Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
02 December 2006
Virtual Console Stupidity
Go Nintendo reports on the games that will be made available at launch over Wii Virtual Console in different markets:

France, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Greece, Portugal, and Spain - Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Wario's Woods, Bomberman 93, Super Star Soldier
Norway, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden - Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Wario's Woods, Bomberman 93, Super Star Soldier, The Legend of Zelda, Dungeon Explorer, Victory Run

That's right, France and Britain will be getting five games on launch, while Luxemborg and Ireland will be getting eight -- including two, Dungeon Explorer and Victory Run, that are not yet available in the US, Nintendo's largest non-Japanese market. But that's nothing compared to the final sentence in the post:

Australia and New Zealand will not see TurboGrafx games, seeing that that platform never made it to those countries.

Nintendo has basically proven here that, to their mind, Virtual Console exists for nostalgia purposes only. Why would they not want to release TurboGrafx games in markets that never saw the system? Because, despite the fact that it costs almost nothing other than rights fees (which cannot be very high) and bandwidth to offer them, they will not, simply because they didn't get it the first time around. Each Virtual Console sale, especially at those prices, is almost pure profit for the licensor and Nintendo, to not chase it is ludicrous. Yeah, they gotta ESRB 'em, sure, so get it done and get them released!

Even worse, indeed incredibly bad, is that this also implies that the many Japanese-only games released over Virtual Console will remain Japanese-only.

To say that Nintendo is dropping the ball here seems like an understatement. If Nintendo were the only download gaming place in town then this kind of arrogance, which is fairly typical for the company it must be said (and this is coming from a long-time Nintendo supporter, the only console I got last generation was a Gamecube), might restrict their sales a bit it would not directly harm them.

But they are certainly not the only download console gaming guys around. X-box Live Arcade has been at it for months now, and has some very nice, original, games for it, and will only be getting more. And they have some of the greatest classic arcade games ever seen; whoever has been picking the out for Microsoft seems to know his stuff. Nintendo has some games that are equal, maybe even a little better, in quality (do not overestimate that "better" thing: objectively measured, Zelda may be awesome, but so is Robotron, just in a different way), but their greatest ally is volume, and so far that's fallen woefully short.

They may claim that the Wii is not trying to compete with the other new-gen consoles, and there is some truth to that, but they are competing directly in the downloadable games space, and so far Nintendo's only real advantages there are simplicity of use and the games themselves. We've heard murmurings about original Virtual Console games but for all we know those could go the way of the 64DD, discarded on a whim at any time in the future. We hear about all these games they COULD release, but COULD != WILL, and their statement that they're going to release a "greatest hits" selection is, frankly, idiotic when two of their US VC launch games are Pinball and Soccer. PINBALL AND F--KING SOCCER! If they're determined to launch early NES classics as well as later ones then where the hell is Ice Hockey?!

Meanwhile in Japan they already have Super Mario Bros! Even though the system launched a couple of weeks later in Japan than the US, at launch they have more games available, and knowing Nintendo, will probably continue to have more throughout the Wii's lifespan.

Nintendo! You cannot afford to do things like this any more! You've left your lunch right there on the table, and Microsoft is heading over with a hungry look in its eye!

And their appetite is boundless.

Labels: , ,

--John Harris at 18:53
Comment [ 16 ]

Comments on this post:

This fills me with great sadness. It means I will be forced to buy Dracula X and a TurboCD instead of a legal emulated version.

It would be interesting to know, from some ROM download site, which country is generating more per-capita-downloads of the Japan-only games: Japan or the United States.

By Blogger jvm, at 02 December, 2006 22:09  

At least for Super Mario Brothers, that will sell whenever they choose to release it, Xbox Live success or no. Also expect them to release Super Mario Brothers All Stars well after they release each of the games individually.

I still think of Xbox Live
Marketplace as an accessory to the Xbox 360 and Virtual Console as the same for the Wii. They are only competing if you own both boxes or if you are deciding which box to get. Nintendo's banking on nostalgia to sell Wiis, not selling Wiis to sell you games online.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 02 December, 2006 23:50  

mordrak, you're talking about stratgy, but I'm saying they can execute their strategy AND pick up a truckload of cash at the same time.

Unlike with many X-box Live Arcade games, many of which are either reimplemented or original, Virtual Console IS an emulator. Once emulation works and the infrastructure is in place, there is no technical reason not to make them all available immediately.

There may still be licensing issues (but selling VC games is free money for the game owners), and there may be rating issues (which can't take that long for these games -- it's not like there's a Hot Coffee hiding in Super Mario Bros' tiny ROM), but those should not be tremendous obstacles.

By Blogger JohnH, at 02 December, 2006 23:58  

I am so sick of Japan getting all the awesome toys and merchandise, and now this. There IS a market here for that kind of thing, if only Nintendo would WAKE UP to it!

By Blogger Kat, at 03 December, 2006 08:47  

Mm, this also means PAL countries will be stuck with shit PAL-"conversions" with borders and slowness.

How many Wii virtual console games do you have to buy before it gets more expensive than a PS3 with Linux and pirated ROMs?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 03 December, 2006 09:40  

How many Wii virtual console games do you have to buy before it gets more expensive than a PS3 with Linux and pirated ROMs?

Guess it depends largely on whether you get caught. A lady I worked with once got caught for having a DirecTV descrambler and was picking up extra jobs to pay the $5k fine. Haven't heard of that happening with pirated games, but I suppose I'll stay on the clydesdale and mention it.

Also, why not just Linuxify a Dreamcast and save a few bucks?! ;)

By Blogger rufbo, at 03 December, 2006 10:28  

johnh, I'm assuming you mean by making them "all" available, you mean across territories simultaneously? If so, you're probably right, unless for some weird reason they think SMB would cut into Zelda sales here in the US but not in Japan.

Virtual Console is a great vehicle for bringing what were Japan only games to other territories. But you still have to worry about translation costs and then, if it's never been released in a territory how much marketing do you give it? None, pop ups on VC, do you do previews? This question becomes more important as more titles get released.

Introducing the TG16 to Australia now wouldn't be a bad idea. Game sites are covering pretty much everything on the VC because of the Wii launch. But a year from now or more, is it going to make sense? Are the sales over the first 6-12 months going to justify diverting those resources (however small) from other things? They may feel it's just not worth the effort, even if it is just taking the time to print the money.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 03 December, 2006 17:25  

By "all" I mean, the whole VC library they have the rights to for each territory could be put online now if they wanted.

Would sales justify diverting resources? Well, resource cost is very small, profit is very large by comparison....

It does not seem like a hard decision to me. At the very least they could just hire new people to do it.

The most charitable explanation I can come up with are that Nintendo is staggering VC releases out so they can easily give themselves a burst of free publicity by making particular classic games available whenever they want to steal a bit of a competitor's thunder, or they're doing it to cut down the load on their download servers.

Neither of those reasons goes very far however, and they won't serve to satisfy angry customers, either.

By Blogger JohnH, at 03 December, 2006 17:37  

I think you are over estimating the impact of the "angry" customers on this. Nintendo's made clear that they are targeting dormant and non-gamers.

For most non-gamers, VC is nice, but not a huge selling point and aren't going to be miffed about some game that's missing from 20 odd years ago.

Dormant gamers that buy the console, in part for VC, might be disappointed that x title from their youth isn't available (if they remember titles at all), but it isn't likely they are going to be cross-checking the releases in their territory with the releases in other territories.

Then you've got, relatively, fervent gamers who do keep up on video game news.. do things like keep track of releases across territories, and want to lawfully play classic (age) games and are unwilling to pirate. The first two groups probably don't even know what emulation is.

I'd argue that last group is very, very, very small. Granted, the last group will probably spend a hell of a lot more money than the first two on the Virtual Console. However, if Nintendo reaches its sales goals, that last group isn't going to mean much, even counting their unusually large wallets.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 03 December, 2006 18:12  

When I said "angry customers," I meant it as, "customers who are angry." Customers like myself, not most people.

But of course, that's really the problem here, isn't it? Nintendo has never been friendly towards power users. PlayYan never made it out in the US, we never got the 64DD with its promised creativity software, they only released two LAN adapter games for Gamecube and only one Broadband game, and so on. Wii's photo channel seems to purposely limit what people can do with it -- you can't save anything made with it into a format that can be taken out of the Wii's isolated little world. You can send them to other Wii owners but they'll be in the same boat!

While Microsoft and Sony scheme to let you do all kinds of things with their systems (download demos! watch videos! play MP3s!) so long as you can't escape their omni-present DRM and format thumb, Nintendo solves the "problem" by letting users do barely anything at all. The system is capable of playing MP3s but only as a secret feature in the photo channel, and only in a very limited fashion!

Yet, ordinary users will be waking up to the problems here this time, I believe. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see the imposed limitations now, for anyone who's seen X-box Live Arcade at work will look at Virtual Console and see that it could be better.

Of course, people looking at X-box Live Arcade will wonder about it having versions of so many classic arcade games but yet being woefully short on console software. No one is really doing it right yet. All are pathetic in one way or another. This race may go to the company that is least clueless.

By Blogger JohnH, at 03 December, 2006 18:35  

If the race goes to the least clueless, Nintendo is DOA. I don't understand how anybody can cheer for a company that insists on treating most of its customers like they were 5-year-olds.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 04 December, 2006 21:02  

I can answer that for you Anony.

People cheer for a company that treats its customers like five-year-olds by creating games that appeal to their sense of wonder more than their desire to see half-naked chicks and blood.

That, the fact that their games almost always have a very strong design (one could argue that Zelda games don't need to change much between iterations because the design was so good to begin with), and they take more risks with their games than any other surviving major publisher.

By Blogger JohnH, at 05 December, 2006 05:38  

There may be a legal, non-licensing issue here. It's possible that a company may not be able to give legal rights to distribute in some countries that they don't have offices in.

International laws like this can be very confusing. I know that a lot of places can't offer their TV shows streaming to Canada because of the CRTC regulations

By Blogger webrunner, at 05 December, 2006 09:01  

Nice Strawman, Johnh. The old "if you don't like Nintendo, you must want boobs" and blood bullshit the brainwashed nintedroids roll out to justify supporting a company that has needlessly censored things like Dracula's tombstone in Castlevania 3, and changed the Holy spell in Final Fantasy to White.

The truth is, I like well-designed games that tell compelling stories, something Nintendo has never done. Super Mario is the same old boring crap every time, and there have only ever been two plots for Zelda.

My favorite games include the Silent Hill series, for being thought-provoking, disturbing and actually scary. Would Nintendo ever allow a game like that for it's systems? No. They'd rather pander to the just-out-of-diapers crowd.
And the disrespect they show their paying customers by doing things like not offering the best hook-up cables at retail, and claiming to be the most affordable system when extra control sets run $100 CDN per player, shows that they don't deserve my money.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 06 December, 2006 09:54  

Most-recent-Anonymous, it seems to me that you are the one erecting a straw man. I gave reasons that people cheer for Nintendo. I, myself, would rather play Zelda than God of War, it is true, but that does not imply that I think everything the company does is right.

If you really want to drag out logical fallacies then I must point out that your use of the word "nintendroid" is ad hominem, but no matter. I make no attempt to defend Nintendo's censorship issues in the past, the company is not good and pure in all things by any means, but I remind you that:

1. Censorship of things like that is a pretty stupid no matter how you look at it, but Nintendo of Japan tends to produce games that do not need to be censored.
2. It does not ultimately matter, from a gameplay perspective, whether that's a cross in the background of that Castlevania church or something else. It's the same game even if you were a rectangle thrusting a line at sine-wave-flying circles attempting to knock you off into that bottomless pit.
3. It is possible to present violent and sexual content in a way that is not exploitive, which would be a very good thing. I do not claim that, if Nintendo had a mind, that they would publish it regardless of how well it is done. I do claim, however, that it is so rarely seen in the game industry that I cannot think of an example off the top of my head, enough so that people (yourself, it seems, included) think that being against exploitive nudity is the same thing as being against mature gaming.

Concerning storytelling in gaming: I do not think, in fact, that video gaming is well-suited to being a storytelling medium. Stories are inherently linear, and games are inherently interactive. A story can only be told through a game by either imposing limits on what a player can do (so as not to spoil the tale), by including story branches (which is interesting in a way but ultimately resolves into being just a form of "what if" play), or by creating the story algorithmically (which is what Chris Crawford's working on with Storytron). I have never seen anything in a Final Fantasy game that could not be better served in a novel or a movie (and probably not a good example of either). I suspect this to be the case with your other examples, too.

By Blogger JohnH, at 06 December, 2006 13:28  

Regarding something like Silent Hill being allowed on Nintendo consoles:

Does the GC-exclusive Resident Evil remake and RE Zero ring any bell? What about Eternal Darkness?

By Blogger webrunner, at 07 December, 2006 13:22  

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