Will People Actually Make Games For The Wii U?

Ever since the Wii-U’s unveiling at last year’s E3 I think the number one concern for the platform has been 3rd party support. That’s been Nintendo’s main problem since the N64. We’ll have almost no news about the Wii-U’s game lineup until the next E3, but what little we are getting is already making people pessimistic.

Given that the Wii-U will probably at least be in the same range of power as the Xbox 360 and PS3 (the developers of Aliens: Colonial Marines confirm it at least has more RAM than either), you’d at least expect the big upcoming AAA games to get ported over. Last E3’s starting game announcements like Darksiders II and Metro: Last Light confirm that, but the announcements of some of 2012’s big games not coming to the Wii-U are already dashing hopes of Nintendo’s improved relationship with 3rd parties.

The way I see it, Nintendo’s main problem right now is attracting the western third parties, who basically rule the core market on consoles right now. From my perspective they seem to have patched up relations with Japanese third parties during the Gamecube years – Capcom, Square Enix, Sega, and others having been supportive in their own ways. A lot of these western guys however just came off of the PC within the last decade and have no previous relationship with Nintendo. That’s on top of the developers that abandoned the Gamecube during its later years.

The first indication of this we got was when Bioshock Infinite design lead Ken Levine stated they didn’t have any plans for the Wii-U (you gotta remember, BioShock was Irrational’s first console game). Most recently this week we’ve got Crytek’s announcement that they don’t have any plans for a Wii-U version of Crysis 3.

That’s not to say Crytek isn’t doing anything on the console – Crytek UK is already doing a Wii-U Version of Homefront 2, and they’ve confirmed that they already have the CryEngine 3 running on the system. The story Crytek Frankfurt (Crysis 3) gave was that they didn’t have the resources to develop a AAA game like this for four platforms (especially with Crytek UK busy).

It technically makes sense to focus on the platforms that have installed bases now, which could also explain why they aren’t just delaying Crysis 3 for six months and releasing it on Microsoft’s and Sony’s next gen systems. That opens up the same issue Nintendo faced with the Gamecube though – being the last platform. Most Gamecube ports were handled by b-teams, and a lot of them came out sloppy which damaged the consumer base for those games on Nintendo hardware.

Lack of consumer base has been another prevalent explanation throughout the years for third parties declining to develop on Nintendo, but that’s a chicken-and-egg scenario. For a consumer base to appear on a platform a company has to build it with killer apps – the Xbox became the shooter platform because of Halo and Gears, the PlayStation became the RPG platform because of Final Fantasy. Third parties can’t just wait for that consumer base to appear, and that’s why Nintendo hardware get’s known for Nintendo games – because no one else really does much on it.

You could say that one option left to Nintendo would be to subsidize those starting killer apps like Microsoft did. We have no idea what Retro is working on for the Wii-U for starters. Nintendo could also technically offer to publish an exclusive “core” game like Microsoft has with Gears, or buy out more companies like Retro and Monolith. They at least have the cash to do so to get the ball rolling and create consumer bases on the Wii-U for certain kinds of games. They already probably moneyhatted the 3DS version of Monster Hunter Tri-G.

The few companies that have built a base on Nintendo and benefitted from it include Capcom, Sega, Namco, and Grasshopper. The reason Resident Evil does well on the Wii and 3DS today is because Capcom released good RE games for the Gamecube. Grasshopper’s Killer 7 on the Gamecube created the base for No More Heroes on the Wii. Then you have how Namco released Soul Calibur II – a popular game on the Gamecube, and hasn’t released a fighter on a Nintendo platform since, much to the ire of Wii owners. Maybe that’s why they’re finally deciding to bring a Tekken game to a Nintendo console.

This however is why Capcom’s denial of a Wii-U version of Resident Evil 6 “at this time” is the absence that surprises me the most. I think Capcom brought out another popular explanation – the controller.

That was understandable with the Wii, since its motion controls tried to replace the conventional controller. The Wii-U’s touch screen however is simply an addition to it. Every time a new platform brings some innovation developers wring their hands trying to utilize it before just relaxing and making sensible games for it. That’s one area in which I think Japanese third parties will have a leg up, since most of them have worked on DS games.

I guess it is kind of tough figuring out uses tor that touch screen at the concept level though. You’d imagine that RPGs and team sports games would be ideal, but what would you do for a shooter? I wouldn’t expect the promises of “unique” games for the Wii-U from some of these developers to pan out though – they never panned out for the Wii.

Anyway, the only two big third parties that seem to be front-and-center for the Wii-U right now are THQ and, as always, Ubisoft. With Assassin’s Creed III and Ghost Recon Online already confirmed, I think the next Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six Patriots are shoe-ins. EA will most likely throw out ports of their big internal multiplatform games (they don’t own Crytek). What remains to be seen is if they can make BioWare, Visceral, or DICE put out Wii-U versions of their games. I would be shocked if Activision didn’t have a Wii-U version of the next Call of Duty ready for launch. The publisher I’m worried most about however is Take-Two.

We’ve already heard Irrational’s plans, but what about the rest of 2K games, and more importantly Rockstar? Some people are putting a lot of importance on there being a Wii-U version of Grand Theft Auto V. If they could get that out at launch I think it would be a great sign, but I would honestly be surprised if it did.

This is really the reason why we’re all so excited for E3 2012 which is little over a month away. We really won’t know anything about anything until then, and anything said before that is pretty much just speculation.

On top of that, all of this is just talking about the next 12-to-18 months. We will probably have no idea how powerful Microsoft’s and Sony’s upcoming systems will be – and thus how “underpowered” the Wii-U will be, until E3 2013.

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