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The Nintendo Indie Experience – A Snapshot

by Steven ImpsonDecember 5, 2013

Much has been said about Sony and Microsoft’s efforts to woo independent developers to their platforms.

Microsoft has made a concerted effort to improve their image amongst indies after many developers abandoned or spoke out against the Xbox platform for its restrictive and costly update mechanisms and lack of self-publishing. Sony has also made it clear that they want independent developers on their console and handheld platforms, and this seems to have attracted quite a large developer base.

Much less however, has been said regarding Nintendo’s approach to convincing indie developers that developing for the Wii U and 3DS are worth their time to develop for. It does seem however, that Nintendo has gone to some effort to attract indie developers. While Nintendo’s indie library is less extensive than some other platforms, there are certainly some stand out releases that have garnered acclaim from critic and players.

I was lucky enough to speak with Brjann Sigurgeirsson (CEO of Sweden-based developer Image & Form) and Nic Watt (Creative Director of Sydney developer Nnooo) two independent developers who have had success on Nintendo platforms, about their experiences.

Nintendo and Mobile

The indie games landscape has changed drastically since the introduction of mobile platforms like Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, and I asked Brjann how he felt the experience of developing for Nintendo compared to developing for mobile.

“The requirements for pushing through a release are very high, so the game has to be in perfect order.”

“But on the other hand, only decent, well-developed games get to exist in this ecosystem.”

In comparison, the standards to release a game on iOS or Android are far less stringent which can seem like a boon for developers, however this also leads to a barrage of releases every day for mobile platforms. A game often requires huge marketing to stand out amongst hundreds of other games released and some promising titles can go unnoticed.

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The Nintendo Community

The community that builds around games on Nintendo platforms take their games seriously. Brjann pointed out that there is little sense of community among players of mobile games. In stark contrast to mobile players – who can pay 99c or even nothing to play a game; players on dedicated handhelds like the 3DS tend to research, watch trailers and actively discuss the games they play and anticipate.

“They have to, since games are more expensive, but this is a significant strength of a platform – that its inhabitants WANT to discuss the pros and cons of the available games with other players. It’s this interaction that creates near-fanatic platform lovers – pretty much like Mac users were back in the day.”

Relationships with Nintendo

According to Nic, strong relationships with Nintendo have allowed Nnooo to achieve technical feats with the Wii U that would have otherwise been impossible.

“A large part of why we could bring Cubemen 2 to Wii U with all of the great cross platform gameplay and UGC (user generated content) was down to knowing the right people to talk to at Nintendo and spending time working with them to make it happen.”

These strong relationships do take time to build however, and would not be unique to developers working with Nintendo. When talking about developing for Apple platforms, Nic said that they were “a very closed company”, though feels that if Nnooo “had spent as much time fostering a relationship with them as we have with Nintendo that we would be at a similar level.”

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Developing across multiple Nintendo platforms

Both Brjann and Nic offered suggestion as to how Nintendo could improve the experience of developing for Nintendo consoles.

One of Nic’s concerns with Nintendo development tools when compared to those of Sony in particular was the amount of effort required to develop a game for more than one Nintendo platform.

“Currently we have to do a fair amount of work to make our games run on both Wii U and 3DS and each time they release a new console instead of upgrading their OS (Operating System) and SDK (Software Development Kit) it often starts from scratch which means a lot of tech needs to be re-written.”

In comparison, Sony uses a very similar SDK with both it’s PlayStation 4 and Vita consoles, “so moving a game from one to the other is much easier.”

This difficulty in cross-platform development was actually a reason why Nnooo aren’t bringing their upcoming Blast ‘Em Bunnies to the Wii U, at least not initially. Nic said, “It would have been more difficult and time consuming for us to support Wii U, 3DS, Vita and PS4.”

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The eShop

Brjann and Nic both agreed that there was room for improvement for the digital storefronts on Nintendo platforms.

Nic argued that their stores had possibly the most interesting content within, but it was hidden behind an unappealing front page that might deter potential players.

“…at the end of the day they are still dry boring places comprised of a selection of images, text and a lot of loading.”

Brjann suggested that the eShop should have some sort of ranking system, whether it be based on player feedback or an external source like Metacritic, “so that people could browse for quality directly in their unit.”

“…it’s a bit hard to browse for content. “

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The Future

Nintendo are clearly making an effort to woo indie developers to its platforms and is doing its part to publicise the games these developers create.

Indie games have been showcased in Nintendo Direct broadcast alongside major Nintendo first-party titles, and some are given prominence on the eShop themselves.

These efforts seem to be working, with titles like SteamWorld Dig achieving widespread critical success and reaching top selling charts on the 3DS eShop.

The true test is still to come though. With both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 now released and Valve making a push for the living room, we can only wait and see whether Nintendo’s efforts will be enough to keep the Wii U and 3DS as attractive platforms for current and future independent developers.

 

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About The Author
Steven Impson
Software developer, podcaster, writer and player of video games.

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