do this experiment for a year or two, it's possible they could eventually reap the results they're looking for. People could see that Nintendo is serious about getting the best of the best third-party games on Switch and that they do have a chance of selling well when the playing field is more even, even if they would have a lower resolution and visual effects and such.

 

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Imagine having Mass Effect Andromeda release day and date on Switch. Sure, if you want the best visuals and performance, you'll play on PC. But imagine being able to play a version that's maybe a medium quality compared to the ultra high setting on PC. Except that you can play it anywhere, and it still looks great despite being on a tinier screen.

 

Imagine what the reaction would be to seeing people playing games like that on the subway. You'll always have your traditional gamers wanting to play at home, but don't think for a second that such a feature wouldn't be intriguing, even to those gamers.

 

Such an approach to acquiring third-party titles is definitely bullish and very unlike the Nintendo of now. Would they recoup their costs on such an endeavor? The odds point to no, at least not on the initial investment.

 

But imagine if they stuck with it, if people began to see Nintendo platforms as being on parity with other platforms in terms of the selection of third-party games, if not in terms of visuals. Imagine if that restored confidence in third-parties, and they began to flock back to Nintendo over time.

 

Something tells me that might be an idea well worth investing in.

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