Later this month we are getting a rather important update, the first of two this year, that address several things wrong with the Wii U's Operating System. The one later this month, thankfully, addresses the load times. Dropping them from a sad 22 seconds to a much more reasonable 6 seconds. That's a rather large leap! It is known at this point that several aspects of the Wii U's Operating System were developed by different companies around the world. In 2012, all of these aspects were put together to create the Operating System we see today. It is very likely it may not have been finalized until shortly before the consoles went into production.
This naturally left the console lacking several key things out the gate, such as Nintendo TVii, and when TVii did launch, it still lacked all of the boasted features. Today, it still lacks the promised TiVO support (of which I got a TiVO receiver just because of it). The Wii U still lacks a key aspect the Wii brought to us for the first time: A proper virtual console. You would think that's a rather important feature to have out by launch, considering that it is a money maker and could really help give some value to the console even if it lacks new games. I mean, come on, toss in GCN titles and suddenly we have the cream of the crop.
However, I have an alternative theory, and it will likely never be proven true or false, but it happens to make a lot of sense. Yes, the Operating System as we know it was simply tossed together before production, but it was hardly rushed in the traditional sense. Rather, the entire backbone and concept for the Operating System drastically changed at an inopportune time. What caused that change? Everyone's favorite whipping horse lately: EA.
First, lets step back in time. Here is EA at Nintendo's 2011 E3 presentation where the Wii U was officially announced:
As you can clearly see, things were going very well between Nintendo and EA. Sports titles were promised to arrive with stunning visuals and all new ways to play. Battlefield was specifically brought up as having a ton of potential. The frostbite engine was said to be a game changer on the console. More importantly, there was an unprecedented partnership in place that centered heavily on the online structure. This was further proven in remarks from EA Sports president Andrew Wilson:
[Online is] something that we're working very closely with Nintendo on. We are highlighting to them what we believe are the most important elements to that infrastructure to deliver a connected experience that we think is the future of gaming. They have demonstrated an openness and willingness to work with us and work with developers that I think will only land us in a positive place.
Clearly, things were going very well and EA was a major target of Nintendo's for their new console. All seemed right in the world. Regardless of what you think of EA as a company, they have a large market share of top tier franchises and surely their support would open the door to more support from other western studios. Everything seemed to be falling in place. As 2011 rolled on we got wind of some rumors from a fairly reliable website that stated talks were ongoing about making Origin a massive part of the Wii U's interface.
According to our source, EA isn’t the only company looking into bringing its digital distribution platform to the Wii U – Valve, too, are interested in getting Steam onto it. But EA are “aggressively persuading Nintendo to go Origin-exclusive with Wii U’s online so they can gain a competitive advantage over Steam.”
I remember these days fondly, but mostly because Valve was in the mix. Steam on the Wii U? Man what a perfect combination that could have been. All sides were reached out to in order to comment on the rumor but no one was willing to talk. No denials, no confirmations, just dead silence.
Enter 2012, and this reddit post pops up, explaining some very interesting turn of events:
Ok, remember last year when John Riccitiello, president of EA, came onto Nintendo's E3 2011 stage and announced their "very close partnership" with Nintendo like double rainbows just happen and we were going to get a ton of high quality games for Wii U?
What happened to that?
Well supposedly, eight months before E3 and many months after, this is what it was like between EA and Nintendo.
Nintendo noticed that many people commended EA's online system and netcode which they did for their Wii games (Madden, Medal of Honor, ect) so they asked them if they could work on contract to help build the core online ecosystem for their next gen console, the Wii U.
EA provide a ton of counseling to Nintendo, such as how to make low-latency net code, username account systems, social networks and more. While other companies did provide input as well, EA made sure to provide the most input and support for the Wii U's R&D.
As an reward, EA received development kits even before Ubisoft or Tecmo Koei. Many of EA's studios were interested, especially BioWare, who have been wanting to put their own games on a Nintendo system for ages and finally had the technical ability to do it with a Mass Effect Trilogy port and Dragon Age 3 on slate for the system.
Here comes the problem. At a meeting in Kyoto, a month or so after Peter Moore visited them, Nintendo of Japan showed EA their new Nintendo Network and Miiverse online system for Wii U. They wanted to congratulate them helping them with the support and paid them for their counseling.
This is where reportedly EA according to my friends who were at the meeting the core executives at EA got greedy. They then offered this deal to Nintendo where EA could go further with the online system adding smartphone/tablet functionality, communities, Facebook and Twitter interactions and more.
Better netcode and something that would truly rival Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.
The catch? Nintendo would have to make the Nintendo Network for Wii U officially part of Origin and run Origin's interface and netcode. Ergo, Nintendo Network would be an Origin-exclusive network.
Nintendo actually did debate for a minute if they should accept EA's deal, but they quickly decided (and put their foot down) that there was WAY more harm than good doing this. Even though Nintendo Network can link to Origin and it's servers, having the core network running on Origin would provide quality control issues. For example, if EA wanted to sell some low-end DLC for $50 each when realistically, consumers would buy it only for $5, EA could do this without Nintendo having any say since it was their network and not Nintendo's.
Also, if a rival company (let's say Activision) wanted to put Modern Warfare 4 on Wii U, EA could give Activision theWORST netcode and support resources while putting all their back into Battlefield 4, thus making a rival look worse than EA's products.
These unfair business possibilities and consumer complaints on Origin for PC made Nintendo reject EA's offering for Origin and instead opted to keep the platform open to its own internal network and able to link/patch in other networks such as Steam and uPlay.
This, like the PSN vs. Capcom incident that caused Monster Hunter 4 to jump ship to the 3DS, destroyed any momentum that Nintendo had with EA for Wii U.
While EA still likes Wii U and will support it, from what I understand - unless the launch titles or future titles sell way beyond expectations, EA will simply "throw Wii U bones" by putting some multiplatform games without giving them any real budgets. This means we are going to get low quality (in terms of budget and manpower) ports of various EA games with no soul behind them and thus the original agreement of Mass Effect 3, FIFA and Madden are gimped and the developers have only that small budget to work with.
Ironically, the good thing that came out of this is that other 3rd parties praised Nintendo. This especially pleased Ubisoft, who was head over heels with the system to begin with and this move further solidified their partnership with the Big N.
In a way, Nintendo lost EA and gained the entire good side of Ubisoft instead. This also gave props to Valve, who also loves the system.
So in the end, we're left at EA kicking and screaming, and not wasting any opportunity to downplay Nintendo. Recent developments include not seeing the Wii U as their type of next-gen console (after Riccitiello was remarking at how "you can't count Nintendo out") and with the news that their next Madden NFL game will be hitting the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 - with no word about a Wii U or 3DS version after those past versions (Madden NFL Football on 3DS, and Madden NFL 13 on Wii U) saw lackluster sales.
This obviously is all rumor, and should be taken as such. However, this rumor has also not been denied or verified... and as far as rumors go usually "non talk" from both sides mean there is an air of truth to this they would rather not have out in the public eye.
The theory, then, goes as such: Nintendo had a nice system in place and had even further concepts and ideas that they wanted EA's help with. Not necessarily running Origin as their online network, but rather having their help in bringing the OS together. However, when things fell apart at this meeting and EA decided to jump ship, Nintendo was left standing there wondering how they were going to make all their various applications work together. Thus, they rushed their OS for most of 2012 until we got what we have now, an incomplete mess which will require several patches and additions over the rest of this year and next before it reaches it's ideal state.
EA is to blame, indirectly, for this. The "unprecedented partnership" clearly was much more than just some advisory role - there was clear and concise involvement in the development of the Operating System, to a point where even EA may have been a key turning point for the development of the Operating System. I know it's easy to take a dump all over EA these days, but in this case they took it a step too far. Of course, this is all a theory based on rumors and logical thinking.
In 2011, everything seemed to be on course. There was a direct plan and it's doubtful what we got on launch was what that plan was shaping up to be in 2011. Something, we don't know what, happened in 2012 and caused Nintendo to rush the OS and get it functioning before production. We may never know the full extent of what caused that rush, and in a few years it may not matter as we will finally have the Operating System we deserve, but the only major difference we know publicly is that EA quickly bailed on the Wii U just one year after talking about how great it was. Something happened there, and I am betting that whatever it was greatly affected the development cycle of the Wii U's core Operating System functionality.