This year's E3 unveiled what the future holds for Nintendo with the Wii U, and while some promise and hope for a worthy succesor to the Wii exists, I am down right pessimistic about the chances that this will be more than a just another Nintendo game machine. Here are a few reasons why third-party games just aren't going to matter.
Nintendo's new (old) position in the gaming space
Nintendo's current audience fits two distinct groups: families and nostalgic adults.
Since the begining, Nintendo has striven for more family-friendly titles. While times have changed in terms of graphical horsepower and genre demands, Nintendo titles classically stick to solid gameplay with a coat of fun and brightness painted over the top. Metroid and Zelda games even sway between the more modern focus on mature storytelling and situations and the classic Nintendo lightheartedness.
The advent of the Wii took Nintendo's family-friendly titles one step further — from games to the console itself. Initially, the Wii paid off in spades for the company, but the system has ultimately alienated fans of more mature titles. Those games were either unable to be released on the Wii due to graphical limitations or (for those that did grace the system) they did not perform financially. The past five years have sent third-party companies packing and scratching their heads about how they could do so poorly on a console that has sold so well.
The Wii's legacy leads me to believe that few third-party companies will be willing to do anything more than port at this point — not a good sign for a console that is going to need to ride (once again) on its unique capabilites.
Nintendo's abysmal online functionality
Even among the Nintendo faithful, you won't find too many apologetics for the Wii's online features: They are poor to say the least. At E3, virtually no time was spent discussing how online play will work for the Wii U. While Nintendo has released no official word, the company will need to have some sort of answer to the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.
But as a prime example of how this will probably play out, let's look at the early days of PSN. Microsoft had more than a year's head start on Sony for developing a great, fleshed-out online component to their console. Sony spent years getting feature paritity with Live — dozens of firmware updates later, and it is arguable that Sony's offerings still fall somewhat short.
Both of the online networks' core features are similar enough, though, that they are comparable to each other. It took PSN five years to get to this point, and Microsoft has itterated on their Live technology multple times over. Nintendo is facing an incredibly difficult battle aganist both PSN and Live.
It's a battle that I just don't think Nintendo can win.
Trophies, achievements, and friend lists
Let's say that Nintendo can actually get their online strategy together and working. Then let's say that they can convince most third-party publishers to port their games over. At the end of the day, it won't matter because of the final nail in the third-party coffin: The seventh console generation is the first where we actually have profiles and data that have tracked our experiences.
We have made friends, connected with others, unlocked achievements/trophies, purchased DLC, purchased/unlocked avatar items, and so on. We have made ourselves at home on PSN and Live. Part of our gaming identity is now associated directly to our console. Nintendo on the other hand, has created almost nothing for us to return to when we move from Wii to Wii U. You can bet that both Sony and Microsoft will make sure that everything that is connected to your profile is transfered over when their next systems come out.
Sure, the next Call of Duty could come out for the Wii U, but your friends aren't there, your achievments aren't there, and the bonus avatar content isn't there (can you see your Mii rocking a machine gun from CoD? I can't). So who will care if CoD comes out for the Wii U, then?
Nintendo did the right thing by ensuring that today's modern games are portable to the Wii U. They will be able to pull some gamers in with third-party ports, but when Sony and Microsoft eventually announce their next consoles in the coming years, it will mean the Wii U will be behind again.
Can Nintendo build a solid online component in intermediate time? Will the Wii's casual and family-friendly stigma continue to keep core gamers away? Will Nintendo come up with an answer to achievements? As I said, I am pretty pessimistic about Nintendo's chances of succeeding on any of these fronts.
Certainly, this doesn't mean the Wii U is destined to failure. Nintendo consoles strive on the company's ability to innovate and provide solid, nostalgic updates to classic games. The Wii U will be no different — just know that you will probably walk past the Wii U version of CoD to pick up your 360 or PS3 version.
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