By trying to be “different” with the tablet controller, they have complicated game design for developers, who can’t figure out if the Wii U will ultimately support only one or multiple controllers. Nintendo made the device sufficiently different that they are all but assured of limited third party launch support, which ultimately will lead to modest hardware sales.
I believe the problem with Nintendo’s lack of third party support lies with the the third parties, and not with Nintendo.
When Nintendo launched Wii back in 2006, third party developers were presented with a system that was fundamentally different from its competitors. For starters, Wii lacked the graphical capabilities of the XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3. Say what you will about graphics not being important, they are. If not to the gamer, than to the developer. This is one of the key reasons why major multi-platform games like Call of Duty were never given much attention on Wii, as they had to be built entirely separately from their HD counterparts since developer could not use the same resources, which led to increased development cost and time.
Secondly, developers were – and in some cases, still are – perplexed by the Wii’s intuitive and wildly different controller. They felt compelled to produce games that utilized the system’s motion controls, which led to some half-assed write-off games that nobody even bothered to give a second look.
It was these two (for lack of a better word) issues that hampered the third party support for Wii. But with Wii U, Nintendo is trying to right some of those wrongs. That can’t be accomplished by Nintendo alone, however. The third party developers have an equally important role to play.
Nintendo is finally jumping into the world of high definition with Wii U, which can produce graphics just as beautiful and realistic as the PS3 and 360. So I see no reason why third party developers that all but ignored Wii can’t release their major multi-platform titles for Wii U as well. It will be much easier to develop a single game for all three consoles now that graphical capabilities are equal across the board.
The biggest hurdle that third parties have to overcome is their fear of Nintendo’s controllers. Nintendo is a company that innovates, that aims to provide new, fun, and intuitive ways for its customers to play games, and of course they hope that third party developers will be encouraged to try to make equally unique and intuitive games. But why do those have to be the only types of games developers can make for Nintendo systems? What is stopping developers from “ignoring” the unique qualities of a Wii or Wii U controller, and building a game that uses more traditional controls? After all, the Wii Remote and Wii U Tablet both feature the same traditional control schemes as the 360 and PS3: buttons and analog sticks. A game like Call of Duty, for instance, could use the Wii Remote to aim, but forego all of that obligatory “shake to throw grenades” and other such gestures that never quite work as intended. Or use the Wii U tablet, but ignore the touchscreen and make do with the sticks and buttons.
Developers should not feel the need to “differentiate” the Nintendo version of their game just to accommodate the unique controllers. If the only differentiator between the 360 and PS3 version of your game is which console the player owns, than why feel compelled to create a “different experience” for Wii U? If it can work for 360 and PS3, it can work for Wii U.
Now I understand that it is up to Nintendo to provide developers with a good SDK, and a solid online platform that is just as robust as those of Microsoft and Sony, which I hope they are working hard on. But given the proper development tools, third party games can be just as great, just as traditional, and just as popular on the Wii U as they are on the 360 and PS3. I just hope the third party developers can see that.