Ubisoft (NASDAQOTH:UBSFF) has been one of the Wii U's biggest supporters. The French games publisher has released annual entries in its Just Dance and Assassin's Creed series on the struggling platform, and even developed an exclusive horror game, Zombi U, for the console's launch. Rumors have since swirled that the Wii U version of Ubi's upcoming Watch Dogs has been cancelled, but such speculation has been routinely dismissed by company representatives. Now, Ubisoft has announced that it will not have any games to show on Nintendo (NASDAQOTH:NTDOY) platforms at this June's E3 industry expo. Is this a sign that yet another large publisher is deserting the console?
Wii U games are a no-show
Ubisoft's Watch Dogs will launch on almost every system under the sun on May 27, with a Wii U version supposedly debuting sometime later this year. If that is to be the case, it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that the company would have a working, showable build of the title for the year's biggest gaming media event. Still, the persistence of rumors that the Wii U version of the game has been cancelled makes the title's stated absence from the show less than shocking. What is more shocking is Ubi's implicit statement that it does not intend to show a version of a Just Dance game for the console. The company's announced E3 lineup does not currently feature the series, but the list does have a spot for unannounced titles. Ubisoft has released a Just Dance game annually since 2009, so a new entry for this year seems like a surefire bet.
Will Just Dance skip Wii U?
If Ubisoft doesn't announce its next Just Dance game for the Wii U at E3, it will be a clear sign that the publisher is abandoning the platform. The belief that Watch Dogs may not be a good match for the system's user base is well-founded, but the Just Dance series is different. The motion-gaming based franchise would seem to be a natural fit for Nintendo's family oriented audience, perhaps more so than any other IP that Ubisoft has in its stable. The absence of a new Wii U Just Dance game this year would be send the message that Ubisoft does not believe the platform to be at all viable.
Ubisoft will show two Assassin's Creed games at E3
The news that Ubisoft will not show any titles for Nintendo platforms also suggests that the Wii U will not be getting an Assassin's Creed game this year. The publisher has already announced that it will show Assassin's Creed Unity, a game that Ubisoft describes as being "next-gen" from the ground up, at the show. The company is also expected to debut a game called Assassin's Creed Comet for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Ubisoft's statement that it will not have any Wii U games at the show is certain evidence of an erosion of support for the console.
Nintendo needs to win back developers
At this stage, publishers moving away from the Wii U isn't surprising. Nintendo and Electronic Arts had a fairly public falling out, Warner Bros. is taking a more cautious approach to supporting the platform, and a February poll out of the Game Developers Conference showed that only 4% of developers had an interest in supporting Wii U. The real question for Nintendo at this juncture is how to win support back for their next hardware platforms.
The structure of Nintendo's business essentially necessitates that the company stay in the hardware game. Accomplishing that feat becomes increasingly difficult without strong support from third-party publishers. The Wii U's dismal performance casts a shadow over future endeavors, and Nintendo will have to be much more proactive in securing developer support if the company is to maintain its place in gaming.
That said, there are demographic issues at play that will be difficult to overcome. Games like Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty have performed terribly on Wii U. The type of audience that buys such games is currently key to a healthy console, but Nintendo's strengths are still concentrated on a family friendly appeal.
Why should third parties come back?
Nintendo has repeatedly failed to build an audience for the type of triple-A titles that are driving the industry, and there's little reason to believe things will be different next time around. That's the perception Nintendo is up against, regardless of whether Ubisoft trots out another batch of ports or abandons Wii U completely.
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