- [In this GameSetWatch editorial, Game Developer/Gamasutra publisher Simon Carless discusses Nintendo's 'laissez faire' attitude to third-party game publishing, and whether its lackadaisical posture could actually be benefiting the company's first-party titles.]

So there's something interesting going on in the house of Nintendo - and it involves the swelling market for DS and Wii games, and Nintendo's lack of concern over assuring quality on said games. This conversation spools off the most recent issue of Ziff Davis' EGM Magazine, which has an excellent article on Nintendo's quality control for approving third-party titles, and what it means.

GoNintendo has a brief summary of the ideas behind the article. Now, I won't rehash EGM's piece too much, but it very correctly points out that Nintendo is the only major hardware manufacturer right now which has no stringent concept approval for games - both for the DS and Wii. And this is leading to a whole heap of average or poor quality games for Nintendo's consoles. But I want to springboard off this concept and go... further!

So, it's true that 'classic' games like Billy The Wizard (formerly Barry Hatter: The Sorceror's Broomstick) - which Conspiracy is putting out in North America - could and would never have been published in North America on Sony or Microsoft consoles (though the ever-relaxed SCEE did let it through!) And, oh my, there are plenty of other 'shovelware' titles coming soon. But... does it matter?

Now, setting aside the whole Nintendo 'Seal' vs. 'Seal Of Quality' discussion - which is a bit of a red herring, in some ways, it all comes down to an interesting question. Is Nintendo actually doing itself a favor by allowing all these titles to flood the market? No, seriously - here's how it goes:

- Wii and DS owner picks up a deeply average third-party game by Company X.
- Said owner plays it for a while, and gets frustrated at the poor use of the Wiimote and the relative shallow gameplay.
- Owner crosses Company X off his list of publishers he will play games from.
- Returning to the game store, Wii/DS owner goes back to what he knows - family games featuring Mario, Donkey Kong, Pokemon, and other long-time Nintendo mascots. In other words, first-party games.

- So - is this whole 'open' publishing tactic by Nintendo just a ploy to dilute the market and drive consumers back to their only guarantee of quality - a 'published by Nintendo' label? Oh, the conspiracy theorists would love you to believe that!

But... nope - I just don't think that's always the case. For one thing, many of the clones that don't include mascot characters - particularly of Nintendogs and Brain Age - are so relatively close to Nintendo's own products that I'm sure that some gamers must be picking them up instead. For example, to joust for shelf space with Nintendogs, here's Pets: Dogz 2 from Ubisoft (and yes, there's a franchise precedent for this, but..), Paws & Claws: Dogs & Cats Best Friends, and a host of others. They all have cute pets on the cover - why would you care whether it's made by Nintendo or not?

Conversely, after (or even before) you've played through Brain Age, why not try Brain Buster Puzzle Pak from Sega, or Brain Booster Beta Wave from Majesco - which even comes in two flavors, much like the Pokemon games do. (I don't remember seeing such calculated clones for the DS in Japan? Or am I just being over-hopeful?)

To conclude - this is an incredibly nuanced question. In some ways, more choice is great. It's something we're used to on the Internet, with DVDs, with music CDs, and with PC casual games - which also suffer from cloning issues, for better or worse. And Nintendo is opening up the market to publishers of every size and games of every type - there's no accusations that 2D Japanese titles are getting unfairly blocked when there is a market for them, as SCEA has been accused of in the past.

In addition, let's face it - concept approval for Microsoft and Sony's consoles hasn't always led to top quality titles, and in fact, may have dissuaded the kind of simpler, more 'mainstream' games that are thriving on the DS and Wii right now.

But there's a bottom line here - if the relatively poor uses of the Wiimote and the sometimes derivative set or over-simplistic (rather than 'casual') games on Nintendo's consoles continue - then first-party will again rule the waves, as consumers stick with what they know. And that's a-him, Maaario!