There has been a lot of Nintendo news in the last couple of days. But the more I look at the bigger picture that Nintendo is painting, the more worried I get that it does not have the Gamer, (Indie) Developer, or Newly Addicted Casual Player at heart. Now, I must confess, I was never a Nintendo Fanboy. Sure the early systems were amazing, but I was one of the few who always found that the potential held by the competition was better than the success in mediocrity that Nintendo was achieving. Lately, Nintendo has been stretching itself creatively, and succeeding in both the market and in design. I went from owning no Nintendo systems to buying a GameBoy Advance SP, a Nintendo DS, and finally a Wii in the span of 3-4 years. I have great expectations, I just have a cynical nature... See below.
The biggest WiiNews since the name change. Nintendo has announced WiiWare, a downloadable content arcade open to indie developers as well as larger studios. The new downloads are slated to work in a similar fashion to the Virtual Console titles. Read the Scoop, and the Press Release for the reported low-down.
So is this the killer app everyone has been hoping for? Will it open the doors wide to the creative and dedicated new talents of the indie developer community? Will the walls of traditional gaming come tumbling down under the onslaught of small studio content revolution? In a word: No. There are two very clear reasons why not.
The first is that Nintendo claims it will not be vetting content. I can hear cheers rising from the wings already. The downside is that this means that small developers are going to have to fork over the cash and time to get ESRB (or equivalent) ratings. This is a big hurdle for small studios that are not positioned, and have never needed, to deal with the big market players. This also means that AO (Adults Only) content will be shunned by Nintendo,who still hold the keys to the Mushroom Kingdom.
Speaking of keys, Nintendo will also be determining pricing. I'll make the cynical assumption that they will also likely determine how much of that trickles back to the developer. Hoping to release your game as free-to-play? Not unless Nintendo says so. And why would they release free content, when they hold the means to distribution? Expect to pay for those arcade titles, and indie titles, and don't expect to see anything that is inventive and creative just for the sake of experimentation.
The idea is sound. In fact the idea is fantastic. Nintendo is just being a little conservative. By not offering an in-house, or cheap alternative rating system they are going to block a lot of first-time and small-scale developers. By controlling the means of distribution, they are ensuring that only the content they approve will really be available, even if they claim otherwise. It's what they have always done. Nintendo has always been careful of what they sign their name to, and that isn't going to change any time soon. The doors have not really been flung wide, just opened to the select few Nintendo thinks might be a good investment. You are still going to have to look and talk right to get into their party.
If I say "Pokemon" you will either smile wistfully or cringe. Either way, you'll know what I'm talking about. With the release of the umpteenth edition of Pokemon for the DS, the series continues unabated for another generation. And for a second time (third, fourth?) it attempts to leap from hand-held to console, debuting on the Wii. My complaint isn't with Pokemon. I can't play the game, it drives me nuts. Between my obsessive compulsive nature and the repetitive collection mechanic, it both irritates and addicts me to the point of obsession and boredom. I've learned to avoid things like this (well, except for Animal Crossing, and I think I've kicked that habit now).
But back to my complaint. Why is the first game on the Wii that uses DS connectivity and WiFi gameplay not really a game. Not only is it not really a game, it's merely a sales vehicle for a completely different system. If you buy Pokemon Battle Revolution without first owning a DS and a copy of Pokemon Diamond or Pearl you will find yourself in the possession of a shell of a game. You will be able to play with a "Rental Pass" (their term) and use a slimmed down selection of Pokemon. Basically the game is telling you to go out and buy a Pokemon DS game.
Gamers have waited expectantly to use the unique touch interface of the DS on a full-sized game, and the first thing we are fed is a fancy visualizer for another game. While the game supports upto 4 players (each needing a DS) each player needs their own DS Pokemon cart.
It seems to me that Nintendo is ignoring the opportunity for new gameplay, and community growth in favour of selling more product. Their first priority is a game that will merchandise rather than a game that will evangelize. I guess it was too much to hope for a change in corporate policy.
I never owned a GameCube. Now I don't have to. After all with full hardware backwards compatibility I can play all the GameCube games I want on my Wii. There are dozens of great looking games that I have played, and want to play, that should only be a trip to the local GameHustler away. Except that Nintendo has all but killed their GameCube support. Releases for the system are hard to find (are they even pressing new discs anymore?), with selections in the scant dozens from a library of hundreds. And I can't find a WaveBird anywhere.
Why include a backwards compatible option on a system designed to capture new users if you don't intend to support -- or even make available -- that existing library of games? Why provide hardware ports if you can barely find controllers for them? Why make a wireless controller and then stop when everything has gone wireless? This seems to me like a dumb way to support your older content, and your new players.
Sony (back when they were sane, and capable of making a good business decision) built the PS2 to be backwards compatible because they new it would snow under the competition. When everyone was releasing new systems and had only launch titles to satisfy the rabid masses, the PS2 had a huge, and well supported library of games to fall back on. Buying a PS2 right away was smart because you had things to play. And Sony supported the library. For a good long time. I think Nintendo forgot that last part.