Link(s) To The Past: Nintendo In Deep Trouble, Microsoft On Top

What was happening in the world of video game news this week one year ago? Well, Nintendo's Wii U was off to a portentously slow start, the console wars looked markedly different, and the likes of Thief and The Bureau: XCOM Declassified aired their dirty developmental laundry.

The Wii U—And Nintendo's—Troubles Officially Begin

Then: When it rains, it pours. And pours and pours and pours. By the time the post-Wii U launch storm abated and Nintendo had a chance to take a breather, it was practically looking at an empty ship. After a three-million-strong start sales flagged big time, and game development megaliths like EA began to leap overboard. It all sort of happened at once, leaving the house that Mario built with little in the way of a clear direction. But instead of grabbing the wheel and steering in a new, day-saving direction, Nintendo doggedly stayed the course.


Now: Things haven't changed all that much, and that's pretty darn worrisome. The Wii U's gotten some fantastic games like Super Mario 3D World and Pikmin 3, but third-party support is seriously lacking, and nobody seems to have any idea what to do with the system's vestigially umbilical tablet controller—not even Nintendo. As a result of those factors and a lack of momentum, Nintendo's cut its sales expectations for this financial year from 9 million to 2.8 million. Yikes.

On the upside, the 3DS is doing significantly better. Nintendo still saw fit to slash the little-handheld-that-nobody-thought-could's sales expectations from 18 million to 13.5 million, but that's at least a healthy number. The Wii U, by comparison, may as well be choking down a purple mushroom.

The unavoidable feeling, however, is that Nintendo's a dinosaur slowly learning how to tie its shoes and use a computer. When it's not dealing with dwindling profits and directionless systems, it's getting the spotlight shone on its archaic communication policies and seeming inability to change with the times.

Nintendo Direct video conferences are an interesting means of cutting out any sort of middleman and communicating exactly the message Nintendo wants to get across, but they're presentations—not discussions. For a company tied so inextricably to people's most nostalgically thrumming heartstrings, Nintendo is weirdly impersonal.


But man, that Mega64 video introducing Nintendo's competitive-Smash-Bros-flavored E3 plans was pretty funny, not to mention ever-so-slightly self-aware. Maybe it's a sign of things to come? A small silver lining, but at this point even baby steps in the right direction are significant.


Microsoft Rules The Console Wars For 27 Straight Months

Then: A lot of people bought Xbox 360s. At this point last year, the total tally was at 77.2 million in the US, putting Xbox hardware on top of consumer market research group NPD's charts for 27 consecutive months. Admittedly, the PS3 was never far behind, and also the Wii—though markedly less popular than back when Wii bowling taught kids and the elderly alike an important lesson about... bowling—didn't do too poorly either. A pretty indicative snapshot of last gen's photo finish, I'd say.


Now: As we've pointed out on a couple different occasions, this new console generation is weird. In the early goings fortunes have reversed, with the more reasonably priced PlayStation 4 leading hardware sales numbers at 7 million even as Xbox One mecha-darling Titanfall stomps all over other new-gen game offerings. That's not the weird part, though.

Pickings are slim for games on both machines, and it doesn't look like that'll change any time soon. Xbox One has Titanfall, and PlayStation 4 has Infamous: Second Son, but it's mostly up-rezzed last-gen ports on the horizon at this point. The consoles themselves are doing extremely well—defying most expectations, even—but that's kind of the problem. Publishers didn't expect much, so they didn't exactly roll out the red carpet. Everyone's rushing out to buy new boxes full of high-tech doo-dads and gimblewarks, but they may quickly find themselves with nothing to do.


It's an awkward situation, to say the least. It remains to be seen what sort of effect this early lull will have on the new console generation overall, but let's just say I hope everyone's bringing their shiniest toys to E3 this year. You thought you left show-and-tell behind after pre-school? Well, you were wrong. It's back with a vengeance (and probably, like, three Call of Duty sequels).


Sometimes Bad Things Happen To Good Developers

Then: Within the span of just a few days, the infamous "XCOM shooter" was abruptly re-revealed as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and word of Thief's incredibly troubled development cycle burst into full view. Both games, the story goes, hit multiple snags along the path to release and had versions scrapped and rebuilt as their respective teams bled senior-level staff. Game development is a messy business, and you can't win 'em all.


Now: Unsurprisingly, neither game was particularly great, though—if nothing else—they weren't egregiously terrible either. Just subpar and sloppy, as though knit together from the flesh and bone of countless other half-complete games. Though there's no way of knowing for sure if that's exactly what happened, it's entirely possible given how many revisions both games are said to have gone through.

The aftermath has been equally messy, with both the Thief development team at Eidos Montreal and BioShock 2/Bureau developer 2K Marin suffering heavy layoffs. The latter is rumored to have been "essentially" closed, with a remaining skeleton staff moving over to 2K's new Bay studio headed up by former Gears of War producer Rod Fergusson.


Sad times all around, in other words. On the upside, neither series is doomed, given that XCOM's other reinventions—Firaxis-developed strategy games XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM: Enemy Within—have been quite successful, while Thief is selling decently and there have already been whispers of a possible sequel.

But the resulting situations are still unfortunate, and it's tough to figure out how they could've been avoided. Both Thief and XCOM cast massive shadows—not just over their own series revivals, but across the whole history of video games—so figuring out exactly how to bring them back was bound to be trouble. Naturally, disagreements arose and priorities changed, especially as many fans made it known that they wanted old-school complexity and nuance, not new takes on old universes or over-simplified approaches. These series are more than just names, but they mean countless things to countless people. How do you account for that? Where's the sweet spot short of 1:1 remake? Is there one?


It's just a shame that the axe falls almost entirely on creative talent in these situations. I mean, these are not bad developers by any means. Eidos Montreal previously released the fantastic Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and I personally think BioShock 2 is the best game in the whole series (yeah, yeah, come at me bro, etc). As evidenced by Human Revolution and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it's not impossible to get these series revivals right. But sometimes things need to crash and burn before they can rise from their own ashes. I just wish the gaming industry was a bit more... accommodating of that.



Then: Rumors swirled that a new Call of Duty would soon be announced. It was.

Now: Rumors—some of which are totally unfounded and silly—are swirling that a new Call of Duty will soon be announced. It will.


Link(s) To The Past is a weekly feature in which we look back at least year's big news and analyze how far we have (or haven't) come.

TMI is a branch of Kotaku dedicated to telling you everything about my adventures in the gaming industry. And I do mean everything, thus the name. It's an experiment in disclosure, storytelling, interviewing, and more. The gaming industry is weird. People are weird. I am weird. You are weird. Why hide that? Let's explore it.

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