The Wii U’s short-term success is in jeopardy, and it’s all Rayman’s fault

The Wii U’s short-term success is in jeopardy, and it’s all Rayman’s fault

It takes good games to sell a system. Price point matters, advertising matters, but gamers look for good games, and they will go to great lengths to play them. The Wii U has lost one of the most anticipated titles of its early life now that Rayman Legends has been delayed to early September of this year.

“When we saw all the comments when we announced the game would be focused on Wii U, all of the people that have both the PlayStation 3 and 360 were really disappointed,” Xavier Poix, managing director of Ubisoft’s French studios, told IGN. “So we thought it was making more sense to also bring the game to where it was originally from. That means Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. So we decided to go for a multiplatform launch simultaneously.”

So the game is fine, and if you have a Wii U you can go ahead and check out the wonderful demo, but it’s being kept from players so Ubisoft can release the game across multiple platforms. There is a dangerous subtext here: The Wii U has simply not sold enough units to make launching an exclusive title like Rayman Legends worth it to publishers. If there was blood in the water before, Ubisoft has effectively run around the beach to scream about sharks. Other publishers are going to pay attention.

Ubisoft isn’t the only company that has a shy trigger finger about supporting the Wii U. “We were somewhat disappointed with the launch of the Wii U. It’s a challenging environment. One of the things we’re worried about is what the install base will be for 6 to 12 year olds,” Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said on a recent conference call with investors, discussing the Skylanders series.  “It’s something we’re concerned about.”

A slim season for the Wii U

What’s frustrating about Poix’s argument is that of course people who don’t have a Wii U want to play Rayman Legends. That’s the value of a platform exclusive: You have to buy a system to play the game. When a system gets enough games that you can’t get anywhere else, the hardware becomes attractive enough to buy. This makes sense for Ubisoft, a company that naturally wants to sell as many copies of a good game as possible, but it hurts Nintendo in a large, and very public, way.

What’s left without Rayman Legends? LEGO City: Undercover will be released on March 18, but the Wii U lineup for the next few months is more or less ports. You can argue for Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, also coming in March, but that series is much more popular in Japan than the United States, and the game is an expanded version of a Wii release. Rayman Legends was a rare bright light in the first half of the Wii U’s 2013 lineup and, not only is it gone, but Ubisoft’s rejection of the game as a Wii U exclusive signals that the Wii U is hurting.

Without games, a system doesn’t sell. Without a high number of sales, the games won’t come. Nintendo has always been more reliant on first-party releases than either Sony or Microsoft, but there’s just as bad of a drought for Nintendo games in the first half of the year as third-party titles.Gamers who were excited by the Wii U’s launch titles have likely already bought a system. Nintendo has a long, dry patch to get through this year, and it’s always tricky to come back once you lose so much momentum.

It seems like an odd movie: Why not release the Wii U version of the game as planned, and then release the ports later in the year? I ask this half-selfishly; I’ve been excited about playing the game with my children since the launch of the Wii U. The entire situation is surreal: When’s the last time so much importance was given to the release of a Rayman title?