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I would like to discuss opposing definitions of first- and third-party games on Nintendo platforms.


Perhaps I'm making a big deal out of nothing, but it does seem to me that we have the same arguments with each other anytime someone calls Bayonetta a first-party or second-party or third-party game. (It has been called all three here.) I'm not trying to create some rule that anyone has to agree with me or agree with whatever consensus we come up with (if we would be so lucky to reach a consensus), but I wanted your thoughts as to what the most sensible definitions of first-party, third-party, and possibly second-party should be. Below are some considerations.

Nintendo's definitions:

first-party: A game published by Nintendo or The Pokémon Company in a given region. What this means is that according to Nintendo, a game can be first-party in one region and third-party in another region. To give an example with upcoming games, Mario + Rabbids (Ubisoft) is first-party only in Japan, and Triangle Strategy (Square Enix) is first-party everywhere except in Japan. And while such cases are uncommon, Shin Megami Tensei V is first-party only in Europe.

second-party: no such thing

third-party: all other games

The downside to dividing by region is that it can cause confusion when discussions include persons from different regions. "Wow, Nintendo has only released x first-party games in the last y months." "No, it was x + 1 games." "Actually you're both wrong; it was x – 1 games."

Wikpedia's definitions:

first-party: A game published by Nintendo or The Pokémon Company in any region.

You can see that Wikipedia makes a note when a game is not published by Nintendo or The Pokémon Company in all regions.

second-party: no such thing

third-party: all other games

Perhaps the downside here is that some games are first-party that don't "deserve" to be first-party (regardless of the game's quality) such as Shin Megami Tensei V.

The Pokémon Company:

I believe this entity should be considered first-party for a few reasons. Nintendo is 1/3 of the company and also owns a minority stake in Creatures. So, while Nintendo does not have majority ownership, Nintendo has more ownership than either Game Freak or Creatures. Also, Nintendo does own the Pokémon trademarks. Finally, Nintendo is still listed as a publisher alongside The Pokémon Company for all core titles and some spin-offs, and for multi-platform spin-offs (games with mobile versions), Nintendo is listed as publisher instead of The Pokémon Company for the versions on Nintendo platforms.

The second-party game:

I am very much against using this category at all. It's a misnomer; the "second party" would be the gamer, not a publisher. But more importantly, it's difficult to give a clear definition for this. Here is what I typically see as the definition:

"Nintendo is the publisher but not the developer."

One problem here is that "Nintendo" has many names. EPD is Nintendo, but NST is also Nintendo even though NST isn't EPD. Any subsidiary can be called Nintendo. You can say that Next Level Games is Nintendo and that Retro Studios is Nintendo even though the word "Nintendo" isn't in the names of those developers and they're not located in Japan. (If you apply to work for NOA right now, they will included job listings in Austin, TX.) Even if you disagree and say that it's not in good taste to say that "Retro Studios is Nintendo," then I would say that it would still be ridiculous to make a distinction when it comes to defining first-party games. (It is ridiculous to suggest that Retro Studios' games are anything but first-party.)

There is another issue of defining ownership because ownership can be partial, and sometimes the public doesn't know the exact percentage of ownership. If we were forced to go down this path, I would recommend defnining ownership as "more than 50%," but it still adds a complication.

There is another issue of making sure to categorize a game based on ownership at the time of development. So even though Nintendo owns Next Level Games now, games developed prior to the acquisition (including those developed after the agreement to only make games for Nintendo platforms) would be considered "second-party" if we defined second-party the way most people do who use the term.

But by far the biggest issue (which has become a bigger issue in the present day) is that many games have multiple developers. That is the nature of modern game development. Is Animal Crossing: New Horizons not first-party because Monolith Soft co-developed, and you're worked up over the fact that the word "Nintendo" isn't in "Monolith Soft" even though it's a subsidiary? Okay I bet most of y'all are past that hurdle, but consider a different example that is more likely to cause disagreement.

It's well-known that MercurySteam developed Metroid Dread (and previously Metroid: Samus Returns). MercurySteam is not owned by Nintendo, so Metroid Dread would be a second-party game, right? But, EPD is listed as a co-developer. (Sakamoto is the producer.) So again, I'm not trying to say it's impossible to clearly define "second-party," but this adds another complication.


My biggest hope is that we give up on the second-party category. I think it's ambiguous, over-reaching, and unnecessary, and it takes credit away from Nintendo. Beyond that, I propose the following definitions:

first-party: published by Nintendo or The Pokémon Company in all regions.

second-party: no such thing

third-party: all other games

I know this is a stricter definition than what Nintendo or Wikipedia uses, but I want to avoid dividing by region, and I also want to give credit to the other publishers who make games using Nintendo's IP. I love Hyrule Warriors, but I think Koei Tecmo should be considered the "true" publisher even though Nintendo published it in a greater number of regions than Koei Tecmo. Even though Mario + Rabbids was published by Nintendo in Japan and the game stars Nintendo's mascot, I think Ubisoft should be considered the "true" publisher. Bravely Default is not a Nintendo IP, but it was published by Nintendo everywhere except in Japan, and I think it should be considered a Square Enix game, not a Nintendo game. This brings us to another possible definition (which I don't like as much).

first-party: published by Nintendo or The Pokémon Company in a majority of regions

second-party: no such thing

third-party: all other games

We would have to define "region," but this definition could work. So here, both Hyrule Warriors and Bravely Default would be first-party, but Mario + Rabbids would be third-party. (I don't know if you like those consequences or not.)

Regarding my preferred definitions, I want to be clear I don't have an agenda against Nintendo as if I want to define every game as third-party so I can blame Nintendo for not releasing enough games to my liking. Anyway, this post has gotten way too long so I'm going to end it. But there may be so many other factors I'm not considering. Let me know what you think!


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