March 24, 2014

Could Nintendo’s HTML5-based Web Framework Put Wii U Back in the Game?

The biggest problem that's facing Nintendo right now—and may well be expanding to the rest of the next-generation console line if the numbers don't pick up—is the overall lack of titles in the field. But thanks to significant growth from the indie gaming market, fueled by the HTML5-driven Nintendo Web Framework, Nintendo's comparative drought may be coming to at least something of an end.

Unity, a tool for video game development, architectural visualizations, and interactive media installations, has become an increasingly popular game engine in recent years, offering developers universal compatibility at a low cost. While the Nintendo Web Framework isn't generating quite the number of titles that Unity is—at least, not yet—this HTML5-powered system is potentially set to give Nintendo a much bigger base from which to work.There was even a demonstration on hand of a game that allowed several Mario clones at once to roam an HTML5-powered landscape, giving developers and players alike an idea of just what HTML5 could do in the field.

Some are a little less than optimistic about the Nintendo Web Framework generating a lot of titles for Nintendo, certainly when measured against the opportunities posed by the Unity engine, set to bring around 50 titles into play in the short term. But given that the Nintendo Web Framework can give developers the necessary tools to play games on Wii U using the Wii U Web browser, the idea of a multi-platform port from one round of development becomes not only possible, but somewhat desirable. Consider the recent release of the “Hitchhiker's Guide” game, a former text-based adventure modified using HTML5 to offer graphics as well; that kind of porting could go on, and could bring a whole new class of game to the Wii U and beyond, opening up a new experience and possibly a new gaming market. Throw in the possibility of the retro gaming market—imagine old Sega games on the Wii U—and the possibilities only climb from there.

When developers can create a game and effectively release it on two or more platforms at once, that's an advantage for the developer. It's a wider install base that the developers get access to, and an improved chance for not only sales in general, but for more sales than without the wider install base. If Nintendo can get games made with the Nintendo Web Framework to also make the jump to Nintendo's portable line, then that only augments the possibilities further. If more developers can get behind the idea of making games for a Web browser, then that opens up significant possibility for cross-platform releasing. The games in question can not only be offered on PC—which is where quite a few people get browser interactions—but also with the Wii U, and potentially with mobile devices, which is a rapidly-swelling market.

Basically, Nintendo needs more games to make the Wii U a viable competitor going forward. While independently-developed games made with the Nintendo Web Framework or even the Unity system may not be what users bought the consoles for, it may well prove to be at least an acceptable appetizer to the main course of triple-A developed games, when those finally start arriving on the beleaguered system. If game developers can embrace the browser game as represented by HTML5, then a multi-platform release may be a much simpler enterprise. HTML5 gaming can bring a whole new class of gaming to the console field, and could result in a new market segment open up: console gamers who also enjoy PC games, but without the PC.

Edited by Alisen Downey


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