Will Nintendo Ever Get Third Party Support Right?

by Benjamin Yoder, posted on 21 July 2011 / 4,379 Views
Will Nintendo Ever Get Third Party Support Right?
Nintendo has done a lot for gaming in terms of hardware innovations, but when it comes down to it, we really appreciate them for their fantastic first party titles that make even some of their least successful systems worth looking into. With all this great support from within their own company and developers they've purchased, honestly it wouldn't be all that surprising if Nintendo could push a system entirely on their own. But it's in their best interest to make a stable platform, so they go after third parties as well. 
Early on, it's easy to say that Nintendo was successful in bringing in other publishers. Why? Because they essentially had a monopoly on the Japanese and North American market with the Nintendo Entertainment System (Europe was too busy enjoying a variety of other platforms, including the SEGA Master System). Thanks to the NES' popularity, Nintendo was basically able to hold third parties hostage by basically forcing them to make timed exclusive content that could only be ported two years after the NES release. If it weren't for the SEGA Genesis, the Super Nintendo probably would have held a similar choke hold, but their policies lightened up in the light of competition. But after the SNES, Nintendo has been struggling for third party content. The Nintendo 64, not only limited the space that developers could work with, but also increased the costs of manufacturing software, compared to the PS1's cheap disc format.
Ever since the launch of the Gamecube, Nintendo has been chasing third parties to get content on their system. And to a certain extent, it had worked. Nintendo Gamecube saw quite a few third party exclusives, including SEGA's Billy Hatchered, Activision's Lost Kingdoms series and Konami's Metal Gear Solid remake. Nintendo even had third party developers produce titles under Nintendo's own franchises like Star Fox Assault and Donkey Konga. Capcom's exclusivity deal, called Capcom Five, is the epitome of how all these deals turned out for third party publishers. The deal promised five Gamecube exclusives. One  was was canceled, the best three titles of the deal were ported to the PlayStation 2 for better financial performance, and one title, P.N.03, remained exclusive but wasn't received well from reviewers or consumers. With each platform, Nintendo continues to promise third party support. The Nintendo Wii saw plenty of third party exclusives, but it missed out on tons of the AAA experiences from the other platforms due the competition essentially being entirely different. And thanks to poor sales of third party titles that did hit the platform, the Wii is now in a dry spell from a third party perspective 
In all of this, Nintendo's handheld platforms have not seen any sort of problem in third party support. The Gameboy, Gameboy Advanced and Nintendo DS have had humongous line-ups of third party content. With the Nintendo 3DS early in its life, we can't judge third parties' future on the platform based off the current software releases, but the past shows proof the system will succeed in third party realm, right? Well, recently multiple titles have been delayed or flat out canceled. SEGA's Shinobi and Crush 3D have been pushed back due to the struggling 3DS market, Assassin's Creed 3DS was canceled, and Saint's Row is looking likely for cancellation as well. And finally, Capcom recently canned Mega Man Legends 3, although I'm sure the 3DS' troubles weren't the only factor in that decision. Will these titles determine the future of the 3DS? No, but it does show multiple publishers are disapproving of the market. 
Next year we will be seeing the Wii U launch. At E3 this year, they made a similar third party promise as they always have. Company names and franchises were thrown around, as well as the promise of third party ports, but its the same thing we've seen with the Wii and the Nintendo 3DS except with PS3 and Xbox 360 footage instead of just logos in a power point. The promise of HD visuals and a possible feature rich online infrastructure gives hope that this time around things will be different. But based off Nintendo's word alone, I wouldn't hold my breath. 

Nintendo has done a lot for gaming in terms of hardware innovations, but when it comes down to it, we really appreciate them for their fantastic first party titles that make even some of their least successful systems worth looking into. With all this great support from within their own company and developers they've purchased, honestly it wouldn't be all that surprising if Nintendo could push a system entirely on their own. But it's in their best interest to make a stable platform, so they go after third parties as well. 

Early on, it's easy to say that Nintendo was successful in bringing in other publishers. Why? Because they essentially had a monopoly on the Japanese and North American market with the Nintendo Entertainment System (Europeans were too busy enjoying a variety of other platforms, including the SEGA Master System). Thanks to the NES' popularity, Nintendo was basically able to hold third parties hostage by basically forcing them to make timed exclusive content that could only be ported two years after the NES release. If it weren't for the SEGA Genesis, the Super Nintendo probably would have held a similar choke hold, but their policies lightened up in the light of competition. But after the SNES, Nintendo has been struggling for third party content. The Nintendo 64, not only limited the space that developers could work with, but also increased the costs of manufacturing software, compared to the PS1's cheap disc format.

Ever since the launch of the Gamecube, Nintendo has been chasing third parties to get content on their system. And to a certain extent, it had worked. Nintendo Gamecube saw quite a few third party exclusives, including SEGA's Billy Hatchered, Activision's Lost Kingdoms series and Konami's Metal Gear Solid remake. Nintendo even had third party developers produce titles under Nintendo's own franchises like Star Fox Assault and Donkey Konga. Capcom's exclusivity deal, called Capcom Five, is the epitome of how all these deals turned out for third party publishers. The deal promised five Gamecube exclusives. One was was canceled, the best three titles of the deal were ported to the PlayStation 2 for better financial performance, and one title, P.N.03, remained exclusive but wasn't received well from reviewers or consumers. With each platform, Nintendo continues to promise third party support. The Nintendo Wii saw plenty of third party exclusives, but it missed out on tons of the AAA experiences from the other platforms due the competition essentially being entirely different. Thanks to poor sales of third party titles that did hit the platform, the Wii is now in a dry spell from a third party perspective 

In all of this, Nintendo's handheld platforms have not seen any sort of problem in third party support. The Gameboy, Gameboy Advanced and Nintendo DS have had humongous line-ups of third party content. With the Nintendo 3DS early in its life, we can't judge third parties' future on the platform based off the current software releases, but the past shows proof the system will succeed in third party realm, right? Well, recently multiple titles have been delayed or flat out canceled. SEGA's Crush3D has been pushed back due to the struggling 3DS market according to gamesindustry.biz (we can probably assume the same for they recent Shinobi delay), Assassin's Creed: Lost Legacy was canceled, and Saints Row: Drive-By is looking likely for cancellation as well. And finally, Capcom recently canned Mega Man Legends 3, although I'm sure the 3DS' troubles weren't the only factor in that decision. Will these titles determine the future of the 3DS? No, but it does show multiple publishers are disapproving of the market. 

Next year we will be seeing the Wii U launch. At E3 this year, they made a similar third party promise as they always have. Company names and franchises were thrown around, as well as the promise of third party ports, but its the same thing we've seen with the Wii and the Nintendo 3DS except with PS3 and Xbox 360 footage instead of just logos in a power point. The promise of HD visuals and a possible feature rich online infrastructure gives hope that this time around things will be different. But based off Nintendo's word alone, I wouldn't hold my breath. 


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14 Comments

RolStoppable (on 21 July 2011)

There's not much Nintendo can do when third parties don't want to be co-operative. It's like a man chasing a woman who is someone else's bitch (I think the choice of words is appropriate here). With the Wii we saw third party publishers pulling off million sellers early on (it took the launch title Red Steel only like four months to reach that figure), even yet another port of Resident Evil 4 blew past that figure with ease. The base was undoubtly there for third parties to find success, but they declined to follow up their early own hits and those of others with more games and instead did everything in their might to push the Wii into the "casual and kids games" corner. Test games like Dead Space Extraction were especially ridiculous, because the aforementioned Resident Evil 4 had already proven that TPS are absolutely viable on the Wii. With the Gamecube third party developers abandoned the platform, despite their games by and large pulling in similar numbers as their Xbox counterparts. The costs for a port back then were considerably lower than they are today between the 360 and PS3, so if you decide to port your PS2 game to the Xbox, you might as well make a GC version at the same time, but that stopped to be done after a while. It's these events that make me believe that this editorial is asking the wrong question. It shouldn't be "will Nintendo ever get third party support right?", but rather "do third parties want to get their support on Nintendo platforms right?". Because as the editorial rightly pointed out, the only instances where Nintendo got good third party support were when third parties saw no other option. This only becomes more evident when you look at the DS vs. PSP battle. Early on, third parties backed the PSP, leaving the DS only with the scraps. Then the DS took off and the PSP tanked, so third parties had to change their plans and the DS was flooded with a lot of quality software from third parties. That is, until the Monster Hunter phenomenon started on the PSP. This again caused a shift in third party support, because suddenly it looked like the PSP could actually be the viable platform it promised to be before it launched. Whenever third parties have the option to not develop for Nintendo, the majority of them will embrace that chance.


padib (on 21 July 2011)

Odd phenomenon, really.


  • +2
ampharos (on 21 July 2011)

Well, the question I'd have next is what influences them to seek to avoid Nintendo platforms? Is it possibly a Nintendo policy (or culture) that pushes developers away in some way or another? Or is it purely developer preference? Some mixture of both?


  • 0
RolStoppable (on 21 July 2011)

There are a couple of reasons, but they are all linked to Nintendo's first party strength.

Other console manufacturers are more likely to bend over for third parties, because they are more dependent on them to push hardware sales. Sony and Microsoft regularly buy exclusivity or timed exclusivity, whether it is the full game or just DLC. Nintendo can push their systems (almost) solely on the back of their first party software, so they feel far less inclined to spend money on third party games.

It's a question of who is in control of where the industry is going. Nintendo has an iron grip on their systems and they are usually tailored to whatever Nintendo feels like where they want to go (and it's their right, because launching a console means putting billions on the line). So that leaves third parties with whatever Nintendo wants them to work with. On the other hand, third parties have great influence on Sony and Microsoft, because these two companies actually need third parties to succeed. So not only do third parties get monetary benefits by working with Sony and MS, they also have a lot of say on how the system will be like. Those are good reasons why they greatly prefer working with other companies than Nintendo, even though Nintendo doesn't do anything fundamentally wrong.

Another reason is less business driven and mostly a question of ego. Nintendo's software sells insane amounts and often does so for months and in some cases even for years. So when looking at the bestsellers chart on a Nintendo system (whether that is monthly, yearly or of all-time), you won't find many, if any, third party games at the top. It's much easier for third parties to shine on a Sony or Microsoft platform. If CoD sold 10 million units on the Wii, then Nintendo games would still dominate.

Keep in mind that third parties didn't really like Sega all that much either for similar reasons which became particularly obvious with the Dreamcast that EA outright refused to support.


  • +3
baez1301 (on 22 July 2011)

Great speak man, you should be making articles here so we could get good reads more often


  • 0
Mr Khan (on 21 July 2011)

The more Nintendo has pushed its focus away from the industry and the pettiness of the third parties, the more Nintendo has prospered. Yes, Nintendo made a big push for 3rd party support in the GameCube era, and we know how well the GameCube did. With the Wii, Nintendo figured it out, gave third parties the middle finger that they so readily deserve, and prospered endlessly, and Nintendo tried to give third parties leeway here on the 3DS, and third parties sit and twiddle their thumbs The lesson here is that third parties are entirely irrelevant to Nintendo's success, and Nintendo shouldn't be doing a damn thing to cater to their demands, since it will only bring harm to Nintendo financially As a gamer, i'm a little more split on that, if only because i liked Monster Hunter Tri and would like to see more even if Nintendo has to moneyhat more MHs out of Capcom, but the big, financial pictures says that Nintendo should flip third parties the bird and leave them to drown in their own red ink


padib (on 21 July 2011)

Totally agree. They'll come back later to pick up the crumbs.


  • +2
notbitterbutbored (on 22 July 2011)

Nintendo tried to redress the balance by releasing the 3DS and holding back their big games. Result? The third parties produced absolutely dire launch games, resulting in the console not selling. It only started selling once Zelda was released. The fact that an update of a 14 year old game is the only reason to buy a new console says everything. Even when Nintendo give third parties the chance to succeed, they don't take the opportunity. The fact that they're now cancelling / delaying games due to poor sales of the console is just rubbing salt into the wound as they caused the situation in the first place.


Declan (on 22 July 2011)

I think an equally valid question is: will third parties ever get Nintendo support right? Nintendo platforms are supported by arguably the best games developer in the world - third parties need to produce their best efforts on such platforms if they want to compete. In recent years, they very seldom have (and too often when they have the games have not been marketed sufficiently).


NoirSon (on 22 July 2011)

To be honest, Shinobi was probably delayed because it looked like arse. I mean you can say "Oh they were going for a retro style" but the game looked bad and if released looking like that within a few months would have bombed. If Ninja Gaiden on the DS can look good, why can't Shinobi built for the 3DS?


oniyide (on 22 July 2011)

@Mr.Khan i agree with you on that. But im a gamer first. I dont receive any money from Ninty or Sony. So if Wii U will be Gamecube 2, im all for it. Loved the Cube


mouse_clicker (on 21 July 2011)

There's a few reasons Nintendo's had problems with 3rd party support. 1. During the NES and SNES days, Nintendo was an absolute dick to 3rd parties. It was a huge reason the Genesis did so well, because SEGA offered a pleasant alternative to Nintendo's draconian policies. The N64 and especially the Gamecube got dumped on majorly by 3rd parties in retribution, which was largely deserved and for the best. 2. Third parties hate single console exclusives, now more than ever, and any obstacle to porting their games to as many consoles as possible (e.g., the Gamecube's small disc size despite its impressive power and ease of programming, the Wii's relatively weak power and nonstandard controller despite its massive marketability and sales, and an overall lack of a workable online system on either console) results in it getting dumped. Third parties especially hate being forced to design a game specifically for one console. 3. The biggest issue: Nintendo's own games sell too well, are too popular, and are inextricably linked with the identity of Nintendo consoles. In other words, people buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo games and only look at 3rd party games afterwards. It's hard to compete with Nintendo's high level of quality, as well as the fact that all of their games are tailor made for their consoles, obviously, which will almost always look better than a port, no matter how well the port is handled. The first issue is mostly over. Nintendo can still be a bit quirky about who it offers licenses to, that kind of stuff, but they're mostly in line with everyone else now. The WiiU looks to fix the second issue that hit its peak with the Wii since it's not skimping on power, a worthwhile online system, and is not alienating game designers with the control system. ie, third parties can easily port a game from another console to the WiiU and know that it won't be held up by anything, but have the option and ability to explore new ideas if they want to. The third issue will always be an issue, and, honestly, it's an issue I would rather stick around.


Naum (on 22 July 2011)

I don't get the Title... Nintendo get what right? it sure as hell isn't their job


Phoeniks.Wright (on 21 July 2011)

I agree with RolStoppable here. 3rd parties seem to have never wanted to be on Nintendo consoles, since they jumped ship as soon as they could. The terrible support of the Wii was entirely the 3rd parties choice, and no amount of courting by Nintendo can change that, so there's no use in even trying. Also, why is it that you still believe in the myth of 3rd parties not selling well on the Wii? In one of the Nintendo investor Q&A, there's graphs showing the average sales of 3rd party games on all consoles. When CoD:MW2 was icluded, PS3&X360 had a higher average than the Wii, but if you removed it, the opposite was true. So no, the Wii was good for 3rd parties.


padib (on 21 July 2011)

Great article by the way. Well where history is concerned, Nintendo has served its punishment for dominating 3rd party developers, that time was over after N64 and then the GC, the humility lesson Nintendo went through is done. As some have pointed out in the forums, Nintendo is currently leaving breathing room for developers and that still isn't helping much. Also, an overshot forecast of 3DS sales hurt the business projections of 3rd parties, where some have had to retract. It's nobody's fault, shit happens. Hopefully Christmas will make everything right again.


EncodedNybble (on 21 July 2011)

Didn't RE0 remain a Nintendo exclusive? If not, I'm a moron and should have been playing that.....I really want to play that game :(


padib (on 21 July 2011)

Sooo... you'll only play it if it's not a Nintendo exclusive?


  • +1
PhalanxCO (on 22 July 2011)

Maybe he means that he doesn't have a Nintendo console and would have purchased the game on his console if he had known it was available. *shrugs*


  • 0
Hephaestos (on 21 July 2011)

i don't thik i can recall as much anti nintendo bias from 3rd parties as this gen...and i found the EA appearance at E3 lacking compared to the place Nint gave them.... they should be the ones we hear the most of, not ubi and thq.... but it seems as if their presence was forced.


menx64 (on 22 July 2011)

we need a thirdparty-less console from nintendo that´s it...


WiseOwl (on 21 July 2011)

I think this is their third stike and I will just wait and see if they wil pull it off.