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3 Sep 2013

Will Wii U Ever Have Solid Third-Party Support? Not According to Bethesda

Bethesda vice president Pete Hines conducted an interview with GameTrailers recently, and revealed that Bethesda is currently uninterested in developing games for Nintendo’s Wii U. In fact, there seems to be an extremely slim chance that Bethesda will ever develop a title to the relatively new console:

“Honestly, it’s not something I spend a lot of time thinking about,” said Hines.

Why is that, exactly? One would think many Wii U owners would love to play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on their Wii U, and the aspect of using the Wii U’s touchpad controller to manage inventory, choose dialogue options, cast spells, aim one’s bow, and beyond? It’s enough to get any Skyrim fanatic excited. Yet, Hines is not the only third-party developer that has opted not to support the Wii U: far from it.

“You have to do what Sony and Microsoft have been doing with us for a long time,” said Hines. “It’s not that every time we met with them we got all the answers that we wanted, but they involved us very early on, talking to folks like Bethesda and Gearbox, saying, ‘Here’s what we’re doing, here’s what we’re planning, here’s how we think it’s going to work,’ to hear what we thought, from our tech guys, and from an experience standpoint.”

Hines continued:

“You have to spend an unbelievable amount of time upfront doing that. If you’re going to sort of decide, ‘Well, we’re going to make a box and this is how it’s going to work, and you should make games for it,’ – well, no! No is my answer! I’m going to focus on other ones that better support what it is we’re trying to do. You’ve got to spend more time trying to reach out to those folks before you even make the box when you’re still designing it and thinking about how it’s going to work.”

Hines answer is the reason why so many developers (especially those developing AAA titles) have opted to support Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 instead of Nintendo’s Wii U: they feel more confident in Microsoft and Sony’s consoles. If a company is aiming to launch a new console, they have to form a business relationship with developers years before their respective release dates. Developers will undoubtedly have questions regarding a console for years as it goes through the development process, and as a result, they need to know every detail (no matter how miniscule it may seem) behind a console before they make the decision to support it. Moreover, they need to have the solace to know that if any questions arise, Microsoft, Sony – whoever the company behind the console may be – will be there to work alongside them and answer any questions they may have. In short, developers need to ‘clued in’ on the entire development process of a console from start to finish instead of watching it from the sidelines.

And if a company that aims to release a console fails to form this type of relationship? Developers are not going to support them – and they should not be surprised when they do not. There is always risk involved in releasing AAA titles, even among games that are nearly guaranteed to sell millions of copies at launch such as the Call of Duty series. If a console remains a ‘mystery box’ to AAA developers besides the type of hardware that resides inside the console, then almost every AAA developer is going make a calculated decision not to support the console. Think of it this way:

  • If projections show that ‘X’ developer can earn a profit of ‘XX’ amount of dollars by developing their game on consoles ‘V’ and ‘W,’ yet projections show they may actually lose money by releasing the same game on ‘Y’ console, ‘X’ developer is going to make the logical conclusion to not support ‘Y’ console.

Now, the logical question is, ‘where did these projections stem from?’ How does ‘X’ developer know they will lose money by releasing their game on the ‘Y’ console? The answer to that is easy: because the companies developing consoles ‘V’ and ‘W’ opted to form a business relationship with ‘X’ developer from when both consoles were merely ideas to the present. Every decision a developer has to make must be calculated, and if a console seems to be a gamble? The AAA developer would be wise to pass.

Information and business relationships are key to the third-party support a console will obtain; not how impressive a certain feature is for a particular console. Sure, the Wii U’s touch-based capabilities are interesting, but if developers do not have the confidence to develop for the console? The feature is meaningless. Nintendo has yet to learn this, yet if Hines is correct, Nintendo’s ‘window of opportunity’ for third-party support is long gone, spelling terrible news for Nintendo.

Is it too early to call the Wii U a lost cause? Yes, but if Nintendo does not change how they form business relationships now, the Wii U could become one of Nintendo’s biggest failures ever.

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