Is Nintendo's software success really a curse?

Nintendo's first-party titles are selling like gangbusters. But as Don Reisinger points out, maybe that isn't so great, after all.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

Gamasutra posted an interesting study on video game sales and found that so far this year, four of the top five best selling titles can be found exclusively on the Wii.

According to the publication, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is the top-selling game so far this year with an estimated 3.5 million units sold, followed by Mario Kart Wii, Grand Theft Auto 4 for the Xbox 360, Wii Play, and Wii Fit.

There's no debating that Nintendo is extremely pleased with the results and I'm surprised by just how well the Wii is performing. But can we ignore the fact that every single Wii title mentioned in that survey comes from Nintendo?

To those who only cares about playing games, I'm sure that doesn't even matter. Why should it? To the average person, it doesn't matter who makes the games, as long as the games are worth spending $50 or $60 on.

But from a business standpoint, I can't believe that Nintendo would be too happy about Gamasutra's findings. Sure, the company is reaping all the benefits of providing the top-selling games on its own consoles and that helps the bottom line, but we can't forget that a strong third-party library of games still matters to the success of a video game console.

Nintendo has always been a strong first-party hardware manufacturer. With major franchises like Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and others, the need for third-party titles may seem nominal. But if we consider the broader effect of not having strong third-party support, I think it becomes clear that Nintendo wishes at least one title from a third-party was included in the best-sellers list.

Right now, the best performers on the Wii come from Nintendo. Sure, there are third-parties migrating to Wii and trying their luck with that market, but so far, few have been successful. On the other hand, Nintendo has been extremely successful selling its own games.

So what gives? Is it marketing? Is it Nintendo's relationship with developers? I think it may be partly both, but it goes far beyond relationships and marketing. Simply put, I think most Wii owners have a strong allegiance to Nintendo and they've quickly realized that if you want the best Wii experience and not a half-baked approach to its unique style of gameplay, the only place to find it is on Nintendo games.

Let's be honest--how many third-party Wii games really show off the value of the hardware? I get games delivered to me each day and I've yet to find one third-party Wii title that truly captures the motion control in a way that makes me think twice about my theory that only Nintendo really cares about Wii development.

See, I don't think third-parties are incapable of developing a strong Wii title; I think they're unwilling to develop a strong Wii title.

In an era where success means placing titles on multiple consoles, the Wii becomes the "other" hardware for most developers. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are similar enough that porting a title from one to the other isn't too much trouble. But when it comes to the Wii, it's an entirely different story. The Wii's visual capabilities can't stand up to its competitors, and its unique control scheme makes it practically impossible for developers to easily port controls from an Xbox 360 controller to a Wiimote.

And with an already high budget and Nintendo cornering the Wii software market to boot, the Wii development space is simply less attractive to developers.

Does that mean they will simply stop developing for the Wii? Of course not. But rest assured that if Nintendo continues its dominance in the Wii video game space and few third-party developers have success in the market, Nintendo could lose third-party support, lose licensing fees, and most importantly, lose potential customers that are looking for a huge library of games over anything else.

Success is great. But sometimes, it becomes a curse. And if Nintendo isn't careful, its success could be a curse to its own operation.

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