Nintendo Is Certainly Amazing!
It is no great secret that Nintendo’s Wii U platform has completely atrocious third party relationships. The system is underpowered, was excruciatingly poorly marketed ahead of launch, and Nintendo completely dropped the ball on preparing launch window content for it, so a dearth of third party support is probably not all that surprising, especially when third party software simply is not selling well on Wii U. What is surprising however, is the fact that the reason for the mass developer abandonment of the Wii U may have less to do with the eminently visible aforementioned failures, and may instead be attributed to how colossally Nintendo fucked up support for the Wii U behind the scenes.
When talking about the disappointing presence of third party software on the Wii U, many of the more Troxelian-minded individuals will tend to blame “lazy devs” for only releasing bare-bones ports, and “lazy devs” for not developing games for the Wii U – this week however, a Digital Foundry article recounting the experiences of a Wii U developer appears to indicate that a lot of Western developers’ souring towards the console stems from the fact that Nintendo has provided them with genuinely abysmal developer support.
While Sony went to great lengths to compile a developer wish-list of the features they wanted for the PS4, Nintendo on the other hand were perfectly content to dismiss developer concerns that the low powered Game Cube CPU might be too weak to handle contemporary software titles, as being power efficient and whisper quiet was evidently a higher priority than performance.
“They wanted a console that was the same size as the Wii and wouldn’t make much noise, so “mum wouldn’t mind having it in the living room”. It was during this statement that quiet alarm bells started to ring in my brain, but I ignored them and continued watching the presentation.
So a basic comparison/calculation makes the Wii U look, on paper at least, significantly slower than an Xbox 360 in terms of raw CPU. This point was raised in the meeting, but the Nintendo representatives dismissed it saying that the “low power consumption was more important to the overall design goals.”
It was not only in terms of processing grunt that the Wii U proved to be behind the eight-ball though. Wii U also had an exceedingly poor developer toolchain, which would require many times the processing than the same tasks being performed on the mature development tools of the seventh generation PS3 and 360 consoles. On top of all this, the console infrastructure was seen to be patchy at best, while developer support was virtually non-existant.
“The compilation times were really slow, even for minor changes. Then it had to do the link step, at which point you could happily get up, make a cup of tea, have a chat and get back to your desk before the link was complete. Link times were measured in multiple (four or more) minutes on Wii U compared to around one minute on other platforms.
This doesn’t sound bad, but when you are debugging and making lots of changes, these additional times add up. If you made 10 changes to a file in a morning, you could be spending over 50 minutes waiting for the linker to complete, which is a lot of wasted time.
We ran into some issues that the (minimal) documentation didn’t cover, so we asked questions of our local Nintendo support team. They didn’t know the answers so they said they would check with the developers in Japan and we waited for a reply. And we waited. And we waited.
After about a week of chasing we heard back from the support team that they had received an answer from Japan, which they emailed to us. The reply was in the form of a few sentences of very broken English that didn’t really answer the question that we had asked in the first place. So we went back to them asking for clarification, which took another week or so to come back. After the second delay we asked why it was taking to long for replies to come back from Japan, were they very busy? The local support team said no, it’s just that any questions had to be sent off for translation into Japanese, then sent to the developers, who replied and then the replies were translated back to English and sent back to us. With timezone differences and the delay in translating, this usually took a week!”
Finally, the reason for all these near limitless flaws was laid bare – ‘insularity’ being the name of the game. Nintendo is far too insular a company to have researched the digital infrastructure of Sony and Microsoft, much less hire a team of people who had a little XBL and/or PSN experience under their belt. That would make a bit too much sense.
“At some point in this conversation we were informed that it was no good referencing Live and PSN as nobody in [Nintendo’s] development teams used those systems (!) so could we provide more detailed explanations for them?
The technical and feature support from Nintendo were lacking for third-party studios. There was a feeling internally that if you weren’t a first-party development studio, you were largely ignored by Nintendo, as we were superficial to their profits. Internally developed titles would save Nintendo and we were just there to add depth to the games catalogue.”
The developers of the world have only been making HD games and online games since the end of 2005, so it is not as though Nintendo has had eight years in which to pick their brains in preparation for the launch of their first HD console. For all intents and purposes the Wii has been dead since 2010, so there really was ample time for Nintendo to get their house in order. Instead, what we now see is that Nintendo were struggling to produce HD games [with many being notably MIA until well after launch], had abjectly failed in setting up a supportive development environment for third parties, and were so behind on their system’s features and operating system that an absolutely epic patch was required to be installed on day one for any and all network functionality to be accessible. One does not actually wish ill upon Nintendo, but Nintendo have certainly earned it.
Capcom: Next-Gen Games Take Eight to Ten Times the Amount of Work to Produce
The general consensus among Western developers leading into the eighth console generation has been that the new consoles are actually eminently easier to create games for, with the notable caveat that the work for artists has grown exponentially. Because of this it would seem that eighth generation console titles are roughly twenty percent more intensive to produce in terms of man power. In the West.
Much has been made of Japan’s abject failure to adapt to the era of HD gaming, and if this week’s comments made by Capcom senior manager, Masaru Ijuin, are anything to go by, then very little has changed in the intervening eight years since the Xbox 360 was released. Capcom sounds hopelessly ill-suited to support the eighth generation consoles, not least because of the fact that Monster Hunter 4 helped them to narrowly stave off bankruptcy just a couple of months ago.
“it’s clear that heightened game quality leads to a rise in the number of man hours. The amount of work involved in making games for next-gen consoles is eight to ten times greater than what is required for the current generation of consoles.”
Clearly, at least part of this dreadful inefficiency is self-imposed on account of [seemingly] every Japanese developer’s mongoloid insistence on building their own in-house game engine. That being said, it is highly unlikely that building an engine would require Capcom to increase their workforce by a factor of eight, so there must be considerable inefficiencies beyond this. The coming generation promises to be an interesting one in terms of underperforming studios going to the wall. As above, while one certainly does not wish to see the dissolution of Capcom, it would nevertheless be a fate of their own making.
Eighth Generation Consoles Ring-in the New Year With Strong Sales
The recent Wii U doldrums have had many Nintendo fans enthusiastically chirping that the system’s lackluster sales are on account of the very concept of console gaming being no longer viable [better for the entire industry to fail than just Nintendo, no?], yet the eagerness with which consumers have been buying into the PS4 and even the Xbone seemingly puts paid to that idea for now. As of January 1 Microsoft are claiming to have sold over three million units to ‘consumers’ – though some on the internet have speculated that Microsoft’s ‘consumers’ in this instance are the retailers on account of the nation’s retail channels being pretty much stopped up with unpurchased Xbox One stock. At any rate, Microsoft’s happy announcement makes for essential reading if for no other reason than it is brimming with some of the most flagrant lies to have been thus far published in 2014.
“Together, we ushered in a new era of games and entertainment with Xbox One. Over 3 million Xbox One consoles were sold to consumers in 13 countries before the end of 2013. It’s been incredible to see Xbox One selling at a record-setting pace for Xbox, and we were honored to see Xbox One become the fastest-selling console in the U.S. during our launch month in November. Since our launch, demand for Xbox One has been strong, selling out throughout the holidays at most retailers worldwide. We are continuing to work hard to deliver additional consoles to retailers as fast as possible.”
Sony’s PS4, on the other hand, actually did set the record for being America’s fastest-selling console launch during its November release in the US. It sold within the period of twenty-four hours the same number of consoles as took Microsoft over a week to accrue. As of December 28 of last year the PS4 has sold 4.2 million units, and has shifted 9.7 million units of software, which is an attach-rate of better than two games per PS4 owner – no mean feat given the system’s dearth of software.
Finally, it brings one no joy to report that Nintendo are looking increasingly likely to miss their end of financial year projections of selling nine million Wii Us by March 31st. The holiday period saw sales of the Wii U pick-up substantially, yet this increased momentum was barely sufficient to elevate it above the five million mark – so with less than three months remaining the clock is ticking on Nintendo’s courageous and wishful predictions.