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Does Nintendo still have a Third Party problem?

Originally, this was going to be just a simple news article. A developer said something, some folk don’t agree with what developer said, and here we all are today. But as much as that would have given me far more time to stare endlessly into the bleak void that my life’s becoming, the contents of the story I intended to cover spoke of a much bigger issue bubbling away in the background of the current video game world. It also gave me an opportunity to indulge in what you’re probably starting to notice is one of my favourite past-times for filling that void – complaining about companies in the video game industry. With all that said, let’s have a brief chat about Nintendo and Third Party development.

It was a few days ago now that a Dualshockers article was published in which Ace Combat 7’s producer, Kazutoki Kono, raised doubts about the capabilities of Nintendo’s shiny new (although good God, how has the Switch been out for nearly 6 months now?) console to technically handle the flying-themed game. It was an innocuous comment, barely a paragraph long and complete with an assurance that the Switch was a ‘very attractive platform’, but even so it got the gears turning for me and many other folks.

I don’t know anything about Ace Combat except that it involves planes and there’s probably still fanfiction concerning it. I don’t particularly care to know more, it’s not my sort of game. But it is, to throw a wide net over the term, a ‘mature’ game – or at least, mature by Nintendo’s standards. Ultimately, Ace Combat 7 isn’t even what I really want to discuss. The point is that it made me consider something I haven’t before; is Nintendo intentionally limiting itself to make it difficult for third party developers to create, or at least publish, their ‘mainstream’ games on its platforms?

This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but it wouldn’t be the first time Nintendo’s done something that seems to defy all business sense. On-going claims of artificially created scarcity seem to dog the release of every product Nintendo publishes nowadays be it Amiibo, the NES Classic, or more recently the SNES Classic which looks to be repeating many of the mistakes of its predecessors. Nintendo has also been rather archaic in sticking to a model where release dates for even first party games or hardware can be staggered internationally. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was not even released here in the UK at the same time as the rest of Europe, unceremoniously appearing on shelves just after Christmas rather than during the advertised January period. Then there was this chart, released in the weeks’ prior to the Switch’s launch;

By now many of these games are beginning to materialise, at least into the Pre-Order phase. Yet, many of the third party offerings have a distinctly Indie feel to them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing of course, but titles such as FIFA and Skyrim are few and far between. Where are the Call of Duties, the Dishonoureds, the Fallouts? Hardcore Nintendo fans may roll their eyes and tell me that those games don’t appeal to Nintendo’s core audience, but surely presenting the option can do no harm to those who would like the Switch to be more than Mario and Zelda simulator 2017 edition?

Even the big-name third party games that do exist seem to get the short end of the Switch’s stick; as well as defaulting at 30FPS (if you care about that sort of thing), it’s highly unlikely that Skyrim will feature mod support and will most probably cost in the range of £/$60 for a six-year-old game. With those limitations potentially affecting sales, I wouldn’t blame any third party group for being wary of the Switch.

I’m hardly the first one to claim Nintendo needs more third party in its library, and I’m not the only one to claim Nintendo needs more adult-oriented games either. If you like to use forums to judge actual public opinion, like I do, then you can see such discussions happening around the release date of the Switch itself. Forums of course tend to attract a certain very passionate character, but the point remains that I’m not the only one that’s noticed what seems to be a lingering aversion within Nintendo to third party software. There could be good reasons for this aversion, of course. The criticisms the Xbox One has received showcase the importance of in-house exclusives. The Switch’s unique position as trying to be both a mobile and home system also imposes understandable technological limitations, and at first I simply assumed this accounted entirely for the third party dearth. The more I think about it, however, the more I wonder whether those limitations exist purely because Nintendo doesn’t want to try for better.

Ultimately, I have nothing in the way of ‘proof’ for this theory; I’m a no-one shouting into the wind, and I don’t have industry connections or a great technical understanding of what Nintendo can and cannot achieve. My purpose with this article was merely to remind folks of a problem the company’s hand for a long while now, and one that contributed very much to the Wii U’s issues. I don’t think the Switch will be another Wii U; it already seems to have had far more success than its predecessor ever did, at least in terms of getting its name out. But it’s something to consider, to bear in mind, and to be wary of. Even giants need a little nudge, now and again.

What do you think? Should Nintendo be trying harder to increase its third party appeal, or is the Switch in a safe enough position that it can rest easy for the near future?

Jordan Green View All

At age seven, Jordan wanted to be a paleontologist. That went well. He now fills the void by writing on all manner of mildly-interesting topics - when he finds time in between complaining how everything was better in the 'good old days', that is.