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Wei Man takes a look at what Nintendo's first- & second-parties have to offer

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Nintendo third-party support
A look at Nintendo's outer support: past, present and future

Quondam Times - a brief history

In the past, Nintendo needn't worry about the support it got from third-party game publishers and developers. In fact, since Nintendo actually ruled most of the market with their NES, SNES and Game Boy systems, game makers were actually lining up to make games for the growing company's products. Most software, both good and even some bad, sold well enough to make profit, and third-party software companies were all over the idea and thus decided to join the gaming revolution. At one point in time, Nintendo even had to set a cap limit as to how many games a single software company can release per year. This was done to make sure that whichever games the third-parties decided to release were their best ones, meaning that Nintendo set the limit in order to keep a certain control on the quality of software that was released on their systems.

Oh, how these quondam times had changed.

The release of the N64 marked the beginning of the end of the gaming mammoth's exclusive engagement with numerous third-parties all over the world. Whereas the 2D era of consoles forced most developers to choose Nintendo as the host for their software, the 3D era offered a more-than-beneficial alternative... Sony's rising PlayStation console. While Sony's machine did get off to a slow start, games from previously Nintendo-exclusive developers, such as Square with their infinitely-popular Final Fantasy franchise, started to appear on the PSX. Gamers both veteran and amateur took notice and helped Sony gain market share, and in time, helped declare them as new champion of the gaming industry.

Needless to say, Nintendo experienced a drought when it came to the quantity of games on their N64 console. In contrast to the competition, N64 players were getting a lot fewer titles. Most of what they did get, however, ended up being good quality, although that statement is purely subjective. The best games, or perhaps that should be said as the games that sold most, on the N64, were mostly done in-house at Nintendo. First- and second-parties were keeping the N64 alive, and Nintendo knew it. They needed change, but only for their console business. Meanwhile, Nintendo continued to thrive in the handheld industry. Their Game Boy systems were more popular than ever, and where they found success, their competition had found nothing but failure.

The GameCube era, that which we are currently experiencing, showed improvement on Nintendo's part. The change that they so desperately sought had come to fruition in that they started to improve their relationship with third parties. We saw Nintendo close deals with companies like Capcom, who offered GameCube gamers five exclusive games in addition to the exclusivity of the Resident Evil series' main string of games, and SquareSoft, who developed one Final Fantasy title for the GameCube..While it did go well for a while, it did not last too long. GameCube third-parties started diminishing once again, yet the situation was still better than that of the N64's.

The Bordering Future - dual-screened antics

Considering it's the fall of 2004, it is now too late for Nintendo to start patching up their third-party holes. There are GCN games losing their exclusivity and others being canned here and there. Nintendo needs to start afresh, and the DS is their first step. But hold on, there's a new competitor in the handheld industry. This time, however, it's not small competition by any means. No, it's not the N-Gage, although Nokia would've really liked that to be. Sony, the company that derailed Nintendo's continued success, is releasing their very own handheld named the PSP. With so many third-parties under Sony's belt, Nintendo simply cannot afford to ignore the competition. There is one thing that is worrisome when it comes to Nintendo's third-party support for its dual-screened portable, however: the system's uniqueness.

Nintendo DSNintendo's goal with the DS is to create a completely new way of playing video games. It has two screens, one of which is an interactive touch screen. It features a microphone so that players are able to vocally interact with games, and it has the potential to allow gamers all over the world to play against each other, wirelessly, for free. It truly is a refreshing system. But what happens with the third-parties?

Prior to the system's launch in North America, Nintendo stated that over 120 games are already in production for its "third pillar." Sounds good, doesn't it? For a pre-release figure, it's a very good one, assuming of course all these games make it to all areas of the world. With the features of the DS, Japanese developers who often tend to create unbelievably niche software are now able to create games that are stranger than ever, which means a good number of those 120 titles will likely not leave Japan. And then you have Sony's new portable. If Sony manages to capture a big chunk of the handheld market share, it could very well spell a certain doom for Nintendo. Why is that, you ask?

Consider the dozens of third-parties who are already making games for the PSP. It usually wouldn't be such a hassle to port games from the PSP to another handheld system. But considering the unique features and structure of the DS, games aren't as easily ported. While this means that the Nintendo DS would receive its own, special games which feature gameplay like no other handheld can offer, it can also mean that the dual-screened portable can miss out on a lot of software. If developers can make enough money releasing a game for the PSP, why would they invest time and money in making a DS version of their software? It would require more than a direct port for it to work for the DS audience. Implementing touch- and dual-screen features into their games might just not be worth it, especially if the DS isn't a popular system. This leaves us with PSP getting a great number of games while the DS only gets a few, specially-designed games.

Granted, Nintendo obviously knows that. They have a back-up plan for should this problem arise. If the Nintendo DS is a failure in contrast to Sony's PSP, Nintendo can release their next Game Boy to directly counter the competition. Seeing as they are treating the DS as a "third pillar," its third type of system to co-exist with the GameCube and Game Boy Advance, players can expect the next Game Boy to be at least as powerful as the PSP yet not as unique as the DS. This would allow for easily-ported games, which in turn would mean more software for the next Game Boy system.

The Sweet Thereafter? - children of the revolution

"The word different defines our next home system. Better technology is good, but technology is not enough - today's consoles already offer [near] photorealistic experiences. Simply beefing up those graphics will not, for most of us, make a difference." - Satoru Iwata, NCL President, May 2004

How can gamers not be excited with such a concept? Not only will Nintendo's next console, codenamed "Revolution," sport amazing visuals similar to the competition, but it will offer a new way to play games, much like the new Nintendo DS. If Iwata's comments are to be taken seriously, it truly sounds as if Nintendo's next system will create a gaming revolution. But will the third-parties bite?

Like the DS, the uniqueness of the Revolution could be more detrimental than beneficial when it comes to third-party support. It's even more of a risk with Nintendo's console business, as they are far from first place in the race for market share. Third-party games are already a lot more numerous on the competition's consoles this generation. It would only make sense to assume that these same third-parties will surely, once more, flock to the competition's systems in the generation to come, assuming of course that the competition is just as popular next generation as they are this one.

Now consider that the Revolution's unique features will mean that it will get nothing but unique games. A lot of third-party developers are already lazily porting their software to the GameCube due to their lack of interest and/or cash investments. If the GameCube situation of this generation was to echo onto the next, third-party support will be an even bigger issue. Not only would developers need to simply port their games, but they'd need to make big changes for Nintendo's system, only to coincide with its evident unique abilities. Will developers want to? Will they risk it? Will they be enticed enough to?

Sure, we can expect a negative outcome, but there is another possibity at the opposite end of the spectrum. Third-party developers might actually be extremely interested in the features that the Revolution will offer. They might be so interested that they would release exclusive software for the Revolution that simply cannot be reproduced onto the competition's consoles. We are already seeing such interest in the DS. Sega had a game idea that it could not turn into a game until the DS came along, and thus the DS launch game Feel the Magic was born. Namco also had ideas that it could not produce on anything but the DS, and so we will be seeing those games soon. If enough of this happens, and if it happens with the companies that own the most popular franchises, such as SquareSoft, the DS will have a healthy life of third-party software. The same could be said about the Revolution. One could depict that the DS is essentially a preview of the success that the Revolution will see.

Feel the Magic: XY/XX
Feel the Magic: XY/XX could not be made until the DS was born. Could the same thing happen for the Nintendo Revolution?

It's hard to imagine such success for Nintendo, but it would be quite the amazing turn of events if it does come to fruition. For now, all we can do is speculate. Either way, it's interesting to note that Nintendo is so willing to risk its success in the industry only to attempt to revolutionize gaming forever. It shows that they truly do care about gaming as we know it, and not just their own, financial well-being.

Written by: Farid El-Nemr

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