Should Indie Developers Embrace Nintendo?

Whether it is fair or unfair, Nintendo has gained a reputation over the years for not cooperating with independent developers and small studios. With all of the harsh criticism that WiiWare received over the years, people tend to forget that it was Nintendo’s first time ever doing a mainstream digital distribution service.  No wait, scratch that.  The Wii/DS era was the first time ever that they significantly pushed online, period.  It was obvious that some mistakes would be made along the way, and based on past announcements since E3 2012,  I think Nintendo has proven that they are taking digital distribution very seriously.

With all of this said, there is still skepticism from many indie developers about Nintendo, and rightfully so.

In creating this article, I wanted readers to hear the different viewpoints and perspectives from both developers who have worked with Nintendo, and indie developers who have not.  By bringing together developers from different backgrounds, viewpoints, and perspectives maybe we can paint a better picture of how Nintendo can do a better job of embracing indie developers, and why indie developers should embrace Nintendo.

I would like to personally thank all of the developers who helped me in creating this feature.


 

The Path Going Forward

Screenshot of “Toki Tori 2″ for the Wii U and Steam (PC) developed by Two Tribes.

Collin Van Ginkel, co-founder of Two Tribes, has been putting the final touches on Toki Tori 2 for Steam (PC) and the Wii U’s eShop.  The game is targeting the Wii U’s launch date, and Two Tribes is hoping that it will be one of the most downloaded games on day 1.  The original Toki Tori can currently be downloaded on the 3DS’s eShop, and the WiiWare remake of the original can be downloaded on WiiWare.  Since Two Tribes has had experience with the first Wii’s WiiWare and the Wii U’s eShop, we felt they would be the perfect developer to ask a few questions.

I asked Collin if there was any difference between the revenue cuts of Wii U’s eShop and Steam.

Van Ginkel says, “The revenue cuts are so close that it isn’t a deciding factor when choosing which platform(s) to support.”

You’d be amazed at how many unique game concepts do not get made simply because someone at Sony or Microsoft doesn’t believe in the concept.

Collin also explains why Toki Tori 2 was developed for the Wii U/Steam (PC) instead of Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.

Van Ginkel says, “There are many reasons why we picked Wii U to release Toki Tori 2 on, but the main reason, and that has been true for WiiWare and DSiWare, is actually rather simple: it’s easy to release it on.  In the past we have attempted to get our games on XBLA for instance, but failed every time. One year it’s because they want to focus on multiplayer games, the next it’s because there are too many puzzle games already.  Even if you do get through the first round, there are no certainties, so you spend quite a lot of time being afraid it will be cancelled instead of spending time on making the game better.  Since Nintendo doesn’t curate the shop contents as much as other systems, it is an easy process to get our games on Nintendo hardware. For us it means less headache and more security that your game will actually be released.”

 

 

Two Tribes says Nintendo has been listening to developers on how to improve the eShop.

“We take pride in what we create and our games are well received, but the downside to this is that some developers can release less than stellar games on Nintendo systems. We have been very vocal towards Nintendo from the early days of WiiWare about what we thought of the shop. It wasn’t always pretty and I think we can all agree that it hasn’t been the success it could have been. Since then we’ve been talking to them on a regular basis and I personally think they’ve done a lot of listening.” says Collin.

Collin does not think Nintendo should try to be exactly like Steam, but instead just select specific features that developers really like about Steam, and bring them to the the eShop.

Collin says,  “The funny thing with Nintendo is that they don’t simply copy other systems but they try and give it their own vibe.  Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s too easy to simply copy other online stores, since that would lose the Nintendo quirkiness that people love and expect.  As for Steam, it’s been great for us and it suits the PC audience really well, but I don’t think it should be the blueprint for the Wii U eShop.  Certain Steam elements such as game packs, temporary price cuts and the way in which we can talk to our community are high on our wishlist for the Wii U eShop.

Looking at the currently announced games, I think they’re doing pretty good already. Games such as Nano Assault NEO, Little Inferno and Bit.Trip Runner 2 will be great additions to the Wii U eShop.  I do agree that they’ve got a lot to work on, but it would be foolish for anyone to disregard the Wii U based on past experiences. All signs point towards Nintendo taking their online distribution much more seriously, which for us made it easier to support their console with Toki Tori 2.”


 

Potential Barriers, Obstacles, and Incentives

Screenshot from “Bonsai Barber” for WiiWare.

Wii and Wii U are clean systems to program and very well designed for developers. A great deal of thought goes into making them predictable and friendly systems to develop on. – Martin Hollis

Martin Hollis is known for directing/producing such classics as “Goldeneye 007″ (Nintendo 64), leading projects like ”Perfect Dark”, and delivering unique titles such as ”Bonsai Barber” to the WiiWare service.  “Bonsai Barber” was published by Nintendo in 2009.  The game allowed the player to use tools such as hair clippers, scissors, combs, hairspray and other tools to do requests for customers.  The goal is to receive a professional five star rating.  Martin Hollis was willing to chat about his experiences with Nintendo.

We asked whether indie developers face any boundaries or obstacles in getting their games on a Nintendo platform.

Martin Hollis says, “The barriers are lower than they have ever been for consoles and that is wonderful for game makers. I think the barriers are higher for Wii than for iOS, in terms of money for a development kit versus a consumer device. Does Nintendo still insist you have a business address? If they do, that adds a small barrier.”

From a technological standpoint, Martin Hollis says developers shouldn’t have a problem with Wii and Wii U.

“Actually developing the game is straightforward from a technological standpoint. Wii and Wii U are clean systems to program and very well designed for developers. A great deal of thought goes into making them predictable and friendly systems to develop on. The one caveat is that if you are pushing the limits of the system you will have more challenges. This is true for every system, and with Wii U the performance is high enough every genre of game is practical and well within technological reach”, says Hollis.

Hollis thinks the biggest barrier keeping indie developers from fully embracing consoles might be how indie developers view consoles in general.

“The largest barrier to Wii U adoption is one of perception. I believe most people have the perception that Wii and Wii U are consoles in the traditional sense, meaning it is not salient and they do not consider Wii when they think of digital distribution. Having said all this, all these barriers become unimportant in the event that you make an awesome game which charms the public.”

A button-centric game could eventually be distributed on all platforms, and a touchscreen centric game could begin on Wii U and go to DS and iOS. – Martin Hollis

We asked Martin Hollis why a developer should consider the Wii U when they have so many platforms to choose from like Steam, iOS, XBLA, and PSN.

“Wii U gives you novel features, which no other platforms have, and if those features connect with your game or if they excite you then you should be making games for Wii U. These are the important points for indies who are driven by passion and by the desire to make the best game possible.” says Hollis.

Hollis continues, “For people who are looking for a good business case, they might choose iOS or Steam or XBLA or even PSN based on the idea that these have more users. However the important number for business is how many units you expect to sell in a market, and this is normally determined by competition. It is certain that Wii U will sell well: remember that Wii itself has sold nearly 100 million units worldwide.

Lastly many games, even indie games can take a multiplatform approach and begin on one platform and be ported to others over time. A button-centric game could eventually be distributed on all platforms, and a touchscreen centric game could begin on Wii U and go to DS and iOS.”

When it comes to working with Nintendo, Martin Hollis says his experience working with Nintendo was very positive.

“Nintendo always gave me the very best support that they could. I’ve always appreciated that deeply. I find Nintendo very easy to work with.”


 

Should iOS/Android developers consider Nintendo platforms?

Bertil Hörberg was nice enough to chat with us about bringing his western themed platformer “Gunman Clive”, originally created for iOS and Android, to the Nintendo 3DS’s eShop service.  Hörberg told us about some of the influences that created the game’s gameplay and visual style.

“The gameplay borrows elements from a range of classic platformers, the main one being Megaman. I originally wanted to make something very straight forward without focusing on any gimmicks and just do something as fun and as polished as I could. Eventually I started to realize that I needed some kind of twist after all and started experimenting with the graphics. That it ended up looking as good as it does is honestly somewhat of a fluke, and the minimalistic style helped speed up the development immensely. During that phase I had also tried putting a cowboy hat on the main character and combined with the new shaders, a western theme just felt right somehow, even though it wasn’t at all planned from the beginning.”

The royalties (for 3DS eShop) are the same as on the AppStore (iOS) and most other downloadable services.


Some developers might be intimidated by the idea of working with Nintendo.  Hörberg says his experience (so far) with Nintendo and the 3DS hardware has been pretty positive for the most part.

“I can’t really comment on the difficulty until I’ve gone through the whole process and the game is actually released but so far everything has been going smoothly. I didn’t have any trouble getting a developer license and Nintendo has assured me that self-publishing on the eShop should be very straight forward.” says Hörberg.”

Speaking on actual development, Hörberg says, “The porting itself was also pretty straight forward; I have my own engine and use very little middleware so I could lift over most of my code without any trouble. The rendering obviously had to be rewritten and the GPU is pretty different from what you get in cellphones.  I was a bit worried at first if I would be able to recreate the unique look without programmable fragment shaders but that wasn’t much trouble at all in the end. With some optimization I was even able to get it to run better than on some of the most high end iOS/Android devices, even in 3D and with AA.”

On price, Hörberg talks how pricing works on the 3DS eShop:

“The minimum price on [3DS] eShop is 2€ (not sure about the American price), so in my case there shouldn’t be a huge price difference from the iOS/Android/PC versions. Nintendo has final say about the price though and I haven’t started discussing it yet.

Some developers have accused Nintendo of not being as generous as Apple with royalties.  Hörberg says that isn’t the case.

“The royalties are the same as on the AppStore (iOS) and most other downloadable services.”


 

What do indie developers think of Wii U supporting Unity?

Earlier this week, NotEnoughShaders spoke to Melissa Sheridan, who works for Unity’s press relations.  We asked them which version of Unity will Wii U developers have access to.  Would Wii U’s version of Unity be based on Unity 3 or Unity 4?

“Developers making Wii U games will need to have Unity 4″, according to Unity and Melissa Sheridan.  “We will have more information to share about Nintendo’s plans for distribution in the future.”

It’s unknown if the Wii U’s version of Unity 4 will be different from any other version of Unity 4.  Unity announced Unity 4 back in June 19th, 2012.  Unity 4 includes features such as a boost in visual performance in Unity games, DirectX 11 support, a preview of game deployment to Linux, and an enhanced exporting option to Flash.  Though Wii U does not directly utilize DirectX, Gaming Blend asked Unity in a previous interview whether or not Wii U would allow for DirectX 11 equivalent functionality in regards to shaders, shadowing, and scalability. David Helgason, the CEO of Unity, responded, “Yeah.  We’ll do a – we’ll make it potential possible to do.

Here is what a few Steam and iOS developers think of the Unity deal for Wii U.

North of Earth

“It’s extremely impressive. I owe a great deal of my success Unity – and my inspiration to Nintendo, of course. Without Unity, myself and many other developers simply wouldn’t have a place to start. The 360 and PS3 have attempted to reach out to indie developers, but I feel their platforms have fallen short due to a lack of quality control and strict engine requirements. Provided Nintendo avoids these mistakes, the Wii U would be a perfect platform for Omegalodon.”

 

Would you like to see Omegalodon on the Wii U eShop?

Infinite State Games

“Hearing that Unity will support Wii U in the future is very exciting. Unity is a fantastic platform that allows access to multiple hardware targets very easily. And the cost of admission is low enough to be affordable to the independent developer as well as established development houses. Adding the Wii U to that platform list only makes cost of Unity much better value, and is absolutely a giant leap by Nintendo in opening up their market to the innovation coming out of indie developers right now! Infinite State Games will undoubtedly make the move to the Unity platform, and even more so if and when it supports the Wii U.”

Infinite State Studios says that the incentive to do iOS is ease of access to the market, but the drawback is visibility.  They would like to see Nintendo’s digital distribution  focus on quality-based visability metric instead of quantity.

“Ideally Nintendo will match Apple’s ease of access to the market, but improve on raising the visibility of undiscovered quality instead of reproducing the positive feedback loops that benefit those with the biggest marketing budget (which is rarely the indie developer). This is the problem we are finding with ‘Frutorious’ right now – it has nothing but five star store reviews and hugely positive feedback from every corner, but until it hits some magic numbers and crosses a hidden download threshold, it is just not possible to attain the visibility it needs to succeed. If Nintendo can bring a smooth road to market along with a quality-based visibility metric, instead of a quantity-based one, to developers, the future could be very bright indeed for both independent developers and gamers who seek variety and innovation alike!” says Charlie Scott-Skinner of Infinite State Games.

Astrogun

Xander Davis became known by Nintendo fans for calling the Wii U a “$400 360 seven years late”.  But since then, Xander Davis has been working on a game with his studio, Astrogun.  His tone about the Wii U seems more optimistic than the last time I spoke with him, and he hopes Nintendo will continue to embrace independent developers.

Davis says, “I was happily surprised that Nintendo made this kind of deal with Unity!  Building bridges with indie developers could change the potential of the platform beyond it’s main selling point, the GamePad, by bringing in a lot more original content, more rapidly.  Apple has revolutionized the gaming market with how they conduct their App Store, so there’s a new standard to follow into the next ten years of the Eighth Gen on all of the Big Three’s coming consoles.  Ouya proved that’s the direction of the industry’s momentum right now, Nintendo’s outreach to indie developers continues that line of thinking, and I would expect Xbox 720 and PS4 will have the same kind of well-supported, open nature alterna-market to anyone that wants to develop for them.”

Davis thinks indie developers will be more willing to take advantage of the Wii U’s GamePad than big publishers.

“I’ve definitely had some strong opinions about the GamePad approach of the Wii U, mainly from a UI standpoint and how I see triple-A developers adopting it against developing for two other well-entrenched systems, but Nintendo’s new direction may open up an opportunity for the GamePad.  Indie developers can take more risks, try more innovations, so they can embrace the GamePad more directly.  It’s a lot harder for a publisher to justify spending millions on a game designed around the GamePad that innately cannot be ported to the two most popular consoles on the market, over an indie developer more easily designing an entirely exclusive, smaller-scale game specifically for the Wii U and its GamePad’s unique mechanics potential.”

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After Nintendo’s deal announcement with Unity, clearly aimed at attracting indie developers, Astrogun is now much more compelled to seriously consider bringing our Unity-driven titles to the Wii U. – Astrogun

“If Nintendo is truly going to embrace independent developers in the way Apple has with their App Store, then the Wii U has the potential to be a high-end Ouya, with a games marketplace just as exciting.  If that happens, I truly believe it could be the console’s saving grace beyond full reliance on what many feel is a controller gimmick.  Up until now, the argument for the Wii and Wii U has basically been analogous to putting all bets on the NES coming only with a Power Glove and that all games ought to be designed for that.  But if the platform is a kaleidoscope of high quality living-room indie titles in the same way the iOS App Store is to mobile and tablets, the games will be the main driving factor for the system more than its GamePad.  And that’s exactly how it should be!  This is about games, after all.  Nintendo is showing us they’re courting more developers so there’s an actual party on their system, not just a first-party.  They’re going to have one or two years to proliferate their console and seize the momentum of the triple-A workforce going indie before Microsoft and Sony potentially swoop in and do the exact same thing.  So this is a great revelation Nintendo is having, and I hope they continue this theme to its fullest extent possible.

After Nintendo’s deal announcement with Unity, clearly aimed at attracting indie developers, Astrogun is now much more compelled to seriously consider bringing our Unity-driven titles to the Wii U.”

AckkStudios

“I don’t know if impressed was the term we’d use. Happy or optimistic might be a better one. Indie development has played a huge role in game design for a long time now, and it will always be around. Nintendo is starting to see that it’s relevant and their taking slow action to make it happen. If they continue down this path, great things may come from it.”

Screenshot of “Two Brothers” for Xbox 360 (XBLA) and PC.

AckkStudios would be interested in seeing their game appear on the 3DS eShop/Wii U eShop.

“We would love to be on the Wii U eShop or the 3DS Eshop. We have received over a hundred emails asking us to bring our game to a Nintendo console. As our game is so inspired by the Nintendo generation, I think it would be an ideal fit.”

Developer of Stardew Valley for Steam

“I think extending a hand to indie developers is a great move for nintendo… one that should build an exciting community around the Wii U.  I would love to get Stardew Valley on the Wii U.”

 


 

Is the Wii U’s touchscreen attractive to developers?

Infinite State Games

We would love to bring these games to a Nintendo device and having played with the TV-out feature, realize that these games all work well on the small screen as well as a large one!

Charlie Scott-Skinner and the people behind Infinite State Games have quite a history working with Nintendo hardware.

“Before developing for iOS,  I spent a decade developing on various Nintendo handhelds (GameBoy Colour, GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS) for a couple of small companies where I met Mike. Contractual obligations made indie development difficult for us whilst working at games companies. But after being made redundant for the umpteenth time, despite being considered good at our jobs by management, I decided to move out of professional game development and ‘get a real job’ as my mum had suggested on numerous occasions! But this just opened the door to start getting on with some of the many ideas Mike and I have batted back and forth over the years.”

They had worked on a game called Zombie Commando in 2008 for Nintendo DS.  The game was never released, but you can see the trailer below.

Charlie Scott-Skinner says “Working on Nintendo’s hardware for so long showed us the appeal of mixing casual and innovative control mechanisms, with touchscreen controls bringing the tactility of games closer to the player than traditional control methods. It undeniably affects the way we go about designing games, but I do think it makes them more accessible if you get it right.”

They discuss which of their games could work on Nintendo platforms such as 3DS and Wii U.

“Our first iOS game, ‘Extreme Golf’, didn’t exploit the benefits of the touchscreen nearly as well as it ought to, as it was a conversion of a game previously written for more conventional button controls. However, there is an update in the works to make the controls much more touchscreen friendly and accessible.  Our subsequent games, ‘Shepherd: Mars needs sheep’ and ‘Frutorious’, are very touchscreen centric and much better for it. ‘Shepherd’ currently has an update awaiting review that removes the tilt aspect to the control, which we found made the game very hard in an old school way. Relying just on touch makes it a much more accessible, fun experience we’ve found. Tilt controls are nice to have, but are very fiddly to get right, and it’s not as common to find a fitting use for them.”

Screenshot of Fruitorious for iOS

Although Infinite State Games is busy making iOS games, they believe their games would work well as small downloadable titles on Nintendo platforms.

Charlie Scott-Skinner says, “ ’Extreme Golf’, but even more so ‘Frutorious’ and ‘Shepherd: Mars needs sheep’, could all make the transition very easily to Nintendo’s systems. Given that our roots are in Nintendo development, it’s very hard to just shake off that experience. We would love to bring these games to a Nintendo device and having played with the TV-out feature, realize that these games all work well on the small screen as well as a large one!”

 

North of Earth

Omegalodon for PC.

“The touchscreen doesn’t feature multi-touch, so not really, no.  Still, it would be useful for displaying a minimap or accessing a non-obstructive menu. Poorly mapped controls are a great detriment to PC ports, and sadly I don’t think the Wii U will fare much better in this regard than other platforms.” says Alex Allen from North of Earth.

Astrogun

“Having options to maximize the effort put into building a game is always attractive.  At Astrogun, our current unannounced project is designed to work well on multiple platforms and devices.  The controls in our game have received a lot of care, feeling solid whether the game is played on a touchscreen, a keyboard, or a controller, and that was very much an intentional design choice and goal.  Smaller shops have to future-proof their projects, especially in the middle of a console cycle reboot and a mobile gaming revolution, and anything that makes bridging those projects between spaces easier is a definite win.

Astrogun was founded only three months ago, and already it feels like we’ve accomplished so much behind-the-scenes.  As of today, we finished building up our core gameplay systems, including, and especially, combat!  We’re moving at an incredible pace for our teamsize, and aim to deliver a great game with some real meat to it on iOS, Steam, Ouya, and maybe even Wii U eventually.  While we’re building up our prototype even further, we’ve got some bonus stuff coming up on our site and want to develop the game’s IP in other media, including digital comics.  Lots going on!  Lots of hard work and lots of fun!”

Developer of Stardew Valley

“I think it will be useful for many developers… but Stardew Valley probably won’t benefit from the (Wii U’s) touchscreen. It does allow for some interesting possibilities, though.”


 

Pwnee Studios says process to update a patch is closer to Steam than other consoles

 

 

Xander Davis from Astrogun thinks it’s time for console makers to ease up on certification and patch update submission.  He believes that is one of the big reasons Steam and iOS get so much developer love over consoles.

The turnaround time for Wii U isn’t as instantaneous as Steam, but on the timescales of other platforms it might as well be. – Pwnee Studios

Davis says, “There’s already Xbox Live Indie Games, but it’s poorly supported by Microsoft, and developing more professionally, though still independently, on Xbox Live Arcade requires $10,000 for each certification submission and patch update submission.  Same issue with Nintendo.  Indie studio Polytron, makers of FEZ, brought that issue into the spotlight recently by refusing to pay Microsoft another ten grand to simply review and approve a bugfix they did for a patch.  I’ve heard working with Nintendo is also riddled with bureaucracy and their royalty deal isn’t very appealing at all, right now.  Indie dev Team Meat has also spoken out about their bad experiences developing for a console (Microsoft’s), and plan to just stick to Steam going forward.  So it’s these kinds of issues and expenses that need to be eliminated for this to truly be attractive to the indie shops, or Apple, Steam and Ouya will continue to look more enticing, where these problems are already solved.”

However, developers from Pwnee Studios have suggested that some of these problems may already be a thing of the past on Nintendo’s eshop. A week and a half ago, NotEnoughShaders interviewed Pwnee Studios, the developers of Cloudberry Kingdom for XBLA, PSN, PC, and Wii U’s eShop. We asked them why they thought Nintendo was influenced by Steam.  Pwnee Studio’s told us that:

“On other platforms there is a substantial delay between finishing a game or patch and actually having it go live on the platform, mainly due to the QA process for the platforms. Steam is completely hands off in this respect: QA is entirely on the developer, which means once we decide a build is ready, it is. It is incredibly easy to push an update on Steam. I’m talking about minutes, not months. The turnaround time for Wii U isn’t as instantaneous as Steam, but on the timescales of other platforms it might as well be.”

It’s an interesting response to hear that Wii U’s patch and certification process was closer to Steam than current consoles Xbox 360/PlayStation 3.  Eric Barone who is working on Stardew Valley for Steam, agrees with Xander Davis that console makers need to make the patch/update process easier.

Barone says “One thing I think many indie developers appreciate is the ability to push updates to players after release. It’s fun for both developers and players… you never have to feel like a game is “done” and can always hope for new content. It also allows developers to fix bugs or other issues with the game after hearing feedback from players.  I understand this might be difficult on a platform like Wii U, where Nintendo most likely wants to maintain certain standards of quality and prevent objectionable content from appearing. Still, it would be nice if Nintendo was a little bit more flexible than, say, Xbox Live in allowing developers to update their games after appearing on the platform.”

 


 

Misconceptions about Nintendo’s certification process and treatment of indies:

In an older interview back in August 26, Two Tribes told me about some of the misconceptions of how Nintendo handle’s evaluation.

“I actually think this is a bit of a misconception based on some of the horror stories that got published recently.  Basically Nintendo makes it really clear what they expect from a title to pass the certification process, and they get back to you relatively quickly after submitting the game for their checks.  If you fail on a major point, they’ll tell you right away so you can work on resubmitting quickly. It’s really not as bad as some people make it out to be.

As for treating smaller indie studios any differently, I don’t think they will introduce different requirements just because we’re an indie studio.  The requirements exist to ensure a base level of quality and consistency for players of the system, and that doesn’t change for smaller games.  Nintendo made us feel very welcome and they’ve been quick to respond to any questions we have had , so our experience is certainly a positive one up until now.”


 

Indie Developers offer advice to Nintendo

We asked developers to offer advice that they would give to Nintendo on how they could get more indies interested in Nintendo platforms like the Wii U and 3DS.

Brian Allanson, AckkStudios

“Make a Representative more readily available to discuss the prospect of our games on your consoles. There are plenty of talented developers who would love to make games for Nintendo platforms, but it’s still very tricky to even get in contact with Nintendo to try and make it happen.”

AckkStudios wants to see ”Two Brothers” on the Wii U or 3DS.  The game is currently being planned for PC and Xbox 360.

Alex Allen, North of Earth

“Make publishing to consoles more streamlined. Aside from Nintendo’s notorious content restrictions, the sheer expense has been a concern. All modern consoles require development hardware that costs thousands and is very difficult to use without a dedicated engineer. I’m not familiar with the specifics of the eShop, but I hope it uses a market model where approval of a game lies with the customer, rather than with Nintendo. As we’ve seen from Steam’s Greenlight so far, the breakdown of genres desired by a community can differ greatly from what the platform offers – perhaps the result of distributors being unwilling to take risks. There really isn’t an indie-centric platform out there that resonates with console gamers the way Steam does with PC gamers. It’s a tremendous untapped market and perhaps Nintendo will be the first to strike oil.”

“Omegalodon” for PC (Steam) from North of Earth.

 

Xander Davis, Astrogun

“While the deal between Nintendo and Unity is absolutely fantastic, any advice for bringing indie developers would rest in the path to market on Nintendo consoles.  All the red tape and additional expense of working with Nintendo (or Microsoft and Sony as well) still needs eliminated for Astrogun and other independent developers to more definitively target the Wii U.  The Big Three all need to create a market path more on par with Apple to complete this picture.  It’s a question over each of the Big Three’s commitment to this.”


 

The push for better promotion and social connectivity

A huge weakness that WiiWare had was promotion.  Games would be released on the WiiWare service, and most people had no clue about these new releases.  Fast forward to today.

The way Nintendo has handled indie eShop games has been genius.  Take a look at the sizzle reel of Wii U games below.  In the trailer, notice how Nintendo strategically places small indie eShop games like Toki Tori 2, Trine 2, and Runner 2 in between big retail titles like Tekken Tag Tournament 2, New Super Mario Bros U, and Assassin’s Creed 3.  The trailer purposely never tells you which games are big retail games and which are small indie eShop titles so gamers won’t think less of the small indie eShop games.  Nintendo’s press release announcing Day 1 games deliberately never says which games are retail and which are small indie eShop games, meaning small indie eShop games are treated just as important as the big retail releases. In the list of big upcoming retail games like Assassin’s Creed 3 and Darksiders 2, you have small indie eShop games like Chasing Aurora and Cloudberry Kingdom mixed in the middle of it all.  Having big and small games share the same spotlight is a brilliant strategy to promote indie developed eShop games.

Another brilliant move is Nintendo Network Premium which allows consumers who purchase the black deluxe Wii U model to receive 10% of their digital purchases back in the form of points that can then be redeemed towards more digital downloads. Of course this is a limited time offer that only extends to 2014, but I think it speaks volumes of how aggressive they’ve been with getting people to keep connecting to the eShop.  From what I can see, Nintendo is attempting to create an ecosystem with the eShop where retail and small indie games can both be profitable under the same roof.  By giving gamers credit for every retail game they buy digitally, it gives customers extra incentive to keep connecting to the eShop.  Gamers can then use that credit earned from full retail game downloads toward a smaller, cheaper game like Toki Tori 2, Trine 2, or Nano Assault Neo.  Keep in the mind that one of the biggest reasons WiiWare was a failure in comparison to XBLA/PSN was because gamers weren’t logging into the Wii Shop often enough, and it seems like Nintendo is aggressively trying to fix this.

In my past interview with Martin Pitchlmair from Broken Rules in September, he told me he was very excited about the potential of the Wii U eShop,and that Nintendo made huge improvements in how they approach the online landscape.  I asked him how big of a step is Wii U’s eShop compared to the Wii:

“Compared to the Wii, it is a huge step forward.  In my opinion, Nintendo understood the change of the online landscape. The Wii U has the potential to be the first of a new generation of consoles.  A generation of consoles that finally acknowledge the paradigm shift that the internet brought.  Here’s hoping that the Wii U eShop takes off”, says Pitchlmair. “There are a couple of indie developers that successfully work with Nintendo.  That we were among a select group of developers showing a game running on the Wii U during PAX is due to the support of Nintendo.”

Broken Rules is currently working on Chasing Aurora for the Wii U’s eShop, and it was in our interview that he revealed that they were working on a second game for the Wii U eShop after Chasing Aurora.

Martin Pitchlmair advises indie developers to give the Wii U’s eShop a chance:

“All I can say is that if you have a good game idea that really pushes the new features of the Wii U then you should contact Nintendo and tell them about it.  They are always on the lookout for unique content for their hardware.”

As you already know, Miiverse is a communication hub/social network for the Wii U.  The great thing about Miiverse is that players can see their friends’ Miis gathered around whatever game they’re playing.  I really hope Nintendo allows the ability to see your friends gathering around small eShop games, and not just retail games because this is could be potentially huge.  Why?  If there was one thing WiiWare was missing, it was properly promoting the games on the service.  This could be a strong promotional tool to put indie games out there front and center on a gamer’s Miiverse user interface.

The social interaction and connectivity of the Wii U’s eShop creates opportunities for Wii U owners to share information on what games they might be playing at the moment.  This is something that the Wii/WiiWare never quite had.

Felix Bohatsch from Broken Rules told cubed3.com:

“Nintendo’s overall strategy is way more focused on connectivity. This should help overcome the biggest problem of the Wii shop, which is that many Wii consoles are not even connected to the internet.  These kinds of social interaction turn games into living spaces, where other human beings can leave their marks and help each other out. I think Nintendo is on the right track, so let’s see how their games will use that.”

 


Final Thoughts

 

Martin Hollis is correct when he says that a developer’s perception of the Wii U and Nintendo could be a potential barrier keeping indie developers from working on a Nintendo platform.  The idea of console development intimidates many indie developers, and some indies have a difficult time associating Nintendo with indie development.  Perhaps this perception is created thanks to Nintendo’s past history of first party software overshadowing anything created by third parties.

Another interesting point is what Infinite State Games and Xander Davis both mentioned.  Apple makes it easy for developers to get their games onto the App Store.  But is it wrong for Nintendo to be more restrictive on the type of games that appear on its service?  With so many games being released on iOS, I can only imagine how many quality games or apps get overshadowed due to the amount of junk games/apps released daily.

Is there a way for Nintendo to make it easier for indie games to enter the eShop without quality and visibility taking a major hit?   When I look at Xbox Live’s Indie Channel, it is overwhelming how bad or broken many of the games are on there.  When Microsoft first announced the Indie channel, they hailed it as “the YouTube of gaming”,  but in the end, it became a portal for so much trash that Microsoft has since stopped paying much attention to it. And quite frankly, with how buried the indie section is in the 360 menu, one has to wonder whether or not Microsoft is equally embarrassed with the service.  For every good game on Xbox Live Indie, 10 or more awful efforts spring up.  It’s a tough balancing act to give easy access while maintaining quality and control.

Some say Nintendo is too content restrictive.  Yet when Renegade Kid tried to bring Mutant Mudds to Steam, they were rejected.  Now they are making a second attempt with Steam Greenlight.  But when Renegade Kid brought Mutant Mudds to Nintendo, not only did they get the game on 3DS, but a Deluxe version will soon appear on Wii U’s eShop.

The WiiWare service was full of blunders when it came to storage capacity, file size restrictions, minimum royalty requirements, and lack of promotion of new released games.  But the Wii U’s eShop (and the 3DS’s eShop) is an example of Nintendo making a solid effort to grab the independent developer.  When you see Nintendo helping Pwnee Studios with a Kickstarter, you know Nintendo is making an effort to embrace indepedent developers.  After the Unity deal announcement, it will be interesting to see how far Nintendo is willing to go to get the indie developer onto their platforms.

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14 Comments to Should Indie Developers Embrace Nintendo?
    • *NormalGamer*
    • The WiiWare service should be a learning experience for Nintendo to not make the same mistakes again. And now that they’re improving on this with the eShop, hopefully this will grow more richer than ever for many indie developers to develop the games they want. ^_^

    • Sylverstone Khandr
    • Wow, I’m “genuinely surprised” at how Xander Davis suddenly had a change of heart about the Wii U. *rolls eyes*

      Aside from that, this really gives me hope that Nintendo is doing things right with the Nintendo eShop – giving indies lots of support and also keeping their services up to par with the likes of Steam.

      Great article, Emily!

    • Tnud
    • Great article!
      Very interesting what Nintendo is trying to do.. guess we’ll have to wait for the result!

    • JHoldz
    • Awesome read, thanks Emily. It’s good that Nintendo are taking indie development more seriously – I’m positive Wii U’s eShop is going to great. Love Nintendo.

    • cusman
    • Really interesting and wide coverage. Some of the games mentioned I will have to look up on existing platforms. This gives me a fair idea that Wii U pipeline will be stuffed with digital offerings in addition to whatever pipelines are flowing for traditionally retail scale games.

      I know when I am waiting for some anticipated retail scale game on PS3, it is the digital scale offerings like PixelJunk Monsters or Journey or Laura Croft & Guardian of Light or whatever that keeps me happy in the interim.

    • RFornillos4
    • A very nice article. with signs pointing to the right direction, Nintendo’s handling of their eShop, and hopefully integration with Miiverse for indie efforts would perhaps prove that Miiverse would really be Nintendo’s killer app for this generation.

    • ColdBlooder
    • Im glad to read so many positive impressions from Indy developers about the new eShop! Can´t wait for Nintendo to finally reveal it along with the online system and OS!

    • MetaRyan
    • This was a great, though long, article. I never really looked at the small-developer side of consoles before, and this article gives me hope for the Wii U.

    • The_Lump
    • Great article again, thanks! Overall a very positive outlook, and lets hope Nintendo continues to nurture and build their relationship with Indie developers.

    • ferofax
    • Wow, that was a lot! I’m not used to articles like this, ahaha, but it was awesome!

      I really hope the indies succeed in the WiiU eShop (but don’t forget about the 3DS eShop, too!).

    • cassie griggs
    • Thank you, I have recently been searching for info about this topic for a long time and yours is the greatest I’ve came upon so far. But, what in regards to the bottom line? Are you sure in regards to the supply?

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