bayonetta

When Nintendo first announced the launch window for Wii U, they said the launch window stretched from November 2012 through April 2013.  Many of us thought to ourselves, “That’s a really long launch window.”  The games that were announced for that launch window included Pikmin 3, Wonderful 101, and Game & Wario.  All three of those games were delayed from the launch window into the summer.  Nintendo is a company that really cares about releasing the highest quality games possible.  They take their time polishing their games and sometimes that results in delays.  I don’t have a problem with Nintendo delaying their games for quality reasons.  As Shigeru Miyamoto once said, “A delayed game is eventually good but a rushed game is bad forever”.

But you still have to wonder whether Nintendo can prevent major Wii U software droughts in 2014.  Because at the end of the day, droughts will slow down Wii U’s sales momentum.

Nintendo has seven officially announced games scheduled for release sometime in 2014.  There’s also a chance for some unannounced games that might be announced in 2014.  As we all know, there is twelve months in a year.  First, you need to ask yourself, “How many of the games below will Nintendo push closer to October/November 2014 for the holidays?”  If they bring out most of these games toward the end of 2014, then the first half of 2014 is going to be miserable aside from Donkey Kong and Mario Kart.

  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze  (coming February)
  • Mario Kart 8
  • Bayonetta 2
  • Yarn Yoshi
  • “X”
  • Shin Megami X Fire Emblem
  • Super Smash Bros U

Six out of the seven games listed above do not have a specific date attached to them.  The only game with a specific release date is Donkey Kong Country which is currently scheduled for February.

Yoshi Yarn

Mario Kart 8: We were told that Mario Kart is coming out Spring 2014 which is pretty vague.  We have no idea if it’s coming out early spring or late spring.  If it’s late spring, there’s always a chance of it being delayed into early summer.

Yarn Yoshi:  This game was not playable at E3 which tells us that it isn’t that far in development.  The game has never even received a proper trailer yet.  Not even a teaser trailer.  All we’ve seen from the game is a 10 second clip from a January Nintendo Direct.  IGN asked Takashi Tezuka about it and Tezuka said the game wasn’t ready to show yet.  We have seen more footage (including a proper trailer) from Yoshi’s Island for 3DS than we have for Yarn Yoshi on Wii U.

“X”:  This wasn’t playable at E3 which means it’s probably not that far in development for the public/press to play.

Shin-Megami Tensei  X Fire Emblem:  The game was not in any playable form at E3. We received a teaser trailer with absolutely no gameplay footage and the end of the trailer says “Development in Progress”.  When you haven’t seen a single screenshot of gameplay, you have to question how far along in development is this game.  It’s even more confusing considering that Katsura Hashino teased about this collaboration in a Famitsu interview way back in August 2012.

Bayonetta 2:  Hideki Kamiya from Platinum Studios indicated that the game still has a long ways to go. Platinum also likes to polish their games, and Wonderful 101 went through a few delays before finally being released. Here’s a quote from Hideki Kamiya from September 2013 (last month).

Bayonetta 2 hasn’t necessarily reached its peak of development and when we get to that point, you would add staff,” said Kamiya.

Super Smash Bros:  We have no official date for Super Smash Bros for Wii U.  We don’t have a time-frame of when it’ll release in 2014.  I think it’s pretty safe to say that this game won’t be releasing before Mario Kart 8.

 

X

 

So here is what we know.

  1. We know Wii U’s retail third party situation isn’t very pretty (outside of indie developers on the eShop).
  2. We know that Nintendo likes to take their time polishing their games.
  3. We know that Nintendo tends to delay games (Wii U’s launch window is a good example).
  4. We know they delayed Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze to February because they had no first party games for January/February.  If they did have a first party title scheduled for those two months, Donkey Kong Country would not have been delayed to February.
  5. Out of seven games, we only have one specific release date.
  6. Many of Wii U’s 2014 games are so early in development that we either didn’t see new gameplay footage or it wasn’t playable at E3 or any convention this year.

Here is the million dollar question.

Can Nintendo release enough first party Wii U games in a timely manner (to create momentum) so there won’t be long, software droughts in 2014?  Or will 2014 be another repeat of the first half of  2013 except with even less third party publisher support?

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Unannounced Games

Wii-U-consoleLet’s say Nintendo announces some new, surprising Wii U games in 2014.  How many of those games will actually release in 2014 (instead of 2015)?

“X”, “Yoshi Yarn”, “Shin Megami”, “Mario Kart 8”, and “Donkey Kong Country” were all announced in 2013, but none of these games are actually releasing in 2013.  Why should we assume that every surprise Wii U game revealed in 2014 would also release in the same year?

Now we’re left with a question.  Which internal Nintendo studios would be most likely to have a “surprise” Wii U game ready to be released in stores  for 2014?

10% or less chance of releasing a Wii U title in stores in 2014 

ND Cube is bringing out Wii Party U (Wii U) and Mario Party Island Tour (3DS) in 2013.  It’s impossible for a studio that just finished two projects in 2013 to have any Wii U game released in 2014.

Alpha Dream only works on games for Nintendo portables, and they just released Mario & Luigi: Dream Team in late 2013.  They only have around 40 employees so there’s no way they can be working on multiple projects.

Camelot released Golden Sun: Dark Dawn in 2010, Mario Tennis Open in 2012 and they’ll be releasing Mario Golf: World Tour in 2014.  It seems like this company normally releases one game every two years and lately they’ve been focusing on Nintendo handhelds.

Monster Games released Excite Truck in 2006, Excitebots in 2009, Pilotwings in 2011, and Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D in 2013.  If they continued this trend of releasing a game every two to three years, they would most likely not have a game ready in 2014.  The company only has 20-24 employees which means they don’t have a big team size to handle multiple major projects.

EAD Tokyo Group No. 2 is releasing Super Mario 3D World and Flipnote Studio (Japan) this year.  I am uncertain about whether they could release another Wii U project ready in 2014.

50% chance of releasing a Wii U title in stores in 2014

Next Level Games –  They have been working on a top secret project since October 2012 according to a Linkedin profile.  The question is whether it’s a top secret 3DS project or a top secret Wii U project.

HAL Laboratory — They are working on the new Kirby game for 3DS.  But they are a team of 145 people, and I can’t imagine that Kirby 3DS is the only thing that they are working on.  My first theory is maybe some of HAL’s staff is assisting Good-Feel with Yarn Yoshi.  My second theory is they either have a second 3DS project in development, or they have a Wii U project in development.

EAD Tokyo Group No. 1  hasn’t been heard from since Ocarina of Time 3D was released in 2011.  Could they be busy with 3DS or Wii U?

EAD Kyoto Group No 2 released Nintendo Land and Animal Crossing New Leaf (in Japan) in 2012.   There is no way Animal Crossing Plaza (released in August 2013) has been taking up all of their time since then. We just don’t know if their next project is for 3DS, Wii U, or both. They could even have multiple projects in development.  

Software Development and Planning Group No. 1 is responsible for Game & Wario and the WarioWare series.  They have released 1 to 2 games every year. This is why there’s a  good chance that we could see a game from them this year as well.  The question is whether their next game (or games) are for 3DS or Wii U.

EAD Kyoto Group No. 4  worked on New Super Mario Bros 2, New Super Mario Bros U, and Pikmin 3 all at the same time.  Two of those games were released in 2012 and Pikmin 3 was released in 2013.  It took at least two years for them to develop New Super Mario Bros U, and lord knows how long it took to develop Pikmin 3.  There’s a chance that we could see a game created by the NSMB teams in the near future since it’s been at least two years since NSMBU/NSMB2 were released.

75% chance of releasing a Wii U title in stores in 2014

Intelligent Systems employee was recently caught with a Linkedin listing talking about an unannounced Wii U game.

90% OR BETTER chance of releasing a Wii U title in stores in 2014

Retro Studios is releasing Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze in 2014.

Monolith Soft is releasing “X” in 2014

EAD Kyoto Group No. 1  is releasing Mario Kart 8 in 2014

Good-Feeling is releasing Yarn Yoshi in 2014

Platinum Studios is releasing Bayonetta 2 in 2014

The only way Nintendo can get around their limited resources is if they established more collaborations with third party developers like they did with Lego City Undercover and Dragon Quest X.  Third party collaborations are the big question mark in all of this, and I’m curious to see how hard they will push on that in the future.

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Nintendo prefers 3DS software development over Wii U software development

2DS3DS’s massive success is why Nintendo will focus less resources on Wii U software development.

Outside of a few top-selling franchises, Nintendo believes it’s too financially risky to invest a ridiculous amount of money into Wii U software development when there’s no guarantee those games will significantly increase Wii U’s install base.  Compare that to 3DS where Nintendo’s first party games are guaranteed to sell extremely well thanks to 3DS’s large install base.  Sure, you can increase Wii U’s install base with most Nintendo franchises, but Nintendo wants a significant increase that lasts more than just two months.  If Nintendo takes their eyes off of 3DS’s huge success to fix Wii U’s failures, it could distract Nintendo away from keeping 3DS’s momentum strong, and that would ultimately hurt Nintendo’s profits.

2014 is not the year where Nintendo focuses less on 3DS software to focus more on Wii U software.  As long as 3DS hardware (and software) sales are responsible for Nintendo’s quarterly/annual profits, Nintendo will always invest more resources into 3DS software development than Wii U.  2DS is the biggest indication that Nintendo will be investing more heavily into 3DS software than Wii U software for the next three years. Game Boy Advance sold 80+ million units worldwide and Nintendo DS sold over 140+ million worldwide.  3DS has only sold around 35 to 40 million units worldwide so far — which means Nintendo is not yet finished with increasing 3DS’s install base.

Nintendo views 3DS/2DS software development as a low financial risk with a high install base.

Nintendo views Wii U software development as a high financial risk with a low install base.

It’s not just third parties who are investing less in platforms with low install bases.  Why do you think Sony isn’t developing large amounts of big budget, first party, retail content for the PS Vita?  Why do you think PS Vita seems more focused on indie developers all of a sudden?  Because indie developers are less of a risk for a platform like PS Vita.  Sony doesn’t have much to gain from investing millions into software development for a small install base.

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Final Thoughts

The reason I love Nintendo is because they don’t treat game development like some factory where they pump out annual releases on an assembly line.  But after the major software droughts in the first half of 2013, can you blame me for being skeptical of Nintendo’s ability to consistently release software in 2014 without any major droughts?  Nintendo has not given any clear indication that they know when most of their 2014 games are releasing.

Many of their 2014 games were either 1) Not playable at E3  (Example: “X” from Monolithsoft)   2) No Nintendo Direct trailer or new gameplay footage at E3 (I’m looking at you, Yarn Yoshi).   3) In the case of Shin Megami X Fire Emblem, there wasn’t even a single screenshot of gameplay.

Wii U doesn’t have enough major third party publishers to provide consistent retail software during months when first party software isn’t released.  Nintendo has to rely on small indie studios as their third party support.  This means Nintendo is under more pressure than ever to release games as soon as possible. We have seen either little-to-no support from major publishers like Square Enix, Bethesda, Deep Silver, Electronic Arts, Konami, and others.  Ubisoft didn’t care enough to announce Wii U versions of The Division or The Crew.  I have to wonder if Ubisoft’s perception of the Wii U is gradually changing.

It’s wonderful that Nintendo is expanding their staff to finish games faster, but that staff will always be split between 3DS and Wii U software development.  With 3DS being responsible for most of Nintendo’s profitability, why should anyone believe that Nintendo will invest more resources into Wii U software development instead of 3DS?

I hope Wii U has a fantastic year in 2014.  It’s a great console with a lot of potential to do great things.  But I’m skeptical of Nintendo’s ability to release software in a steady, consistent fashion without software droughts in 2014.

You could blame my skepticism on Nintendo’s ability to handle software droughts in 2014 from the following:

  • Wii U’s previous software delays (and long stretches of no first party content) in 2013
  • Shaky third party support from major publishers (not counting indies of course).
  • Unclear/extremely vague release dates for 2014 games.
  • Their admission that HD development is stretching their resources thin.
  • The company’s growing focus on 3DS/2DS development over Wii U development.
  • Delaying a 2013 title into 2014 because they had nothing else to put in January/February.
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