Opinion: Is Nintendo's push to bring mobile games to Wii U canny or just plain desperate?
Should indies be interested?
Even the most myopic Nintendophile knows that the Wii U is on its arse.
Sales have flatlined even beyond Nintendo's own conservative estimates. System-selling software is still a long way from arriving in sufficient quantity.
Never mind the talk about it being the next GameCube - it's the next Dreamcast.
So what's the answer?
To date, the software line-up has proven solid but unspectacular. Aggressive, retail-lead price cuts haven't worked, with the hardcore gaming public seemingly content to sit and wait and see what Sony and Microsoft have to offer next.
Nintendo, in its wisdom, continues to push the 3DS agenda hardest, because it knows that it's a battle it can win, with the PS Vita all but ground into the dust at this point.
But that doesn't mean that Nintendo has given up the ghost on its latest home console, and, according to the Japan Times, has given the green light for smartphone developers to port their apps to the Wii U.
Although it wasn't explicitly stated, this revelation presumably relates to the previous announcement a few weeks ago about the Unity development platform coming to the Wii U. In that context, it certainly makes a lot of sense.
A slice of the action
While it's a good idea to make it easy for developers to bring their games to a platform that's struggling to gain significant traction, Nintendo has plenty to think about if it intends to try and grab a slice of the apps market.
For one thing, porting games to the Wii U will not be a trivial task, by any stretch of the imagination.
Thanks to Wii U Game Pad's lack of multi-touch screen, any game not already designed for single touch input will have to be retrofitted - most likely to take advantage of the physical controls inherent on the Game Pad.
In some cases, this might actually be a good thing, and actually improve the gameplay - especially if the game in question previously relied on virtual sticks and buttons - with all the frustrating imprecision that brings.
A game like Waking Mars, for instance, instantly springs to mind as one that would really shine on Wii U.
In others, it won't make any appreciable difference. Take CSR Racing, or Ridiculous Fishing. With those, it's just tap, tap, tap. Simple.
But in other cases, the exact opposite will be true.
Some of the finest touchscreen games simply work better just as they are, with tactile pinch and zoom functions perfectly tailored for the gameplay - The Room, for example.
Trying to shoehorn those onto the Wii U will most likely end up as meekly disappointing.
And then there's the thorny issue of price. Nintendo is hardly renowned for being competitive when it comes to its digital strategy.
This is, after all, the same company that has no problem selling NES games on its eShop for £3.49, or SNES games for £5.49.
Unbelievably, even if you bought them before via on your Wii (at similarly gouging prices), you still have to pay up to £1.49 per game for the 'enhanced' Wii U version.
I bought a couple of hundred over a six year period. Suffice to say, I don't exactly feel like this is a fair reward for loyal customers.
Would The Room work on Wii U?
And then there's the current crop of downloadable titles on the Wii U's eShop. So far, there are fewer than 10 digital-only titles available, and each one has been priced at a level that most iOS and Android users would balk at.
So if and when ports of mobile classics (and, let's face it, there are hundreds now) start appearing on Nintendo's eShop, do we really, seriously expect Nintendo to allow developers to break its long-held pricing strategy? Not a snowflake's chance in hell it will.
What's the point, then? Are gamers seriously going to suddenly become interested in owning a Wii U because the App Store's greatest hits start appearing on a home console? Hardly.
Then again, gamers are mysterious creatures sometimes, and maybe, just maybe, there will be a bit enough of a potential audience on the Wii U to make it worthwhile.
The key to this working is curation. Let's face it, no-one in their right minds at Nintendo would just open the floodgates to any mobile developer wanting to peddle its wares to an unsuspecting public.
We've got enough of a free market in mobile as it is, and look what that's done for discovery.
Far more useful all round is for Nintendo to actively cherry pick the best, most suitable titles past, present and future, and make the Wii U a viable alternative market to sell the cream of the crop.
It then needs to turn around the perception of this being some sort of 'desperate' measure to prop up the Wii U, to being the champion of the most creative, innovative indie games around.
Sure, the Wii U's not going to necessarily be the best home for all the quick fix games that we know and love, but there are more than enough games around with the requisite depth that would work brilliantly.
And on top of that, remember, Nintendo can also cast the net wider to Unity developers focused on PC indie games.
On that note, things could get really interesting in terms of providing a consistent supply of games that wouldn't suffer from any of the drawbacks that handheld tend to be saddled with.
But, again, the success of such an initiative still comes down to three things: price, discovery and promotion. It's simply no good to just throw games up on to a digital store and let the market take care of itself.
There needs to be a proactive desire to excite the media and gamers alike - something that the haplessly uncoordinated world of indie games can fail miserably at, most of the time.
Nintendo also, whisper it, needs to finally open itself up to in-app purchases and free-to-play.
These are interesting times for the Japanese giant. If it plays its cards right, a resurgence is within reach, but sit on its hands and maintain the status quo, and it merely becomes harder to catch up later on.
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