Nintendo, Fix Your Devolpment Cycles

Five years since The Legend of Zelda‘s last console appearance, Skyward Sword is about to be released. It’s bound to be an incredible game, and I’m anticipating it with a degree of excitement I haven’t experienced since, well, I was waiting for Twilight Princess (and before that, Wind Waker, and before that… you get the idea). It’s a testament to the enduring quality of a franchise now 25 years old that Zelda fans like me can still feel like we did when we were kids, salivating over the release of Ocarina of Time.

That’s not to say, however, that we like going these massive half-decade waits for new console iterations of our favourite franchise. In fact, I’m willing to bet we’d shell out the money for as many Zeldas as Nintendo could make us, provided the quality held up, and be all the happier for it.

In the era of endemic “Nintendroughts” across Nintendo platforms, it’s time the company took a hard look at its studios and franchises, and came up with a road map to faster, better structured development cycles. With game development times jutting upward alongside the graphical fidelity of modern consoles and handhelds, it’s also finally time for Nintendo to bust open its infamous war chest and expand aggressively.

My inspiration for this comes from the unlikeliest of places: Activision. Now before you whip out the pitchforks for suggesting Nintendo take any sort of lessons from Bobby Kotick’s factory-line approach to game production, hear me out. I’m not suggesting the company actually annualize Zelda, Mario, or any other series. Nor am I saying Nintendo should milk its franchises any harder than it already does. In fact, under my plan, Mario might actually get a bit of a break.

Activision has two studios dedicated to making Call of Duty, and they release their games on an alternating schedule. Infinity Ward makes the Modern Warfare games, Treyarch does the “off year” titles. With this set-up, Activision is guaranteed a new Call of Duty to sell every holiday season, and fans are guaranteed a new one to buy every year. Now consider what you might get to play if Nintendo adopted similarly rigid development cycles: Mario and Donkey Kong platformers alternating annually, occasional Kirby games instead of awkward gluts of them, two Zeldas a system, many more entries from B-tier franchises, and far fewer release calendar gaps.

Of course, this would entail a sizable expansion for Nintendo, but I think the time has come for that as well. The 3DS’s hollow launch line-up was actually engineered by the company, with Nintendo expressing hope that third parties (known to complain about having to compete with first party Nintendo titles) would fill the void. Unsurprisingly, those developers still didn’t come through. It’s been 15 years since third parties largely abandoned Nintendo, and they’ve been making excuses about why they don’t want to come back ever since. Frankly, for whatever reason, these companies aren’t interested, and the sooner Nintendo gives up on them, the better.

Imagine small developers around the world already close with Nintendo formally brought under the wing of the company. Ocarina of Time 3D developer Grezzo could be put to work making handheld Zeldas full time. Punch-Out!! developer Next Level Games could be put on Mario sports duty.

Imagine first and second party studios expanded to handle greater output. Retro could cover Metroid, Donkey Kong Country, and original projects. NST could be revived to handle realistic sports games, like sequels to Wave Race and 1080°.

The possibilities are truly endless, and an excited fanboy like me could spend all day imagining what an aggressive Nintendo would be capable of. If only the company would take notice and start catering to the people most interested in giving it money.