There are some people out there that have the wrong idea when it comes to the importance of gaming engines in consoles.
The reason I don’t like to get involved in these conversations is that people see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. They are either too lazy or too brainwashed to do the research to get definitive answers and just regurgitate the popular-jargon that sounds smart when they don’t know what they are talking about. Haters and fanboys of *ALL* companies are guilty of this.
Gaming engines have NOTHING to do with power levels or capability of the hardware. Engines like Frostbite, Fox, and Unreal Engine 4 are designed to allow developers to maximize the potential of the hardware it is used on regardless if it’s powerful or not. I can’t drop a F-1 engine into a Toyota Camry and expect the same results because the Camry wasn’t designed for an F-1 engine. Mark Rein VP of Epic Games stated that UE4 can run on the Wii U as well as the XBOX 360.
Someone would ask, “Well if that is the case then why aren’t there Unreal Engine 4 games on the Wii U?” That answer is simple. Unreal Engine 3 also runs on the Wii U, but because the Wii U was only marginally more-powerful than the XBOX 360 and far less-powerful than the XB1 and PS4 there wasn’t anything you could do with UE4 and you couldn’t with UE3 so why bother? So using what types of engines are being used as a basis of how powerful a system is or why certain games aren’t coming is a misnomer. It’s all about optimization. I’ve seen people get Mario games running on calculators, but the WORK necessary to achieve that far exceeds any possible financial kickback you could get. Especially in this fast-paced, results-driven industry.
Now, the actual reasons IMO are three-fold. Starting off, the Switch is more capable than the previous-gen, less capable than the current-gen, and different architecture. That’s two strikes already. There is also a misnomer from some Nintendo fans that think that just because it is “easy-to-port” games to the Switch that means it is easy to bring games to the Switch. For one, ARM architecture is far easier to deal with than PowerPC in terms of converting x86 code, but it still is not sweet. Porting games from x86 builds requires customization to work with the ARM architecture of the Switch. That means more work, more man-hours, and more money spent in development costs to companies that are already hemorrhaging money as it is.
Sure a game like Mass Effect: Andromeda CAN run on the Switch, but what motivation is there from EA to MAKE it run on the Switch? Which brings me into the third strike.
3rd parties have historically not fared-well on Nintendo consoles. The NES only had 5 games in the top-20 of games sales. The best-selling 3rd-party NES title was the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. That was a shock to me when I found that out. I love the game, but to be the best-selling 3rd-party game on the NES period is really shocking.
The SNES, only three 3rd-party companies had games in the top 20 in terms of sales. Capcom, Square Soft, and Enix. The N64, *ZERO* games in the top 20 and the best-selling 3rd-party game was WCW vs nWo: Revenge at 2.3 million.
The GameCube, only 3 and the best-selling 3rd-party game was Sonic Adventure 2 Battle at 2.5 million.
The Wii, 6 games in the top-20. Five of them were motion-control based fitness or party games. Just Dance 1-4 and Zumba Fitness. The Just Dance series alone sold 32 million copies on the Wii. Zumba about 6.8 million. Mario and Sonic at the Olympics is the other game at 8 million. However with that 32 million games sold with Just Dance, you can see why Ubisoft would be enthusiastic about Nintendo going back to that casual, motion-control pond with the Switch. That makes a lot more sense when you look at the facts doesn’t it? You can really see why any company that made hay on the Wii would be excited about the Switch. Easy money right? People aren’t looking at these things though. People just keep repeating what they have been told to say from a raging-fanboy perspective, or an oppressive-hater perspective. I don’t even need to bring up the 3rd-party situation with the Wii U.
The point is that 3rd-party games have not done well at ALL on Nintendo consoles. Suffice it to say that when you look at the top-20 lists of Sony and Microsoft consoles they are crawling with 3rd-party games selling well-above 10 million copies a PIECE on average. Basically the types of numbers you see from Nintendo 1st-party titles on it’s consoles, you see from 3rd-parties on Sony and Microsoft consoles (and in some cases even above.) The name of the game is to make money and when you look at the fact that the Switch has different architecture than Microsoft or Sony, the console is a generation-behind in terms of power which would require more time for optimization, and that 3rd-parties historically don’t make a lot of money on Nintendo consoles anyway, 1, 2, 3 strikes. You’re out Nintendo Switch.
Now of course, if for some strange reason the Switch takes off like the Wii did, then 3rd-parties will try to get more of their games onto the Switch to try and cash in, but right now it is not financially advantageous for them to do so. It’s not the 3rd-parties fault either. In a back-handed way it is Nintendo’s fault. Not from a nefarious stand-point, but a victim of it’s own success. What has made Nintendo great has also been an albatross to Nintendo regarding 3rd-parties. I think I have given sufficient proof here that 3rd-parties cannot share the same space with Nintendo 1st-parties. Also, indie games will definitely have a large footprint on the Switch because of the vacuum of space from major AAA 3rd-party titles not being there. That’s a great for people who have already gone all-in on the Switch to keep them occupied and satisfied, but not good enough to entice people outside of that Nintendo-bubble to come into it. Even for a little while, basically because those indie titles will be available on hardware they already own. It’s not even about the power because 3rd-parties have struggled on when Nintendo has had under-powered hardware, powerful hardware, or THE most-powerful hardware. This is the reason why the Switch’s success does not depend on 3rd-party support as much as it depends on 1st-party support.
Nintendo MUST invest HEAVILY in there 1st-party IP. They MUST develop new IP in genres outside of their comfort-zones. They MUST have a consistent schedule of 1st-party games released. They do not have the luxury to sit on their laurels and say, “We just don’t feel like making this title.” As Stone Cold would say, “EH-EH!!!”
That’s not happening anymore. They need to be more open about what they are working on as well. It’s okay to have one or two surprises under the sheet here and there, but we need to know what your long-term plans are. The consumer deserves to know. There needs to be a LOT more accountability from Nintendo than their has been in the past. This aloof-attitude that the have had is not okay anymore. There have been some signs that Nintendo is trying to come down off their high-horse a bit and that is good That needs to continue.
So yes, having 3rd-party support is important and cannot be ignored, unless Nintendo is fully-engaged to make it financially worth the while of 3rd-parties to bring their games to the Switch (meaning more 3rd-party exclusives where Nintendo is picking up the tab) do not expect any other than low-risk ports of 3rd-party games. That is why the 3rd-party ports were are seeing are games that either do not have to be heavily-optimized to come down to the power-level of the Switch because they aren’t that graphically-demanding, or ports of games designed for last-gen hardware such as Skyrim, Ultra Street Fighter 2, etc. DO however expect to see TONS of indie titles which means you’d better be researching to best microSD cards out there now if you haven’t already. As we know, the Switch internal flash memory is only 25.9 gigabytes of available space. All microSD cards are not created equal. Some are only compatible with certain devices. Some have faster write-speeds than others. Getting the wrong SD card for your Switch could mean poor resolution and poor performance of digitally-downloaded games onto your microSD card. Hopefully Nintendo can avoid the problems Sony had with the Vita.
I think that if the Switch is to have any measure of success, it will be if Nintendo can flood the shelves with a lot of 1st-party games. Being that the Switch isn’t that powerful, go for volume instead of huge mega-blasts. Think about it. We haven’t seen games like Wild Gunman, Hogan’s Alley, Kung-Fu, Gyromite, 10-Yard Fight, Duck Hunt, Urban Champion, Pro Wrestling, etc. in fully fleshed-out games in over 25 years. ANY version released now no matter what it looks like would be an upgrade. I would prefer that they remain 2-D. If Nintendo wanted to use the Switch to initiate a 2-D gaming renaissance (and….do ALL the other things I have said in previous blogs and podcasts,) then yours truly just MIGHT………………………..pick up a Switch.