The Wii U was a console that operated on the same mechanics as the Wii, but was much more powerful. The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, is almost unrecognizable from the base game that launched over ten years ago, in 2011.
What was once considered peak design is outdated; what sold well in the past sells well now, but begrudgingly.
What happened to designing games and consoles?
It Has to Be Impressive
The worst recent trend when it comes to electronics is that no matter what company is making the product, the product has to be impressive. In fact, newer companies have to be more impressive than ever to get a fighting chance in the market, without costing so much that a potential buyer is turned off. Plenty of smaller companies would love to make games for gaming consoles they designed themselves! (And in fact, plenty of consumers would love to buy a simple device like an iPod shuffle with only 16 GB of memory – but Apple won’t make anything that costs less than 400$.) But they can’t keep up with the biggest companies on the market, and trends suggest indie games are where users look to change up their experience, not indie consoles. The Switch is technologically unique, the PS5 and the Xbox 1 are the most powerful consoles ever in their respective lines – nothing but desktop computers could even hope to keep up. Buying a console has become a market like buying a major appliance. If you could spend just 100$ more on a fridge for a fridge that also defrosts itself automatically, wouldn’t you? Sure, minifridges are cute, but unless you’re a college student, you probably have access to a better one. Indie developers over a certain size can design games for the big consoles as well, so the more expensive fridge still has space for artisanal cheeses, even if it wasn’t built just for Mimolette.
The second problem is that gamers sort of don’t want to invest in ‘new’ right now. Everything seems to be on fire outside. Games are a comfortable distraction. Gamers want ‘familiar’. They want the things that reviewers have looked at and invested time into, even if they’re realistically a B or a C grade game at best. Old, huge companies like Nintendo make custom-tailored consoles like The Switch, but if Soulja Boy’s console company had come up with it first, it might have bombed. Nintendo making a console that mainly serves Nintendo games is no accident, as well. If Sony were to release an updated PSP or a PS Vita in an attempt to compete, there’s no guarantee it would work out for them as well as it does consistently for Nintendo, partly because it would be freakishly expensive to match the performance that Playstation fans have come to expect, but also because the Playstation has an enormous gaming library that’s pretty intimidating to approach as a newcomer. The ratio of games they make to games they outsource is completely different. It couldn’t guarantee a market for either old fans or new ones.
Nintendo releases its own games – Nintendo makes Mario, not a gaming studio that Nintendo owns. Nintendo can pull from old catalogue favorites like Legend of Zelda and remake them for the Switch without starting a copyright spat. This is not only a built-in age gate (Nintendo Games made for kids will always look like they were made for kids, and Nintendo Games that aren’t, don’t) but an easy flag for quality the consumer can keep track of. Nintendo rarely has ‘bad’ games. You don’t have to really research that ahead of time to know the worst Nintendo game is miles ahead of the worst game available on Steam. When games are consistently reaching 60 and 70 dollars new, a dud is a serious disappointment. That’s four movie tickets out here in Vegas. Of course people are expecting to get at least four movies’ worth of entertainment from a game that costs that much.
And Familiarity Wins The Crowd
With all that said, it’s no wonder Skyrim is eating up development time that could have been used on a new Elder Scrolls game. Everyone still likes Skyrim! It plays on every console, so it doesn’t matter which one you’ve already got. You can buy mods for it, download free mods, and the dungeons are neverending if that’s your jam. It’s easy to take a break from serious quests if you want, or to beat the game and spend time doing the multiple hours’ worth of side quests once the final boss is dealt with. Skyrim is a good game. You’re going to have a good time playing it unless you go out of your way not to. It’s comfortable and easy to access. At this point, Skyrim’s replayability may steal sales from the next game, if Bethesda ever gets around to making it. Bethesda has a golden goose, and it’s not going to get rid of it until the goose dies of old age.
The Wii was much the same, except Nintendo wanted to make the goose a little better. The Wii U’s mistake wasn’t in making a console designed to appeal to the fans of the Wii – the Wii U’s mistake was not making it clear that the Wii U was a younger sibling to the Wii, not it’s twin. Not enough was done to ensure that fans of the console knew the difference, and if you believe it to be a slightly different Wii and not a complete overhaul of the console, then why would you ever spend the money on it? The Wii U is more powerful, but it didn’t secure enough games that were unique to the Wii U and the Wii U alone – why would game developers make games for a device that sold as poorly as the Wii U did when they could keep making games for the Wii and get better royalties in the process? The failure to market the console trickled into every facet of it’s existence to ensure it could never eclipse the Wii.
Skyrim has cursed Bethesda. If the next game is too similar to Skyrim, it’ll be a Wii U. If it’s too different, and the reviews are mixed, game reviewers might not take to it so easily after a solid ten years of good Skyrim content.