Event Releases – A business model for Nintendo

January 28, 2011

It´s really hard to decide what to write about these days. Just today, Sony announced its PSP2-handheld, which looks as hot and shiny as its predecessor did back in 2004. Then, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Swords keeps on feeling farther and farther away from its release-date. And lastly, the way Nintendo handles the Wii becomes odder with every day. And I guess that´s something I´ll write about, though I´ll focus on a specific part of the recurring dilemma: Nintendo´s third-party relations.

No matter what happens, Nintendo seemingly can´t win when it comes to third-party games. The GameCube was a powerful system, only bested by Xbox, and only got what was left over on the multiplatform table. The Wii is tracking on par with PlayStation 2 at the same time in its life, and release lists are empty. They´re simply empty, third parties refuse to deliver anything that goes beyond a cheap party-game. Even on the Nintendo DS, the de facto most successful videogame system of all times, western developers completely ignore the portable. Now, the 3DS is about to launch, but somehow I´ve got a bad feeling about the support of Capcom and Square Enix, especially when it comes to Sony´s PSP2, which will see their support, too, and likely an even better one. So, with all those examples of how Nintendo failed at gaining third-party support, what´s left to do? Is there no solution?

Well, there is. At least, that´s what I´d like to claim. And there´s even a bit of an early proof of what I´m going to detail when you take a look at the Nintendo 3DS´ launch-lineup. The big first-party titles for launch are some bizarre submarine-game and the cutey-cute Nintendogs-sequel. That´s it. Pilotwings Resort´s going to be released rather sooner than later, but the two biggest inhouse-developments, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Ocarina of Time 3D are delayed till after E3, as Reginald “Reggie” Fils-Aime announced just days ago. In other words: Nintendo is granting third-party developers/publishers at least half a year to fight software-sales out by themselves. And even afterwards, what is it that Nintendo has to offer? Remakes and an arcadey flight-shooter? We saw how well Sin and Punishment 2 sold …

But that is exactly the way Nintendo has to pan out its first party-releases! If they want to acquire third-party support, that is. The one old, big (,and stupid) argument that these developers always made is that Nintendo-fans only buy Nintendo-games. Be it because Nintendo-fans are such fanboys or because Nintendo-games are so much better in quality, you choose, he! Anyway, if there weren´t that many Nintendo-games to begin with, even the most rabbid fanboys will be forced to take a look at third party-offerings, if they want something to play. And if that were the case, no third party-developer would have the right to complain about some kind of unfair competition – there wouldn´t be anymore direct competition with Nintendo!

But wait! That leaves us with a question: How is Nintendo supposed to make money with software? You know, since they´re a gaming company first and foremost! That´s the tricky part, and it is a concept that could only ever work with Nintendo. Both complaint and necessity, Nintendo heavily relies on its famous IPs. Some are sick of them, others can´t get enough of them. And surely, the latter mark the majority.  But that is not a problem. Instead of handling its first party-titles like normal video game releases, just putting them out like any other developer does, Nintendo has to change their games´ public image away from the status of “just another game“, and towards something more similar to an event altogether. The best example to give you a better image of that concept would be to take a look at Dragon Quest. The mainline Dragon Quest-series is not just some game, it´s an event. We all know the photos of waiting lines in Japan. I don´t know if that´s still the case, but I believe to remember something about Japanese children getting one day off school whenever a DQ-game is released. That´s how much of an event that “game” is. Of course, it´s not necessary to take it that far, but it´s the same principle: Make your franchises into something special. Something gamers will look forward to, no matter the specifics.

Putting a bit more detail into that plan, think of it like that: Nintendo has several popular franchises. Those would be Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Smash Bros., Donkey Kong, Kirby, Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, Starfox, F-Zero, Pikmin, Pokemon. And many others. Now, if we remember the past few Nintendo-systems, there has almost never been more than one installment of each series, two at maximum. What to do is the following: Screw all possible spilled details about these games until shortly prior to their release dates. But do announce them a long time before the actual release happens. Also, pan their releases out evenly and scarce over the year. I would have to count all franchises to create a precise time table, but how about three games a year for each platform? That would mean that every four months, a new Nintendo-title is released, giving third parties a lot of time for their games. Meanwhile, Nintendo-fans have a release-list that looks like the following:

  • January #1: Kirby
  • July #1: Animal Crossing
  • November #1: Zelda
  • January #2: F-Zero
  • July #2: Pokemon
  • November #2: Mario

That would be Nintendo´s release-list for two years. And we would know of this list at least a year before the first game´s release. All we´d know would be “Kirby” releases next year´s January. We wouldn´t know what it looks like, what its subtitle is, or gameplay-ideas it incorporates. It´d simply be the “Kirby-day”. And all the details wouldn´t matter, because damn, it´s freaking Kirby! But maybe you´d have an easier time seeing the idea behind that concept if I used Zelda or Mario, but I think you get it. Let´s be honest: We weren´t interested or hyped for Twilight Princess because of “yay, transforming into a wolf!” or “hm, I´m really excited who this princess is going to be!“. We were hyped because, you already know it, IT´S ZELDA! The same goes for Mario, Metroid and most of Nintendo´s franchises. We´re interested because we know how great these franchises have always been, how they rarely disappointed. Details are unnecessary, and to get these games to the general public, a short marketing campaign shortly prior to release should be well enough. So, not only would it spare fans from spoiling themselves (thanks, Gametrailers, for spoiling me the Zoras in TP! Yeah, still bitter about that …), it´d also change how not only we, the gamers, view those Nintendo-games, it also would create an opportunity for both Nintendo AND third party-developers.

Seeing how Nintendo runs into problems sooner or later with every new console generation, how they cannot continuously support a system by themselves (not while satisfying enthusiasts) and how such planned out release dates would only help each IP´s installment to get all the polish it really need, that would be a concept to solve these problems. Just in case you think that would be too little releases, please take into account how Nintendo-games tend to be evergreens. A status that would only be strengthened by treating these titles as events. And if after all that Capcom, Square Enix, Electronic Arts, Activision or Konami are then still arguing about Nintendo´s software being too dominant, they can go **** themselves. Feel free to agree.


Sidenote about Metroid: Other M (includes endgame-spoiler)

November 21, 2010

Had some other game done something like the powerbomb usage at the end of Metroid: Other M without informing the player directly prior to the fight, but left it at mentioning the strength of the powerbomb only in the very beginning, THAT game would have been praised by the very same people, that are now complaining about it,  for its artistic, innovative choice. Did I like the way it played out? No, but then I also don´t care about games being artistic or not.


Relevant Continuity in Video Games

November 13, 2010

When reading a book-series or popular movie that is sure to see some sequels, you´ll most of the time get a fine, continuous piece of story. Even though each book or movie is fine by itself, the follow-up will make it clear to the audience that what happened in the past is relevant for the present time. That doesn´t hold true for video games.

Most video games are fully enclosed products, standing on their own. That is fine as long as a publisher doesn´t decide to turn that single game into a recurring franchise. Even though nowadays video games have become big, epic and, unfortunately, very cinematic experiences, they don´t really try to tell ongoing stories. Instead, they welcome you with the same main character and have you start a whole new mission. What happened in the previous game is but a page out of a book, it bears no more relevancy to the new plot. Part of that is also that video game makers aren´t daring enough with changing the main character. Having him develop both in terms of looks and behavior depending on his past adventures. It´s always the very same dude/girl. Be it Uncharted or Tomb Raider, Mario or a hundred else franchises – never do you get to know the bigger picture, never happens something of permanent relevance.

Each game exists as an individual experience

 

There are examples of games that successfully achieve such relevant continuity throughout their various installments, but these are rare and even then often rather shallow. Most prominent example would be the Mass Effect-franchise. Of course, being a western-rpg it is easier to include permanent developments since it is the players decision of what to do or not to do. Also, Bioware has the franchise planned as a trilogy from the beginning, so there is no uncertainty about how to proceed with what you have. Two other good examples, surprisingly, come from Nintendo. As much as story is not a big part of Nintendo-games, both Metroid and Zelda succeeded in creating a big overarching continuity that bears relevance to future and past games. Be it Samus destroying the home planet of the Metroids, later on fighting Mother Brain and then herself aka SA-X – each game takes its prequels into consideration. On a less pronounced basis, the same is true for The Legend of Zelda. This series´ fans are famous for their timeline-talks, and while I personally wouldn´t take pre-OoT-Zeldas into such talk, Ocarina of Time definitely started a continuous story that saw relevance even in the latest console-title Twilight Princess, showing scenes of Ganondorf and what happened to him in the aftermath of OoT. And then there´s the Triforce-mythology that overarchs each and every series-entry. Even the upcoming Skyward Sword seems to relevantly further the whole franchise´s continuity by showing fans the origins of the Master Sword. One very popular Konami-franchise also is known for its continuous story: Metal Gear Solid. Hardly a surprise, when this franchise´s focus is story foremost, and complaints about its individual installments´ uber-long cutscenes are common occurrence. You could also name the Kingdom Hearts-franchise, though I wouldn´t include it here. Other than the other mentions, KH feels like Square Enix is making up sh*t for each new game, further fucking up the whole series. And let´s not forget Assassin´s Creed, where Ubisoft just like that makes up another game only because of the franchises success. Killing an originally interesting story by thinning it out by filler. Oh well.

References to previous installments keep developing a sense of continuity

 

I´d really love to see video games being treated more like books/movies in that regard that their stories and characters keep developing instead of just creating new missions for a never-changing hero. And just in case someone wants to call me out for mentioning the Mario-series in a text about story: The Paper Mario-games have great, franchise-fitting stories. Continuity would work there just as well and maybe finally give Luigi the development he deserves. Luigi > Mario.


Top 3 Most Wanted-Spin Offs

September 20, 2010

Some days ago I talked to a friend on IRC and he started talking about cool ideas for spin offs. He later even started a whole topic on a popular gaming-board about it, which got lots of replies from people with more or less great ideas. Of course, you cannot start such a theme without getting my left side of the brain running wild, so here are the Flying Fisch´ Top 3 Most Wanted-Spin Offs.

3.) Mass Effect: Quarian Mission

The Quarians, an alien race in the world of Mass Effect, are the most interesting inhabitants of that universe to me. Wearing neat-looking suits, never showing their face, and being masterful technicians as well as capable tacticians in battle. What I´d imagine for this spin off would be a game that focuses on action-missions, leaving out all the non-linear exploration of the main series, but still keeping several crucial decisions that result in different following missions and different game endings. Even though the game-controls wouldn´t be too different from what we know, there´d be more focus on stealth and long-range combat, since typical Quarians aren´t strong close combat fighters. A sniper rifle would be your main weapon. Missions would vary from big groups, to smaller groups, to missions that you´d have to do all on your own. The story for this spin off could be anything from dealing a blow to enemy Geths to even doing a stealth-attack against Cerberus and finding out what they´re doing with the acquired human reaper (assuming that´s the canon ending of ME2). The game would give a lot of insight into Quarian behavior and be more straight forward, while still keeping an element of choice that is integral to the Mass Effect-franchise.

2.) Metroid: Galactic Federation vs Space Pirates

This is a dream of mine ever since that cutscene in the beginning of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. The game would let you play as either a Federation Trooper or Space Pirate, meaning the game would feature two campaigns. On the Federation-side, you´d experience a more typical shooter-experience than when playing as Samus Aran. Your armor would be weaker, no charge beam shot and no space boots. But you´d have machine rifles shooting rapid energy blasts and be fighting alongside comrades. You could give commands to your team members, which could consist of different kinds of troopers, such as PED troopers or demolition troopers. You yourself would be carrying a PED, a Phazon Enhancement Device that would grant more power for a limited amount of time. Without all of Samus´ super powers, it´d be a much more down-to-earth experience, featuring more of the horror that are the space pirates and unknown planets. Missions would vary from exploration, to rescuing someone to blow up pirate bases, or defend a colony against a pirate attack. All that while environmental dangers would pose a threat, too. And then there´d be the Space Pirate-campaign that´d be completely different. Here, you´d be controlling a single Space Pirate, equipped with some energy blaster, missiles and, most importantly, a jet pak and invisibility device. Gameplay would be totally different in that you could now reach whole new places and do missions stealthy or not so stealthy. Mission goals could range from stealing important items/information to killing higher up persons and readying the approach of a larger pirate-attack. To make this a really fun, long-lasting game, there´d be coop- and multiplayer-modes, off- and online. I can´t imagine a more fun multiplayer-shooter than Federation troopers against Space pirates, each with their own tactics and combat options. And meanwhile, you´d learn more about the world of Metroid without everything relating to Samus Aran.

1.) The Legend of Zelda: Shad´s Journey

My favorite NPC in Twilight Princess by far. Shad is one of the guys of the resistance group that you meet in Telma´s pub. He´s that guy that later helps Link to get to the sky temple by deciphering ancient texts and even using a spell to active Link´s Dominion Rod. When playing Twilight Princess, I always felt that the resistance group could have been given more show time, better fleshing out – especially Shad. His design is too awesome for such a hardly seen side-character. When I wish for a spin off featuring him, I imagine an action-adventure that is less about killing enemies and more about exploration. That´s not to say that Shad shouldn´t be able to fight monsters when needed, but the game should never force the player to go into battle without other options. After all, Shad is more of a bookworm than a heroic fighter. Controlling Shad would feature in-depth climbing options, necessary for the emphasis on exploring environments, be it steep stone walls to get to an ancient temple or the inner walls of a temple itself. Or just a high bookshelf. The story would be about Shad trying to find a way to reach the Ooccas´ sky temple himself, since he couldn´t follow Link at the time of Twilight Princess. Afterall, he continued his deceased father´s studies and still has to fulfill them, at any costs. It´s what he dedicated his life to. Shad´s adventure would give more insight into the world of The Legend of Zelda and offer a different gameplay experience that is based more on exploration and magic than combat and saving the world. And maybe Shad could become a more fleshed-out character himself – his great design cannot go to waste, after all.


E3 is over – Where are the games? – and – The day waggle became cool

June 3, 2009

Well E³ as an expo isn´t over, yet, but the big three conferences are. And to come straight to the point: I am disappointed. Let´s be clear, though: This year´s E³ is a dozen times better than what we had to go through last year. Then again, that should have been expected.

What i´m so disappointed about is how few new games had been announced. And don´t call me out on this one naming some small puzzle-download-games. I don´t care about those. I´m talking about big games that i can sink into, that grant me an experience. But what did Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo show us?

Microsoft started with a broad showing of popular IPs. In the end, Kojima´s Metal Gear Solid: Rising was the only new game, though. Sony…hm, ah, there was The Agent from Rockstar and a couple of PSP-games, though it´s yet to be proven how well a Resident Evil works on a handheld. Nintendo showed the most new games, but…it was like Mario, Mario and Mario again. Seriously, i was about to shout when Cammie Dunaway spoke as if it was great to have more Mario games…well, then she showed Mario Galaxy 2, so that´s good, but still… Oh well, Metroid: Other M should be considered a half-megaton, but not for me, as i hate Team Ninja´s hack and slay-games, and i am not interested in a Metroid Hack and Slay.

THEN there is the sad part about the past two days: Waggle became cool.

I am a Wii-owner sind end 2006, and i always love the idea of motion controllers, i even made a bad picture before Nintendo even unveiled the Wiimote. But for the past 2,5 years, as a Nintendo-fan you got ridiculed all the time by bitter Sony-fans about how crappy motion controlling is, about how it kills gaming and how they don´t want to move after they come home from work. Guess what, NOW they´re fighting on all the internet boards, fighting for THEIR motion control is better than Nintendo´s. Give me an effing break. At least Microsoft has a different approach and i hope they use their Natal-camera more for supporting traditional games than trying the “without anything in your hands”-crap. There´s a reason why the Wiimote works and Eyetoy bombed.

NERVNow, let me point out something else: If i was Microsoft, i´d badmouth Kojima so much that he has to go out of business. What kind of kindergarten was that when he said at Sony´s conference, the PSP-MGS is the “true next MGS”? As if he was making fun of MS that he announced MGS: Rising the day before. The next thing is Capcom developing a RE-game for PSP. WTF, the Wii gets only On-Rail-shooters, and the PSP gets a, probably, real RE-game? Give me a break. People say that Nintendo doesn´t help third parties enough, but they gave them 2008 and the whole 2009 without any Nintendo-competition. That is more than any of them could ever want.

At long last, let´s talk about what i liked. Yeah, there were things i liked. First of all, looking at my E³-predictions, Microsoft delivered. Not only was ME2 shown, but also Molyneux´ Project Dimitri, now called Milo, was revealed. If this thing works as it was shown, it´ll be revolutionary. Also, there was a nice trailer for Endless Ocean 2, so Nintendo delivered that. Of course, i´m anticipating Mario Galaxy 2, but it´s coming out in 2010, so it´s too far away. A game that looks at least as good as FF12 is Monado: Beginning of the World from Monolith Software…which Nintendo didn´t mention at all, sigh. Looks rock solid, and has active battle system, yay. Then i´m a bit hyped for Silent Hill Wii. Looks very immersive, maybe a bit too immersive for me. And that´s it. There are other interesting games, but i have yet to see more of them. Biggest disappointment is maybe Red Steel 2, which, from watching a developer walkthrough, doesn´t really use MotionPlus for 1:1 sword-controls. At least in the videos he never moved the sword slowly, only made fast swings. Oh well.

In the end, Miyamoto mentioning Zelda Wii and showing a, most likely, completely irrelevant painting of Link and a girl in a blue robe is enough to make me feel satisfied. But it´s not enough to make my brain stop and think: Nintendo, what are you doing in Kyoto? There are only 2 new Wii-games by Nintendo themselves. Are they developing other games secretly for future times? Are they working on fewer games with more manpower for greater quality? Or did they fire many of their inhouse developers? Really, something´s fishy, and i´d like to know what.

Now let´s wait for 2010, because as of now, Nintendo won´t be releasing a big game in 2009…at all.