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Nintendo’s Handling of Metroid Prime 4 Is Refreshing but Confusing

January 25th, 2019 was quite the rollercoaster day for Nintendo fans. We woke up in the morning to find a brand new video from Nintendo about Metroid Prime 4. At first, many Nintendo fans expected this to be a good news, bad news sort of video. Think a “Hey, Metroid Prime 4 is coming soon, but we aren’t showing it till later in the year,” sort of message. Then we all watched the video as the news went…well, let’s say it wasn’t what we were expecting. Nintendo stopped production on Metroid Prime 4 in its “current form”, scrapped everything on the project, and started it all over again at a completely different studio. The news was surprising, disappointing even. However, what’s really remarkable is how everyone has responded to the news. We are used to fans going absolutely crazy when things get announced in a way different than expected. Think of fan reactions to Diablo Immortal. Yet, for Metroid Prime 4 fans reacted quite positively to this news. They were disappointed, for sure, but happy with the way Nintendo handled it.

In short, Nintendo did something we don’t see in the video game industry much at all: provide open and honest communication. Nintendo didn’t hide the information away, nor did they avoid telling us anything about the game’s issues. Nintendo told us straight that it just wasn’t working. Nintendo’s full quote:

“The current development progress has not reached the standards we seek in a sequel to the Metroid Prime series. Nintendo always strives for the highest quality in our games; and in the development phase, we challenge ourselves and confront whether the game is living up to that quality on a daily basis.

We have decided to reexamine the development structure itself and change it. Specifically, we have asked the producer, Kensuke Tanabe, [to] work in trust and collaboration with the studio that developed the original Metroid Prime series, Retro Studios in the United States, and restart development from the beginning. By collaborating and developing with Retro Studios, we believe we can make this game something that will meet our fans’ expectations.

We did not make this decision lightly. This change will essentially mean restarting development from the beginning, so the completion of the game will be delayed from our initial internal plan. We strongly recognize that this delay will come as a disappointment to the many fans who have been looking forward to the launch of Metroid Prime 4.”

This is completely surprising, not just the news, but they way Nintendo told us. They didn’t hold back, pretending that everything was fine. Here Nintendo is telling us that it wasn’t working, and they needed to hit the reset button. It’s the way Nintendo handled it that feels so refreshing. Here a notoriously tight-lipped company opened up and told us about the behind the scene issue with one of their most anticipated games. They didn’t sugar coat it, and they didn’t back down from sharing the bad news. Metroid Prime 4 is now years away, again. Don’t get me wrong, fans of the series like myself are still very disappointed. We’ve waited 11 years so far for a sequel, and now we have to wait even longer. Yet it feels different, and that’s what makes it so refreshing. Nintendo treated us like fans and supporters of the series, not just paying customers. They told us the truth and showed that Nintendo isn’t just a factory pumping out games. Everyone that works at Nintendo is human. They tried something different, and it failed to work.

Nintendo has now set a precedent for publisher/developer transparency moving forward. True, Nintendo may not always be this open with every game, but they’ve set a new standard. On Twitter, fans are calling Nintendo’s honesty refreshing. “Now THIS is how you treat your customers,” wrote Twitter user @Peeper_deeper. “ “Transparency and decency,” wrote @JLIllescas. The YouTube video with this announcement has 35,000 thumbs ups compared to 2,000 thumbs down. Most of the comments on its YouTube video are people expressing disappointment but also a form of happiness for Nintendo’s straightforward response. Finally, a major video game company shows they respect their fans.

This Announcement Brings More Questions Than Answers

Nintendo is being open and honest that the game wasn’t progressing the way they wanted. Yet, it’s so strange for a game to be “cancelled”, everything from it being thrown out, and the game restarting at a completely different studio. How bad was this game? How did this game go so far off track that Nintendo pulled the plug? Why did Nintendo give up on the developers of the game and move it to a different studio? The sad part is that we may never know the full answers. However, we might have a few theories.

How bad was this game?– Evidently, pretty bad. It’s very unusual for a game to be cancelled and moved to another studio, without giving the original studio the chance to try again. However, this is the question we can’t answer much at all. We can assume it was bad, but until some actual information comes out, we can only guess.

How did this game go so far off track that Nintendo pulled the plug?– Video games aren’t easy to make, obvious statement is obvious. However, sometimes ideas and concepts are hard to get a grasp of until you can see them more fleshed out. This is my theory for the question above. No doubt Nintendo was intrigued by whatever the idea and concept was for Metroid Prime 4, rumored to be worked on by Bandai Namco Studios. To allow a project to be worked on for at least a year and a half means Nintendo no doubt saw something they liked. Yet something obviously happened in November 2018. I use this rough date for 2 reasons. 1.) It’s the last time Nintendo commented positively about the project. 2.) It’s the last time we heard about the game in its current form until the delay. Perhaps Nintendo saw a build of the game and felt the developers weren’t getting it. According to Game Informer senior editor Imran Khan, who has inside information, “the big problem with MP4 development was Nintendo’s experimental ad-hoc development process; it was being made in parts in different countries. Some studios were trucking along saying it was going smoothly while it was on fire elsewhere.” Nintendo was trying something completely new for this game, and it wasn’t working. Apparently, they had enough with this and pulled the plug.

 

Why did Nintendo give up on the developers of the game and move it to a different studio?According to Imran Khan, “Internal thinking was that it needs to be all under one roof to right the ship. Interestingly, Retro made the pitch for their involvement and put together a demo that Nintendo liked.” Apparently, Nintendo felt that the issue wasn’t the specific developer but the development style. The game wasn’t going to work because everyone involved didn’t get it. Having it all under one roof, with everyone working on the same thing, would lead to a better title. It makes sense when you think about it, but what’s interesting is that Retro Studios had to pitch Nintendo their involvement. Some have wondered why they weren’t involved from the start. To be fair, Retro Studios was working on Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for Nintendo Switch at the time, and they do have a few rumored titles they are supposedly working on (Star Fox: Grand Prix). Retro wasn’t involved because they were too busy. I won’t speculate on what’s up with those rumored projects, but obviously Nintendo liked Retro Studios’ pitch enough to cancel the game, throw away lots of money already spent on development, and switch the title to Retro.

It may be some time before we hear about Metroid Prime 4 again, like a few years. However, Nintendo should be commended for the way they handled the situation. They treated all of us with respect and honesty. They know this news sucks, no point in trying to sugar coat it. Yet, because Nintendo was willing to open up and tell us the truth, we feel that Nintendo values us, not just as paying customers but as part of the community. While there are still many questions we can’t answer, we can only theorize, and we move on from this news feeling surprisingly good. Nintendo has set the new standards I hope all the other studios follow. Fans will react poorly if you choose to ignore them or make them feel like they don’t matter. Fans will react well when you treat them with respect and are completely open and honest to them. I’m still super disappointed that Metroid Prime 4 is further away now, but Nintendo, you did good. Thank you for doing the right thing, being open and honest with us all.

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