Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How the PlayStation 2 helped the Wii, and how current-gen systems could help the Wii U

Image of a rectangular box with two halves. The top half shows the PlayStation 2 and Wii side by side, and the bottom half shows the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii U

While the Wii managed to outsell the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it had terrible support from third-party developers. However, things could have been a lot worse for the system had it not been for the phenomenal success of the PlayStation 2.

When the Wii launched, its prospects for third-party games were pretty grim. As a console that was a generation behind the competition in processing power, there was no way it would be able to run games built for Microsoft and Sony's systems. Naturally, this meant that developers would have to build games from the ground up for the system, and multiplatform titles would be completely different from their HD counterparts as ports were impossible.

The Wii version of Call of Duty 3 might not have been made if it weren't for the PS2.

There was yet another problem that faced the Wii - everyone knows that games don't tend to sell very well on Nintendo consoles unless they were created by Nintendo themselves. This meant third-party developers would have to do extra work to create games for the Wii while worrying about the possibility of major financial losses.

The Wii version of Medal of Honor: Vanguard. Would it exist if it weren't for the PS2? Probably not. 

And that's where the PlayStation 2 comes in. As we all know, the PS2 is the best-selling console of all time, with over 150 million units sold. At the time of the Wii's arrival, that number was a little lower, but not by mcuh. Many third-party developers continued creating games for the system well after the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were released, due to the fact that the PS2 had a massive install base like no console before or since. Coupled with the uncertainty that accompanies all hardware launches, it's easy to see why it was seen as a viable platform even though it was by far the weakest system on the market.

The Wii version of Ghostbusters, yet another game that might have skipped the console completely if it weren't for PS2 owners.

While Nintendo wasn't happy about the fact that the PS2 outsold their GameCube by a margin of over 5 to 1, the ongoing support for Sony's insanely successful console would benefit the Wii in ways they might not have imagined. Developers who continued crafting games for the PS2 didn't have to go through all the trouble of building games from the ground up for Nintendo's console as they were already making material for a "last-gen" system. This meant they could port PS2 games to the Wii, thereby reducing risks and making it economically viable to support the new console. Of course the process may have been the opposite in some cases, with Wii games being developed first and subsequently ported to the PS2, but that is irrelevant. The point is, if it weren't for the "safety net" of PS2 owners to fall back on, the Wii would have had even less third-party support than it did.

Why history could repeat itself with the Wii U

With the Wii U it is possible, and maybe even probable, that we will see a similar pattern develop. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are far more powerful than Nintendo's new console, and the message from third-party developers is clear - the Wii U is not in the same league, and simple ports are out of the question.

EA says it would be hard work to get the Frostbite engine to run smoothly on Wii U, so games like Battlefield 4 are skipping the console.

However, hope is not lost - many companies have announced their next-gen launch titles are also in development for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and it is likely they will continue to make games for Microsoft and Sony's current-gen systems well into the coming years. The two consoles are almost even in sales, with both shifting over 70 million units - that's a combined install base of over 140 million units. With that many potential customers, it seems safe to say that the current-gen could have a few more years of life in it, especially if the Xbox One and PS4 each have a slow start. Since the Wii U is, in terms of power, a "current-gen" system, it's not unreasonable to presume that it could see more ports of 360 and PS3 games much like its predecessor saw ports of PS2 games throughout its life.

Screenshot of video game Watch Dogs
Games like Ubisoft's Watch_Dogs are being developed for current and next-gen systems

Don't count Nintendo out yet

It remains to be seen just how many gamers are ready to begin another console cycle. There have been quite a few who have voiced their disappointment with the "leap in graphics" seen so far. Even if the next-gen systems can do far more than current ones, it's not as obvious this time around, and convincing people to part with hundreds of dollars for a perceived "small step" in visuals during hard economic times could be an uphill battle.

Screenshot of Battlefield 4 sent by EA DICE showing next-gen console graphics
EA DICE recently sent out this image via Twitter with the hashtags #XboxOne, #PS4. Will these graphics be enough to get average gamers to spend hundreds of dollars to upgrade?

We have heard some industry insiders, most notably the president of Activision, say they believe the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 could suffer the same growing pains as the Wii U, and if that happens, the current-gen could see a resurgence from developers who wish to play it safe. After all, it's much easier to recoup development costs and make a profit if you're selling to 140 million customers as opposed to 15 million or less. Factor in the ever-increasing costs of making games and the current-gen looks that much more appealing to developers, especially when a single misfire can bring a company down. If studios continue to develop for the Xbox 360 and PS3 well after the start of the next-gen console war, it's very possible that the flow of ports to the Wii U could continue for years to come.

One major hurdle: Wii U owners aren't buying third-party games

Batman fighting with enemies in Arkham Origins
Most third-party Wii U games have been old ports. New games like Batman: Arkham Origins should reveal just how much of a demand there is for new third-party games.

As reassuring as this may sound to Nintendo fans, there is a serious problem - while sales of New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land have each passed the 2 million mark, sales of third-party Wii U games have been abysmal, and many developers have already abandoned the system. If Wii U owners don't put their money where their mouths are, more companies will surely turn away, even if they continue supporting the Xbox 360 and PS3 for years to come. Then again, it's hard to blame the Nintendo crowd for passing on many third-party titles since it seems they usually have inferior performance than the other versions, are missing key features, or are ports of older games that can be purchased much cheaper on other platforms. It's quite a conundrum.

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