There once was a time when third-party game developers would do anything (or would be forced to do anything) just to get on a Nintendo console. Those days have long since passed of course, but Nintendo is hoping to woo some back with the upcoming release of the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo has been pushing the fact that it has strong support from third-party developers for the Switch, but we have been down this road before and it is fair to wonder if that support will stay aboard for the long haul or if this is a short-lived experiment. Nintendo has to hope the Switch will be a unit developers see as easy to work with as is being advertised, but there is a growing concern about the third-party support already.
Nintendo held an official Nintendo Switch presentation last week and started to iron out some of the details for the new system, including the schedule and outline for confirmed game releases. The heavy hitters, of course, are The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on launch day (March 3, 2017) and the upcoming holiday release of Super Mario Odyssey (holiday 2017). Everybody knows Nintendo will do just fine with its main franchises, but the lineup of third-party titles had a noticeable and somewhat disappointing trend of having older games glossed up for the new system.
Skyrim is scheduled for a fall release on the Switch despite being available on other systems for years. The Switch will also get a version of Minecraft, which made its way to the WiiU in a late fashion and an updated version of a WiiU launch title, LEGO City Undercover and an updated version of Rayman Legends. EA Sports announced it will bring its FIFA franchise to the Switch that is supposedly “custom-built” for the Switch, but it appears will be just an updated version of a previous title from the previous generation of hardware.
Even Nintendo can’t avoid repackaging one of its biggest hits as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will hit shelves later this year too. The game was a smash hit on the WiiU, but how many people owned a WiiU? There is a potentially sizable audience that never got its hands on Nintendo’s latest racing fun, so repackaging it for the Switch makes sense if all goes according to plan for the company. And with the Switch not being backward compatible (it takes cartridges, not discs!), it’s the only way to go for now.
As I mentioned in the latest episode of The Hyrule Huddle Podcast, there may be a good reason why third-party developers are bringing older games to the Nintendo Switch first. Simply put, it is the least financially risky move for them as they give Nintendo a chance to prove what it can do.
Put yourself in the shoes of the third-party developer. Nintendo has come to you offering its most developer-friendly console in years but you know Nintendo has been trending downward in the home console game for a while now. Nintendo has not been the most developer-friendly company to work with due to its hardware and being so different from the other giants in the industry. Understandably, given Nintendo’s recent history, you would feel a bit cautious about Nintendo’s future. With that in mind, you still want to give Nintendo a chance to see what can happen but you may not want to invest in building a brand new game from scratch or putting in the resources to do a full port of a current game with the fear and hesitation that Nintendo could ultimately disappoint you once again. What do you do instead?
Take a game you feel comfortable with, get your hands on Nintendo’s development hardware and start running through the process to see just how the hardware works and focusing on that and learning what you can. Taking a game that is already complete and fixing it up with a few tweaks here and there, and perhaps learning some new features that can be added on a whim using the new Switch hardware, is less demanding on time and resources for a third-party developer for its first test run on the new system. If it all goes smoothly and Nintendo proves it can turn around its trajectory in the home console business, those third-party companies may be more inclined to stick with the Switch in the future.
Success may not necessarily be determined by how many copies a game sells in a company’s first foray into the Nintendo Switch. If those companies come away knowing how much more friendly it is to develop for the Switch as has been suggested in recent months, and Nintendo shows strong sales numbers for the Switch, then the third-party support for the Switch will have a chance to be on the same level as Sony and Microsoft, or at least closer to it than during the run of the Wii and Wii U.
There may e another factor to keep in mind as well. Developers know there are some gamers out there who have never owned a PlayStation or an Xbox, or even a WiiU. Offering a title they feel is worth sharing for a potentially new audience makes sense, and happens all the time. One just needs to look at the Super Nintendo, for example. Sim City was a PC classic when released in 1989. Two years later, it became a hit on the Super Nintendo. The SNES version of the game was the first dip into the world of Sim City for many, including this Sim City-loving author. And what about having Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Dig-Dug and countless other arcade classics on the NES? Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES? Older games being released on newer consoles is nothing new, and it will continue to happen on systems released by Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft.
What do you think about Nintendo’s third-party support out of the gates? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about Nintendo’s future with the Switch and partners in game development? Share your comments and reactions in the comment section below.