Wherein I discuss acquisitions (get used to me saying that every week, folks), and Nintendo’s war on games preservation.
This past week, I finished my playthrough of Pokémon Legends: Arceus. I finished all story missions, did every side quest, completed the Pokédex, and achieved 100% completion as far as I’m concerned. It took me 100 hours, because my play was suboptimal and lacked much direction, but I did it. And I have to say that PLA was definitely the most fun I had with Pokémon in a solid decade.
I’ll save my reasons for my 5,000+ word review, which will go live on the 23rd, but I just want to take a moment and comment on how, even after going through that game, even after investing three weeks into it, I am still in disbelief that this game exists. I had become so accepting that the Pokémon series would remain stagnant until the end of time. But with PLA, they revised the structure and feel of the series. It has a lot of minor problems and questionable design elements, but it does so much so well that I can say that my time with the game was nothing short of wonderful.
It makes me want to lean back and ask myself what I want from the medium of video games now, and what my newest and hottest dream game would be. There are several high quality TSF visual novels that are being actively developed. I got NEO: The World Ends With You just 7 months ago. There are more quality metroidvanias out there than I can keep track of. And assuming GameFreak does not BETRAY me and my hope AGAIN, then I’ll have a good Pokémon game every 2 years. Plus, I have more Nintendo and Steam games than I can possibly play. I am good, content, and perfectly happy when it comes to video games, and if the industry were to stop here and now, and everything were to get just horrible with ‘financialized gaming’ then I would be fine with what is currently available.
At this point, the only game I want that I think I will never get is a spiritual successor to Ys Origin that contains upgrade and exploration (metroidvania) elements. That’s a bit too specific to come to fruition but hey, you never know. There might even be a game that meets those exact qualifiers that I’m just not aware of.
Let’s kick in the door this week with yet another bout of acquisition news, as this week kicked off with Focus Entertainment, a generally clean European middle-shelf publisher, picking up Leikir Studio. With Leikir Studio being best known as the developers behind the upcoming Metal Slug Tactics. That alone might sound like something of a stretch, but then I remembered that Metal Slug Tactics is being published by Dotemu, who Focus acquired back in August 2021. So this is acquiring a somewhat related party, and would most likely mean good things for Leikir, as Dotemu could give them access to additional classic game IPs, as reviving classic IPs is kind of their thing. Meanwhile Focus, as a publisher, is willing to greenlight new IPs. So I guess this might be good for Leikir.
Days later, Nacon (who just acquired Midgar Studio last week) announced that they are acquiring Daedalic Entertainment. With Daedalic being a growing lower-mid-shelf European developer and publisher. The seeds for this acquisition likely began back in January 2021, when Daedalic partnered with Nacon to publish their biggest title yet, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, meaning that the two had an existing relationship already.
If I were to theorize why exactly this is happening, I would say that management at Daedalic wants to pursue larger-scale projects. Larger projects require additional capital to fund, requiring Daedalic to seek out investors, or get funding from a company like Nacon. I ultimately think that it would be healthier for the industry in general if companies like Daedalic continued to grow organically. Unfortunately, growing a company of this scale is a strenuous and risky process, and it is simply easier for the owners to sell the company and gradually leave years later, taking millions with them. As for Nacon… they just want to be one of the biggest publishers in Europe, and I cannot blame them for wanting to claim a stronger place in the industry.
What I find curious about both of these stories is that they are acquisitions of development partners, which is something that we have been seeing for quite a while. I tend to view these as more ‘acceptable’ acquisitions, as there is a precedent for these companies to become one, given their existing dependency on one another. But the core reason why this is happening so much nowadays is because… publishers are worried about other companies ‘stealing away’ their development partners.
While there is a narrative that studios like Daedric and Leikir want to be independent, that is not necessarily true. After running a studio for years and years, many owners want to sell their studio. If they sell, they can move onto a new stage in their career, secure financial security, and allow the team they fostered to (maybe) be cared for by a larger company more capable of offering long-term benefits. Companies like Daedric and Leikir could potentially sell themselves to larger publishers, especially in such a hot market, but it is… customary (I could be off-base here) to first make this proposal to your nearest partners. Meaning, in these instances, Focus and Nacon. Focus and Nacon could always turn them down and not buy them, but they could lose a partner in the process.
Or in other words, there are so many acquisitions going on… because companies are afraid that other companies will acquire the companies they are partnered with. And because so many acquisitions are happening, this is instilling an industry-wide sense of FOMO, where everybody is either looking to sell and buy as the industry shuffles power under fewer publishers. Those who are not one of these few publishers risks falling into obscurity, or being locked into the low-shelf or independent markets. Because once locked into this market, you will probably lack many opportunities to move up into AA development, let alone AAA development, without incurring serious financial risk.
Can I move away from acquisition news? No? I need to talk about Nintendo and acquisitions? Okay, fine… I can do that.
GamesIndustry.biz recently put up an article analyzing the curious situation Nintendo is in as the industry veers into more consolidation. Nintendo has always been a peculiar and culture-driven company that partners with a select few studios, but tends to keep them at arm’s length. They rarely ever purchase studios that they have not been working with for years, and the only recent examples are things like Monolith Soft in 2006, Brownie Brown in 2013, and Next Level Games in 2021. According to this article, Next Level was purchased because the studio was looking to sell itself and, in order to avoid losing a quality developer, Nintendo bought them outright.
What I find fascinating about this concept is that Nintendo really does not have much in the way of close development partners, let alone ones with, as president Shuntaro Furukawa put it, “Nintendo DNA.” They could certainly purchase major affiliates like Greezo and Camelot, but that does not necessarily improve their output, and would likely be more of an administrative change. They could conceivably purchase long-standing partners, but I think most of the names cited by this article are unlikely.
MercurySteam is probable, given their success with reviving 2D Metroid. WayForward was thrown around in this article, and has been growing increasingly close to Nintendo in recent years, but I worry that they might not meet the high ‘quality standards’ held by Nintendo. Bandai Namco, Sega, and Capcom… are never going to happen, as they are too big to be Nintendo-ized. PlatinumGames is probably off the table. Nintendo’s reluctance to publish The Wonderful 101 on Switch, combined with how Nintendo became the full owner of the Astral Chain and the lengthy development of Bayonetta 3 lead me to think that their relationship might have decayed over the past decade. Plus, Platinum’s current business direction is very non-Nintendo, and buying Platinum would mean buying out Tencent.
I think the best approach for Nintendo might just be to have publishing deals with other developers, instead of bringing them into the fold. Hell, even if they primarily just outsource remakes to developers like WayForward, that would do wonders to bolster their output. And it’s not like it is impossible for Nintendo to have an Embracer or Tencent developer work on a game for them. Hell, that’s what happened with TiMi’s Pokémon Unite.
Sticking with Nintendo as the primary subject, they recently put out an announcement that I have been dreading for about ten years. In March 2023, Nintendo is going to shut down the 3DS and Wii U eShops. Credit cards will stop being accepted on May 23, 2022 and point cards will be unredeemable as of August 29, 2022. Linked Nintendo ID wallets can be used to purchase content until March 2023. After that date, users will still be able to download purchased content and play games online. Or in other words, this is strictly the loss of the ability to purchase new content and, in all fairness, few people are purchasing content on these platforms in the year 2022.
Nintendo’s choice to not make the Switch backwards compatible more or less doomed these storefronts for irrelevance and shutdowns, and while I do think that this is a loss… I also do not really mind this, for two reasons. One: there are relatively few digital-only exclusive games on Wii U and 3DS.
Pushmo, Crashmo, Stretchmo, Dillon’s Rolling Western, The Denpa Men series, NES Remix, Affordable Space Adventures, Guild01, Guild02, HarmoKnight, Liberation Maiden, Pocket Card Jockey, the list goes on, but it is not as expansive as WiiWare. Two: pretty much all of these games can be emulated nowadays on Cemu and Citra, so emulation will save the day yet again!
That being said, what Nintendo is doing here is wildly irresponsible. They are the arbiters of these games and they are saying they are no longer worth selling or preserving, meaning it is up to the public to preserve them.
In the era of the internet, rights holders have myriad opportunities and avenues to sell their works. Because of this, I have come to view it as a responsibility for rights holders to make their products available for purchase or rent, and to make these prices reasonable. Should the rights holders fail to sell or otherwise distribute their works, then I consider it to be ‘inarguably correct on every meaningful level’ to copy, pirate, emulate, or play these works without supporting the official release. Because there isn’t one.
I know this isn’t how laws are written, but I do not care. Either do your due diligence as a rights holder and sell your works, or accept that you are encouraging people to pirate your games.
I thought that was going to be it for the Wii U and 3DS shut down, but VGC conducted an interview with a former employee of Nintendo of America to ask them about this outage and what was planned when they were working for the company. You can read the interview for yourself, but my core takeaways were as follows:
Nintendo acknowledged the Wii U as a failure since 2014, which checks out by all estimates. They view this 10 year life of the Wii U eShop as the bare minimum to avoid a class action lawsuit, and they’re probably right. But most damning of all is that Nintendo intends on shutting off the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS download servers eventually. Meaning that the only way several generations of digital games will only live on will be via private backups. Because I guess maintaining download servers is too expensive for a company with a $60 billion market cap.
This is why I decided to buy physical games on Switch. Because I do not, and can not, trust Nintendo to honor my digital licenses, let alone carry them forward. So I buy physical copies and use them as an ‘unambiguous justification’ for me to download illegally uploaded ROM dumps of these games and play them via emulator. Hell, the only reason I don’t do this with Switch games right now is that Switch emulation is still a few years from being superior to playing on the original hardware.