Reacting to Bethesda VP’s remarks on Nintendo

bonus round

Sometimes I’m not sure what to think of comments made by bigwigs within the gaming industry. And that’s not some passive aggressive remark. At times, I really can’t figure out what these guys are getting at.

Just a few days ago, on the GameTrailers show ‘Bonus Round,’ Pete Hines, the vice president of Bethesda Softworks, was asked by Geoff Keighley (who always seems to be on the verge of hysteria when speaking about Nintendo) what Nintendo could do to entice third-party developers to create more games for Wii U.

To paraphrase, Hines said it’s about the hardware, the audience, and whether it (Wii U) does things the same way the others do (PS4, Xbone). He basically rattled off the reasons why Bethesda doesn’t support Nintendo.

There was further discussion between Keighley, Hines and the other guests, which Hines later used as a jumping-off point to expand upon his initial statements.

“The time for convincing publishers and developers to support Wii U has long passed,” he said. “The box is out,” he added incredulously.

“You have to do what Sony and Microsoft have been doing with us for a long time. And it’s not that every time we met with them we got all the answers we wanted, but they involved us very early on and talked to folks like Bethesda and Gearbox, saying, ‘Here’s what we’re doing, here’s what we’re planning, here’s how we think it’s going to work,’ to hear what we thought, from our tech guys and from an experience standpoint,” Hines continued.

“You have to spend an unbelievable amount of time upfront doing that. If you’re going to just decide, ‘we’re going to make a box, and this is how it’s going to work and you should make games for it,’ well, no. No is my answer,” he concluded.

Now, I’m going to make some mighty big assumptions here, and obviously I say this as someone who knows nothing from a technical or business perspective, but just hear me out.

I understand why Bethesda wants to work with systems that can provide raw, unbridled horsepower. Their games are very resource-heavy and require some real souped-up hardware. In fact, even on the more powerful consoles (i.e. not Nintendo’s), they’ve been known to run rather poorly.

The top PC hardware always yields the best results with Bethesda’s games, so I understand if less-powerful hardware is what keeps them (and other developers like them) from making games on Nintendo’s platforms. But, that wasn’t the only reason Hines gave.

He said it’s also about the audience. Now, this is all conjecture on my part, because I don’t have a way to speak to Pete Hines for clarification, but I’m assuming he means that people who buy Nintendo consoles aren’t part of the Bethesda demographic. In other words, if Mario, Zelda, and Smash Bros. are important to you, then Skyrim isn’t.

And here’s what really piqued my curiosity. Hines said it’s about whether or not Wii U does things in the same way as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Well, we all know it doesn’t. Issues of raw power aside, Nintendo has taken a much different approach to its newest console. While Sony and Microsoft are content to essentially build beefier versions of their previous home consoles, Nintendo continues to buck the trends, just as it did with Wii.

You can talk about Kinect 2 and the PlayStation Move/Camera, both of which heavily drew inspiration from the Wii — thought I’ll grant you the EyeToy probably played a larger role in Sony’s camera — but the fact is that neither Microsoft nor Sony make use of their devices as integral parts of the experience. Few people even care. On top of that, Xbox Smartglass, and whatever similar app Sony is creating, are weak responses in an attempt to emulate Wii U’s GamePad.

All of that said, I’m actually not knocking Sony and Microsoft. Having a powerful, all-in-one entertainment device is wonderful. My PlayStation 3 is a better Blu-ray player than any dedicated player I’ve ever used. Its Netflix interface outmatches what I’ve experienced on Apple TV, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U or even my computer; especially with my PlayStation 3 remote. And of course, it’s a powerhouse of a game machine with plenty of multiplatform games and a decent collection of exclusives. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are the next evolution in that particular mold of home consoles.

But apart from the systems’ power, none of that matters to Bethesda. At least, I don’t think it does. So what are we really left with here? Well, I guess that’d be the controller — the sole means by which we interact with games.

The Wii U GamePad is entirely different from any controller in the past because of its touchscreen. It’s almost like the console equivalent of the Nintendo DS. But it also contains all the same components of a traditional controller: analog sticks, a D-pad, four face buttons, triggers and bumpers, start and select, and even a ‘home’ button.

Nintendo fashioned a new way around which to design games, but it’s not a complete departure from the norm like the Wii was. In fact, it’s actually much more familiar. It’s similar to using a traditional controller, it’s just that you now have a nice big touchscreen to interact with, as well.

And if the DS, 3DS and current slew of Wii U games are any indication, we should expect a lot of fun and innovative games to make use of the touchscreen on the GamePad in the coming years.

But obviously not all developers, such as Bethesda, have interest in changing things up and trying out new ideas. Actually, it seems a lot of developers are content to do the same old thing until the end of time, only with a glossier paint job. They just want more horsepower.

But if you’re going to reject legitimate attempts to explore new ways to play, you can’t rely on the same old method of “here’s a fresh coat of a paint, now go sell millions!” You have to actively work to push the medium forward, or else it’ll stagnate and lose its edge. I mean, in a number of ways, not a lot has changed since the era of the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

I suppose what irks me the most is Hines’s comment about Nintendo not asking them for their opinions. It came off as really petulant to me. Certainly I understand that it helps to have a working dialog, especially when building a new platform, so as to better understand what developers are looking for and what can be done to alleviate their troubles.

But the way he phrased it, and the way he said it, basically sounded like, “Nintendo isn’t doing exactly the same thing as Sony and Microsoft. They’re doing something different, and they didn’t even ask for our input. How dare they!” And I imagine him saying it with a huffy-puffy quality to his voice.

But here’s the deal — all the guesswork and suppositions aside, what it all comes down to is that Nintendo has a less-powerful console that uses a non-traditional controller. Many developers are either too scared to take a chance, or they see no value in the touchscreen. Either way, it’s hurting Nintendo; not necessarily in the long run, but certainly in the short term.

I understand that not everyone likes Nintendo’s first party games (heretics, if you ask me), and I suppose there are people who don’t buy in to the GamePad or think less-powerful hardware means less-fun games. There are people who just want nothing to do with Nintendo, regardless. But hey, it happens.

It’s the lack of third-party support that is largely to blame for Wii U’s poor install base. And unfortunately, we’re to the point where many people aren’t buying it because “it doesn’t have any games,” but then third-party developers don’t create games for it because “people aren’t buying it.” It’s a vicious cycle, but one I think Nintendo can circumvent rather soon with games of its own.

Console exclusives aren’t dead, but they’re dwindling. Nintendo probably makes the strongest case for buying a console based on games you can’t get elsewhere, but without the support of most multiplatform games, it’s as if there’s a massive collection of exclusives they’re not getting.

But Nintendo’s own games have finally started to show up, and their presence is only going to get stronger with each passing month. With the announcement of a special edition Wind Waker HD/Wii U Deluxe bundle, containing the console, a download code for the game and a virtual copy of Hyrule Historia, all for the same cost as the newly priced Wii U Deluxe (now $299, down from $349) by itself, I think a lot of people will be convinced to make the jump.

And that’s without even mentioning the fact this bundle, and its digital copy of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, will be available weeks before the retail copy hits stores. That’s kind of a big deal.

All things considered, I feel it’s possible for Nintendo to convince a decent number of third-party Japanese developers to produce an adequate number of titles for their system. Unfortunately, Western developers seem more resistant. But we’ll just have to see.

While I thoroughly believe Nintendo makes games for everyone, I also have to believe that at the moment, they are a niche developer. And that’s just weird.

You can watch the entire ‘Bonus Round’ episode here.

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