Why Grand Theft Auto 6 should be a Nintendo NX exclusive

Chris Stead 28 April 2016

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The data shows that the Japanese giant needs to ditch its reliance on first-party developed video games and go hard on securing third-party exclusives.

Launch windows are never particularly fertile ground for video game experiences. It’s very rare that we look back on a game that launched alongside a console as one of its classic experiences. Developers are unfamiliar with the technology, third-party publishers are tentative in their investment and the catalogue is often riddled with ports and enhanced versions of already aging titles from previous consoles. However, with the Nintendo NX, the company cannot risk a lacklustre launch line-up. And it cannot rely on its own exclusives such as Zelda.

Nintendo has to spend big money to secure at least one marquee, if not a few, big blockbuster franchises on a timed exclusive.

While the exact makeup of the console is currently unknown - and we invite you to check out our full wrap-up of all the Nintendo NX rumours – one thing we do know for sure is it will be gasping for air in a sea of 70-80 million installed Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles by the time it releases in March 2017. Nintendo will be hard-pressed to make an impact on third-party developers in those initial months and to get them releasing games for the Nintendo NX that can meaningfully segregate them from those same experiences on other formats.

After all, if you’re a developer or publisher looking at where to best invest your time and money for the maximum return, you’re looking at the ocean of 80 million players, not the kiddy pool of zero. And if you’re a gamer, why are you buying a Nintendo NX in March for games like FIFA 17 and Call of Duty which came out in spring the year before?

The failure of the Wii U – and it’s been one heck of a failure, likely to fall around seven million sales short of the GameCube’s 21 million units and 88 million short of the Wii – has shown that first-party titles just won’t cut it. Nintendo has released three big ticket Mario titles, two Zelda games, a Donkey Kong, a Mario Kart, a Smash Bros., a Yoshi, a Star Fox, a Kirby and an Animal Crossing game to the system in the last three and a bit years, to no avail.

Take a look at this data we pulled from the global sales aggregators:

Wii UXbox OnePlayStation 4Wii
Years on sale4336
Launch price for premium console$429$599$549$399
Units sold13 million21 million40 million101 million
Number of first-party exclusives in top 20 best-selling games19427
Number of third-party titles in top 20 best-selling games1161813
Total sales of third-party games in top 201 million51.62 million101 million47.71 million

It’s quite clear how important third-party games are to the overall success of a console – and by success, we mean the desire of consumers to purchase the console. While exclusives may help differentiate a console to undecided gamers  – and in our opinion generally provide the best experiences – it’s not where the players are going. Punters decide first on where their favourite games can be played, and then - if further deliberation is required - will look to the hardware power and feature-sets to settle on one console.

When the Nintendo NX arrives on the scene, the numbers show that it will be fighting an uphill battle to convince any significant number of consumers to adopt the platform based solely on first-party exclusives. But by the same token, simply running ports of games that already exist on the PS4 and Xbox One, or launching simultaneously with new titles, will also have little impact as that does not distinguish the format as a destination.

The only answer then is to spend big - to drive truckloads of cash up to the door of multi-million selling franchise and wave it about. To buy third-party experiences off its competitors – even if only as a timed exclusive. And Nintendo has a big war chest: with AUD$13.5 billion in the bank it has the capacity to buy a library of anticipated sequels off its competitors.

Imagine the impact announcing GTA VI as a timed exclusive would have on everything around the launch of the NX. It would ensure an increase in publicity and in sales, it would help convince other third-parties to get onboard. It would show an intent that investors, media, retailers, indies and publishers could buy into. And a developer like Rockstar has history – remember the $50 million Microsoft paid for exclusive access to GTA IV’s DLC?

Securing a FIFA, Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty would also be impactful, but far more challenging. The tier 2 publishers like Bethesda, Take-Two, and Square Enix are far more likely to accept cash for a first look at system selling franchises like The Elder Scrolls, GTA/Red Dead and Final Fantasy.

Nintendo needs to aim higher than Bayonetta, Xenoblade Chronicles and The Wonderful 101. I’m not sure such a deal can actually be achieved, but I do believe for the Nintendo NX to be a success, it will need it.

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