EA Isn’t Making Wii U Games: Do You Care?

Electronic Arts just confirmed that it's not designing games for Nintendo's Wii U.

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You’re reading that correctly: Electronic Arts, one of the world’s largest gaming companies with billions in annual revenue, just confirmed that it’s not designing games for Nintendo’s Wii U. Speaking to Kotaku, EA spokesperson Jeff Brown said “We have no games in development for the Wii U currently.” I assume Brown’s talking about this now to soften the reaction when EA showcases its product lineup at E3 next month.

And yes, Brown’s hedging with that word, “currently,” but as we know, original games can take years to bring off. Even ports require significant effort, especially if you have to figure out how to rejigger a game to take advantage of an idiosyncratic peripheral like the Wii U GamePad. If EA truly has nothing in the pipeline for Wii U, you’re looking at a year, probably more, for something — casual, core, family, whatever — to appear, and that’s if EA or one of its subsidiaries signed on to something today.

Remember this? Kotaku did. It’s Ex-EA CEO John Riccitiello, speaking at E3 2011 about the Wii U.

What Nintendo’s new console delivers speaks directly to the players of EA Sports and EA Games. Nintendo’s new console will produce brilliant high-definition graphics and new gameplay opportunities. We look forward to seeing great EA content on this new platform.

How times have changed. While EA has released Wii U games, specifically ports of FIFA 13, Madden 13, Mass Effect 3 and Need for Speed Most Wanted, Brown told Kotaku that those early games were simply EA wrapping up its E3 2011 obligations. (EA confirmed earlier this month that Madden 14 would skip the Wii U this year.)

From a business standpoint, whoever this reflects poorly on (at least one friend’s reaction was “These guys are jerks, man”), it’s bad news for Nintendo. Whatever you think of EA’s games or the company’s business practices overall, it owns some of the industry’s biggest ticket franchises, including Madden, NHL, FIFA, Battlefield, Mass Effect, Need for SpeedDragon Age, The Sims and most recently, the exclusive rights to develop future Star Wars games.

Series like FIFA and Need for Speed have sold over 100 million copies each (across all platforms), with Madden poised to join them. The Sims, EA’s bestselling property — the company’s made three titles in the franchise for the Wii alone — is one of the top sellers in video game history, moving over 150 million units to date. To give those figures a little context, all the Halo games sold to date add up to just over 50 million units sold.

From a gaming standpoint, would EA’s departure from the platform be such a bad thing? If you’re a sports gaming fan and Wii U owner, there’s no workaround here — this is terrible news, and my condolences. But if you don’t routinely snatch up the annual Madden or FIFA or NHL, could you live without stuff like Battlefield, Mass Effect, Dead Space and Dragon Age?

The Wii U’s in a bind lately. While Nintendo didn’t release unit sales for April (NPD’s monthly data rolled out last night), in recent months the system’s been fighting for air, dipping below original Wii sales at points (well behind Microsoft and Sony). The Wii U Deluxe, the only version of the system worth buying, goes for $350, which makes it notably more expensive than the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Whatever any of this says about market softness or the future of console gaming itself — we won’t know for at least another year, looking back at the other next-gen console launches and post-launch numbers — it’s hard to imagine the Wii U surviving without a significant price cut, and soon.