Roundtable: Will Wii U Get The 3rd Party Support It Needs?

Our staff weighs in on the fate of Nintendo's upcoming Wii U launch

Nintendo's launch of the Wii U this holiday season will be one of the most interesting hardware launches to watch in the venerable company's long history. Both the economy and the games industry landscape have changed tremendously since the Wii was launched back in 2006. Consumers have less money to spend (or just don't want to spend as much) and there are now more options than ever, with the rise of smartphones, tablets, social and free-to-play. On top of that, price cuts and/or bundles are almost certainly on the way for Xbox 360 and PS3.

Nintendo in some ways caught lightning in a bottle with the Wii, and as the saying goes, lightning never strikes twice in the same place. Even the top brass at the company would fully admit that repeating the success of the Wii is a daunting task, to say the least.

One of the keys for the Wii U will be to engender strong third-party support - a feat that has always been difficult for Nintendo platforms, where first-party dominates sales and consumers' interest. While there are plenty of Wii U announcements to come still, the third-party software shown thus far has mostly failed to impress. With Batman: Arkham City as the third-party highlight for Nintendo at E3, and more recently, EA Sports confirming that the Wii U version of Madden 13 will be missing key features that 360/PS3 versions have (including physics), it's hard to be encouraged.

Moreover, just last week, Warner Bros. announced Game Party Champions for Wii U, an assortment of sports or arcade-style games. Is this actually the Wii U's destiny... either 360/ PS3 ports or casual fare of the sort the Wii was flooded with? Is this how third parties truly see the Wii U? And if so, how can this be anything but terrible news for the Wii U's prospects in a challenging market?

GamesIndustry International's writers share their thoughts in the roundtable below.

Dan Pearson

I think it's probably far too early to make a judgement call on this. If there's one thing Nintendo does consistently, it's to surprise those who've spelled out its doom. Having said that, software is obviously key to success, but I'm not sure that third-party is going to be what attracts buyers.

"What matters now is whether all of those millions of households with a Wii festering in a cupboard under the stairs will fall for it again"

Dan Pearson

Until Nintendo started hitting the 3DS with its incredibly valuable first-party IP, it was going nowhere. Labelled as overpriced and based on a gimmick, the handheld was underselling enormously. One Zelda, a couple of Marios and the odd Yoshi later and it's hit its stride magnificently, powering ahead of competition across the globe.

So yes, we'll see more of the same from Nintendo - they'll likely never stop iterating their solid-gold franchises - but they will sell, and they will sell systems. Games like Assassin's Creed III and Madden might sell a few, but I doubt anyone who really wants to get them early will wait for the Wii U version. Even more so for Call of Duty or Battlefield.

Third-party minigame collections and dance or exercise titles may review poorly and be labelled as shovelware, but they populate the system with titles you can't get elsewhere, playable in ways they wouldn't be on other systems. What matters now is whether all of those millions of households with a Wii festering in a cupboard under the stairs will fall for it again.

Steve Peterson

Yes, it certainly looks like the third-party support for the Wii U is weak, consisting so far mostly of ports and casual/party games (the interesting ZombiU and gorgeous Pikmin 3 notwithstanding). We shouldn't really be surprised; Nintendo has traditionally not worked very hard at lining up third-party support for their consoles because publishers were eager to put titles out for Nintendo's industry-leading hardware. By the time the Wii launched, Nintendo was no longer the console leader, and publishers mostly gave it perfunctory support.

Of course, the Wii rapidly became a huge hit, owing to its low price (half that of the Xbox 360 or the PS3) and innovative, easy-to-use motion controller. Those two factors propelled it to the #1 console position, and only then did publishers push hard to put out titles for it. Fast-forward to 2012, and once again publishers aren't paying much attention to Nintendo's new console: The Wii U. Now publishers have many other places to put development resources, including DLC and mobile, not to mention other next-gen consoles on the horizon. It's tough to convince them to put resources into new hardware that so far hasn't generated wild enthusiasm... not that Nintendo seems to be trying very hard to get third parties to sign on. Only one of the big multiplatform titles for the holiday (Assassin's Creed 3) is on Wii U? Did Nintendo even pick up the phone and call Activision or EA or Take-Two? The bottom line is that third-party support will strengthen only if Nintendo demonstrates strong sales of the Wii U.

The Wii U's success, like that of the Wii, won't really depend initially on third-party support anyway. What really matters is the price point Nintendo chooses, and the strength of its own software lineup. At launch Nintendo may not have a very strong lineup of titles, and its price for the Wii U may be too high. As we saw with the 3DS, though, Nintendo can recover from both of those problems in six months or so if they have some strong titles (hello, Zelda? A truly original Mario title?) and reach a price more in line with what consumers are willing to spend.

If they have strong sales then, third-party support will follow... though there may be fewer titles than in the past for any new console, given the state of the industry. Maybe by holiday 2013 Nintendo will have the Wii U in fighting trim, with a strong software lineup and a price half that of the next-gen consoles. I hope so...

David Radd

The way the Wii U will perform is an enigma for much of the industry, much like the Wii was. Many expected great things for the Wii, but the system rocketed past the most optimistic projections of fanboys, pundits and even Nintendo itself in how well it would sell. This early success was built on the strength of Nintendo's first-party offerings and third-party offerings that tended towards the casual and mainstream.

2012 is a whole different industry. Developers looking to the "mainstream" now see consoles as a secondary concern - they're looking at the smartphones in people's pockets or the laptops they have for utility. As for AAA console developers, it's been established that retail has become the realm of the biggest of hits and almost everything else loses money. The "middle class" of developers looks to online options, and that hasn't exactly been Nintendo's specialty.

"Until the Wii U has hit the market and shown its stuff, the Nintendo range of titles will more than fill the gap for the average gamer"

Rachel Weber

That's not a good sign when the Wii U will no doubt be trumped in hardware power by Microsoft's next Xbox and Sony's next PlayStation. What we're left with is the tablet controller (or "GamePad" as Nintendo likes to call it) which I've best heard classified as a solution in search of a problem. Many gamers and developers are wary of the device as a gimmick that won't add significantly to a game experience; at the same time, it lacks the simple appeal of the Wii Remote that was simplistic and appealing enough for any member of the family to pick up. Even the NintendoLand games (which Nintendo wants to assert as the Wii U's Wii Sports) lack the simple, elemental appeal of sports games recreated in a rudimentary form.

In synopsis, I expect third-party support for the Wii U to be about on par with the Wii, which is to say it won't be very good. There will be certain exceptions (ZombiU and Rayman Legends look to be a couple of early examples) but otherwise I'd expect the good-faith efforts to be drowned out by the shovelware. And getting the same mainstream audience to pony up again for another system in the same numbers will be difficult, though I expect it to sell well early on. I hope things go well and the system does better than I and others expect; if it doesn't, it is dark portent for those who are fans of console games in general.

Rachel Weber

What an ungrateful bunch of babies we are. The Wii U isn't even out yet and already we're throwing our 3DS XL's out of the pram and calling its games unimpressive.

Yes there are a lot of ports; it's a new machine that people want a presence on, and fast, but there are also signs of real ingenuity. Ubisoft's ZombiU looked pretty damn cool from where I was sitting, and LEGO City Undercover suggested developers are coming up with stuff that manages to be family friendly and original at the same time. You can't really blame the big third-party studios for being a little careful with their money. Some people are cutting back on holidays - they're cutting back on risky development projects.

"Third-party titles shown at E3 had the same problems some early DS games had: features crammed in to justify the system"

Mike Williams

No one has money to throw around at the moment, on any of the platforms, and until the Wii U has hit the market and shown its stuff, the Nintendo range of titles will more than fill the gap for the average gamer. Pikmin or death!

Also, what's wrong with a machine that is aimed at the more casual end of the market? It didn't do the Wii any harm. Members of my family who didn't even know how to turn on their PC without help bought a Wii. And their friends bought a Wii. And then their friends did. All because it was a machine they had played with at a party. Do you know how often they moaned about graphics? I'll give you a clue - NEVER. To them the Wii U will be just another household appliance to upgrade to next time they're in John Lewis.

To start calling it "terrible news" is a mix of snobbery and naysaying, and not much else. We can't pass any judgements until the Wii U is actually released at Christmas, and by then I imagine we'll all be too busy playing Project P-100 with our grandmas to remember.

Mike Williams

The current problem with the Wii U is Nintendo's message for the console is muddled. What's the reason to consumers to upgrade to the new system? For PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners, will the promise of games they already have access to with additional touchscreen controls be enough? For casual owners of the original Wii, will HD Nintendo titles be enticing?

Then there's the issue with third-party Wii U titles. Nintendo's first-party efforts always make the hardware look good, but the third-party titles shown at E3 had the same problems some early DS games had: features crammed in to justify the system. Batman: Arkham City is just one example with its gimmicky Batarang control method using the Wii U tablet. The mode ends up detracting from the game more than it helps.

Nintendo needs to hit the right price point with the Wii U. Consumers need to be told clearly that the Wii U is a standalone system, not an additional controller for the existing Wii. Marketing needs to show off the best of the system, probably hitting hard on the group aspects and asymmetric play. Nintendo needs to make sure that the system's strengths dovetail with the development efforts of its third-party partners.

I doubt Nintendo can reach the same success they did the Wii, but at least the Wii U has the potential to be a solid contender in the next console cycle. With the rise of mobile gaming and the next generation coming from Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo will only have one chance to get it right. Fingers crossed.

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Latest comments (25)

Colin Payne game designer; artist 8 years ago
Two big thumbs up for Rachel Weber.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
Another two thumbs up for Rachel.

To most of the rest of you: bleh, I was hoping for much more insightful comments than the generic media rhetoric that usually comes up any time Nintendo is mentioned. I expect better from this site.
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David Lee Chief Concepticator, Concepticate8 years ago
Let's make it six thumbs up for Rachel!
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Show all comments (25)
Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 8 years ago
Yes quite disappointing. Now allusions to the fact that Activision may be holding out on revealing their line up or that EA seem to have had a spat with Nintendo after originally showing gleeful support in 2011. And Steve, this may be a time of writing thing but you do know that EA have announced their 2 biggest sport franchises for Wii U as well as the ME3 port. For release window, that's not bad.

Why is no one commenting on the fact that Nintendo are taking the task of attracting mobile devs very seriously? There is so many unanswered questions and very little educated speculation from the staff. Tut-tut.
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Rod Oracheski Editor, Star News8 years ago
"Labelled as overpriced and based on a gimmick, the handheld was underselling enormously. One Zelda, a couple of Marios and the odd Yoshi later and it's hit its stride magnificently, powering ahead of competition across the globe."

Ignoring an unprecedented price drop makes this a bit of an odd analysis.
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Andy Samson QA Supervisor, Digital Media Exchange8 years ago
"What's the reason to consumers to upgrade to the new system?"
The sole reason an XBOX360 or PS3 owner will buy the Wii U is to play Nintendo games. Heck SONY already cloned Nintendo's games just to make their user base happy they have something that plays like Mario Kart & Smash Bros.
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Art C. Jones Writer / Blogger 8 years ago
No-one buys or will buy a WiiU for Assassin's Creed 3 or CoD.
Anyone who wants those game already has a preferred way to get them.
Just Dance 4 will likely far outsell AC3 on the WiiU.

ScribblenautsU and Rayman are both exclusive and both look fantastic, they should be mentioned more (alongside ZombieU if you must).
I fear far too many people, and analysts in particular are looking for a reason to be dissatisfied. You can always find something to complain about, but these discussions seem to be either mis-informed or specifically ignoring the counter-arguments to make their point seem more compelling.

And what is "the odd yoshi?" On the 3DS?
Still trying to figure that one out.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
@ Rod To be fair, the sales got much stronger after Mario and Mario Kart came out than they did after just the price drop. The price drop helped, but the games helped more. Also "unprecedented?" Did you forget the PS3 dropped $100 6 months from launch?
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M.H. Williams Staff Writer, USgamer8 years ago

New Super Mario Bros and Rayman were great for asynchronous play. Zombi U and Project P-100 showed off what the system could really do.

Scribblenauts felt like it was purely a tablet game, in that most player didn't actually look at the TV screen while playing the game. I questioned a developer about this and they acknowledged that they tried to force people to look at the screen more, but it messed up the game's flow. The television is more of a "family friendly" viewing screen allowing others in the room to see what the player is doing.

Batman: Arkham City's batarang control using the Wii U tablet felt - as I said - like a kludge. A feature added just to say "we're doing well by the Wii U. I would prefer Nintendo help developers stay away from things like that, as I said in my piece. Some of the best DS, Wii, and 3DS titles are games that use those systems' assorted features sparingly.

I reiterate: Nintendo needs to focus. Going into this thinking the Wii U is an easy sell is literally the worse thing they can do. That's not doom and gloom, that's common sense. Simple "Nintendo will win it" arrogance is what led to the 3DS's poor original reception and Nintendo's subsequent rush to fix it (which they did well).
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Steve Peterson Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
I don't think Nintendo's initial software is as strong as it could be, or will be in a year. It's going to take them some time to really figure out how to create some unique game play with the gamepad that makes you really want to buy the Wii U. Nintendo cannot and should not depend on third parties to do this. I suspect that Nintendo may have a tough time selling the Wii U at first if they price it too high (and $250 may be too high; it's hard to predict), but they can always fix that easily enough. I think it's going to be like the 3DS; the software that really makes you want to buy the hardware didn't appear for many months. The Mario title they showed had zero new gameplay in it; better graphics, but it apparently had no use for the gamepad. Maybe that will change. If not that title, though, Nintendo should be preparing a Mario title that does show you why the gamepad is a neat thing that you want to have.
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Rogier Voet IT Consultant 8 years ago
What would be a good addition to this article is how the business side is setup, what does a Wii U developer kit cost, are they hard to get, what kind of licensing costs are in place (are they different). Are their incentives for launch titles etc. Because it does seem that Nintendo changed nothing to get more third party support. The Elephant in the room is online, it's still a complete mystery what kind of online options the Wii U supports; what do you need to do as a game developer to make it work? A follow up article with these bits of info and more would be very interesting.
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Dan Pearson Product Marketing Manager, Genvid8 years ago
"One Zelda, a couple of Marios and the odd Yoshi" was really meant as a reference to the glut of first-party games which lifted the platform, rather than specific titles.
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Rod Oracheski Editor, Star News8 years ago
The PS3 trimmed off 1/6 the price tag from $600 to $500. The 3DS slimmed down by a third of its price tag. That kind of a percentage drop so quickly is, as I said, unprecedented.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
Nintendo are first and foremost an entertainment company. They are not interested in "core" gamers, they are interested in everyone.
Their business model consists of managing a number of exceptional IP properties, the platforms they use to do this are secondary.
So people will buy the Wii U to get their latest episode of their favourite franchises. Which are first party.
This gives Nintendo the potential to be the best selling console in the upcoming generation. They have a tried and tested mechanism to do so.

Of course this business model has third party development as peripheral. Most publishers don't seem to have what it takes to get on the Nintendo bandwagon and to stay on it.
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Terence Gage Freelance writer 8 years ago
"The Wii U isn't even out yet and already we're throwing our 3DS XL's out of the pram"

Rogue apostrophe there guys.

But I do mostly agree with Rachel's comments. It's far too early to judge whether the Wii U will be a success; we need to know the price, see the final launch software - perhaps worth bearing in mind at this point that Reggie has said he considers 4 months as the launch window - and see what form its marketing will take. The launch titles are not bad at all for a new console but like the 3DS, it will also depend how consistently Nintendo follow the launch with quality software. It was a long wait between the 3DS launch and then the Ocarina remake, and then similarly another 4 months after that before Mario Kart & Mario 3D Land. But they appear to have learnt from the 3DS's failings and are working to avoid the same things happening again.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
@ Rod In the real world percentages mean much less than actual cost. You can talk about percentages all you want, but the 3DS dropped $70 and Nintendo took around $30 of loss per unit from that while the PS3 dropped $100 and Sony took an extra $100 of loss per unit on top of the $30 loss they were already selling it at. Sony's drop was, from any practical perspective, MUCH more drastic and desperate, and may have in a large part led to their financial troubles today. Also $70 is quite a bit closer to 1/4 of $250 than 1/3rd, if we're going to play with numbers.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 16th August 2012 6:06pm

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Luke McCarthy Indie Game Developer 8 years ago
"One of the keys for the Wii U will be to engender strong third-party support - a feat that has always been difficult for Nintendo platforms, where first-party dominates sales"

LOL, only if you have a short memory. The NES and SNES had no problem with third-party support (except maybe for some sports titles in the 16-bit era), in fact Nintendo deliberately stopped third-parties from releasing too many games to ensure quality standards.
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There is no battle for Nintendo and the WiiU this Xmas. Best case, it will sell out and there will be shortages ... and worst case, it will be close to the same. Its the only new console, and this is the lull in the storm before the releases next Xmas.

Nintendo know this, and that's why they are holding the big guns back for 2013 - especially Xmas 2013.

Personally, I'm all for the WiiU - I think its going to be great. First ever "HD" Nintendo console, first ever console supporting touch, first ever console that lets you play away from the TV. And as far as I can see, this is easily the strongest launch lineup for any handheld/console release *ever*. It may lack that killer exclusive first-party title - but there is no shortage of quality titles launching with the console (which is the exact opposite of the Wii launch really). I'll be running out of spending money long before I'll be running out of games to buy (likely to buy AC3, Batman, ZombieU, Pikmin3 and maybe another).

If the 3DS has taught us anything, its this - you can have a poor launch - if you launch first. What matters is if you can recover by the time the competition launches, and give them a hard time.
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Charles Herold Wii Games Guide, about.com8 years ago
I appreciate Rachel's optimism, but I don't entirely share it. Publishers took a wait-and-see attitude with the Wii and I think that was a lot of the problem; by starting late, most of them never really got up to speed with the console. The same thing could happenwith the Wii U, and I'm afraid even if it's a bigger hit than expected that publishers will take too long to get anything out, or will try and rush out shovelware to catch the wave the way many did for the Wii.

I find Steve Peterson's claim that NIntendo didn't try to cultivate third-party publishers suspect. Clearly they were working to land EA, and it's rather strange that EA has offered so little - perhaps that rumor that they dropped Wii U projects after Nintendo rejected EA Origin has something to it.

Perhaps Nintendo could have done more to woo third parties - they've never been very good at it - but it's silly to suggest they made no attempt. I think the main problem is an industry belief that only Nintendo can make money off Nintendo consoles; it makes any Nintendo console a tough sell to publishers.
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 8 years ago
It's funny what people say about third parties and making money but I never hear Ubisoft, Level 5, 5th Cell or Capcom pissing and moaning.

And I'm sorry has everyone forgotten what happened with the DS in terms of 3rd party? In the early days it's was mostly 1st party but the games that were successful but the Laytons and Ace Attorneys soon came through and made names for themselves.

The Wii is a different story. 3rd parties frequently misunderstood the audience and what appealed to them. You know.., with the exception of Ubi.

I think this was harder for companies like EA that realised that maybe the platform wasn't going to have the same purchase percentage as the PS3 and the 360. This meant that their multiplatform yearly iterations weren't going to do the type of figures they wanted taking into account the established user base.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.8 years ago
Thank you Rachel. The rest of you, for shame.

All you, Rachel aside, have absolutely failed to see the answer to the given question. We don't even know the full launch line up for the Wii U yet and it already looks to be one of the strongest in video game history. And most of the content is from 3rd parties.

Compare this 3rd party launch line up to the 3rd party launch line up of any Nintendo home console in history and you're going to say this is the same or worse? You fellas have me scratching my head on this one.

3rd party PS3 US launch titles:

Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII Ubisoft
Call of Duty 3 Activision
Madden NFL 07 EA Sports
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance Activision
Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire Namco Bandai
NBA 2K7 2K Sports
NHL 2K7 2K Sports
Ridge Racer 7 Namco Bandai
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 EA Sports
Tony Hawk's Project 8 Activision

3rd party X360 launch titles:

Amped 3 (2K Games)
Call of Duty 2 (Activision)
Condemned (Sega)
Dead Or Alive 4 (Tecmo)
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Bethesda)
Full Auto (Sega)
Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (Ubisoft)
Gun (Activision)
Madden NFL 06 (EA)
NBA 2K6 (2K Games)
NHL 2K6 (2K Games)
The Outfit (THQ)
Quake 4 (Activision)
Ridge Racer 6 (Namco)
Saints Row (THQ)
Tony Hawk's American Wasteland (Activision)
Top Spin 2 (2K Games)

3rd party Wii US launch titles:

Avatar: The Last Airbender
Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII
Blitz: The League
Call of Duty 3
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2
Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors
Far Cry
GT Pro Series
Madden NFL 07
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
Metal Slug Anthology
Monster 4x4 World Circuit
Need for Speed: Carbon
Open Season
Rayman Raving Rabbids
Red Steel
SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature from the Krusty Krab
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz
Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam
Trauma Center: Second Opinion

3rd party Wii U launch titles: (so far)

Aliens: Colonial Marines
Assassinís Creed III
Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition
Ben 10: Omniverse
Darksiders II
Family Party: 30 Great Games (working title)
Jett Tailfin
Just Dance 4
Lego City: Undercover
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth
Mass Effect 3
NBA 2K13
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razorís Edge
Project P-100 (working title)
Rabbids Land
Rayman Legends
Rise of the Guardians: The Video Game
Scribblenauts Unlimited
Sports Connection
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (working title)
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2013
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M.H. Williams Staff Writer, USgamer8 years ago

What exactly did I say about poor third-party support? Seeing that I apparently should be ashamed?
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.8 years ago
I suppose in your case you took the angle that the 3rd party efforts were simply their to take advantage of the new gimmick. Not that you are incorrect in your assessment but you missed the opportunity to note how much stronger the 3rd party line up is over all previous Nintendo consoles and even as good/better than the PS3/X360's launch line ups.

It just felt like you guys were looking at the 3DS or original Wii's launch line up rather than Wii U's. Look at the difference I posted. How is that not encouraging? In the face of the problems had with the Wii, the global economy and increased mobile competition, Nintendo has managed to put together a massively impressive 3rd party launch line up compared to all past efforts and I'm reading mostly negative connotations in this article about it. I'm not asking anyone to be a cheerleader but don't pounce on the negatives and say so little of the positives (regarding the overall article tone, not specifically your segment).
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M.H. Williams Staff Writer, USgamer8 years ago

It's wonderfully encouraging! I hope Nintendo pulls it off. But the Vita's launch lineup was rather decent for a portable and it didn't help. I just want Nintendo to focus on certain factors. Make sure the games show of the best of the system and the game mechanics make sense. There's a fine line between the amazing use of the Wii U GamePad and adding a feature just because this is the Wii U version. (This statement can be repeated for the Vita, 3DS, DS, and Wii... really any console with a novel control scheme or feature)

Nintendo has learned with the 3DS and I want them to carry these lessons with them for the Wii U's launch. Everything matters. Games, price, and the message to consumers. If they get them right, they'll succeed. Not sure they'll reach the heights of the Wii's heydey, but they can definitely win out.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
@ Mike I agree with that sentiment in general. That said, I think they have some great uses already. The problem is you can't see them being played in a commercial and understand them. You have to play them yourself. This will likely mean a slower start for the Wii U, but could grow into great word of mouth success over time.
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