How Nintendo can improve digitally

Apr 21, 2012

So, I recently tweeted “Wii is a Toy”.  I clarified my point was around the large sales numbers not really representing the software market on Wii for independent developers.  I also dropped such gems of wisdom as ”We don’t do Nintendo development”, ” Our previous experience with Nintendo was enough to ensure there will not be another” This all generated a lot of fun for journalists as each spun my little sound bites.  In reality, it is a poor communication of a business decision based on our development experience.

I feel I did a disservice. My career has been filled with the delivery of hard criticism, I always try to call it as I see it. Sometimes I wax dramatic for effect.  But, I always believe criticizing  without offering a solution is worthless.  In this case I did not offer a solution. So Let’s fix that omission:

How Nintendo can improve digitally (for smaller developers)

  1.  Put online and digital front and center.  When you are on the console, you need to know about new, interesting titles and how to get them.  With the Wii this was not so.  On future systems you need the online experience to anchor the system.
  2.  Positive Exposure. On Xbox live, it was Jonathan Blow with Braid. On Steam, Team Meat with Super Meat boy. Reach out, identify the best indie game on your service, move that game to the store front page and post a story about the developer with the game. Co-market the game as if it was from a big publisher, put some PR muscle behind the title and the developer, set them up for interviews and coach them on promoting their title. From this effort you will get a number of positive outputs: Sales, loyalty for the developer and newfound respect from the development community.  You’ve got some good indie titles for 3DS, so push them hard and create a feeling of indie success on the platform (cough,Renegade Kid, cough)
  3. Open up.  You can’t succeed today by requiring a ton of secrecy around the platform.  Blocking people from talking sales numbers just kills potential interest in developing for the platform.  If the numbers are bad, you need to figure out why they are bad.  The success of the various download services has shown the market is ready for digital distribution, so don’t hide problems, hit them head on and fix them.  Kudos so far on 3DS for mentioning things needed to get better than on the Wii.
  4. Drop the minimum sales limit to a reasonable number.  It costs money to send money (apparently this “wire” thing is expensive)  so set the limit at a reasonable level, say $1000.  For a small developer that might just make the difference.
  5. Call a product out.  If you get a submission for cert and it is a pile, kick it back fast to the developer and suggest they up the QA process.  Don’t treat everyone the same, fast track good, interesting games which are close to ship and be open about what you are doing.   When a product is horrible, send the feedback quick and tell them what they need to address before you’ll look at it again.

Hope this helps.  Not really rocket science I know, but it is free advice.

I really hope Nintendo can succeed in the next generation, a world without a new Zelda game is a sad place.

-Trent

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3 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Andrew
    May 2nd, 2012 at 5:53 am #

    And the news cycle moves on….with so many up in arms over your comments 2 weeks ago I was surprised to see no comment on this interesting follow-up post.
    All this talk has made me wonder why Nintendo fails to engage and solicit smaller developers. Wii’s potential was ultimately squandered when support for the platform dried up and Nintendo’s own resources had largely been reassigned. Small ambitious teams on a realistic budget could have helped here, but they were obviously not welcome. Well, this attitude may have been sustainable when competition was weaker, but that ain’t the case anymore.
    Nintendo’s platform management has not improved fast enough and its been telling this last 15 or so years. They are organizationally ingrained in old ways and slow to change, a quagmire that seems to have sucked in a majority of Japanese technological industry.

  2. Andreas
    July 4th, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    Well in order to answer a few of the questions on Nintendo’s current situation, we also need to open our history books. Nintendo entered on an era where too many bad and unplayable games flooded the market, effectively killing off all enthusiasm about this new medium by the newly created audience, fatal errors made by Atari (among other things). So “the tyrant” Hiroshi Yamauchi, stepped in with lockout chips, 20% loyalty fees, an upper limit of games a company can produce per year, a relatively high number of copies the developer would have to ask Nintendo to manufacture and many other strategies that were absolutely necessary in order to revive the video game industry (and help monopolize the market yes) so Nintendo, the oldest console developer, who are still being successful with Yokoi’s “lateral thinking of withered technology” applied with the Wii and the DS, are even more reluctant to change their policies.

    So after spending a considerable amount of time with Nintendo’s downloadable services, I have reached the conclusion that they did not want to bother with it in the first place but had to implement an online sale model because the competition was doing it also and because Apple have been very successful with such a model. They did not want to flood their servers with bad games but did not want to impose Yamauchi’s laws because they were too draconian, so they came up with the Wiiware rules. Minimum sales were imposed to deter developers of making crappy games and an extensive testing of the game, in order to meet the standards Nintendo has been known for with their own games (very few game breaking bugs throughout their library). Yet even with those standards, oversaturation with mediocre to bad games was not avoided, resulting in gamers missing out on some great games just because they could not find them under he pile of “family games”

    I fully understand your annoyance, especially regarding the 9 months of testing, but I am sure that you had already seen the minimal exposure the Wiiware service (available since may 2008) had before you started working on MDK2 and you were aware of the rules of making a Wiiware game (sans the testing problems), yet you decided on working on MDK2 anyway.

    Yes the service could have had better results if all games had demos to download along with a video that can be streamed (dear Microsoft) but the 512MB flash memory, the inability to enable games to directly run from the SD (firmware 4.0 enabled an automated copying of the game on the Wii’s memory), Nintendo’s reluctance to make models with more flash memory (this could have made older customers unhappy, yet they are fine on applying apple’s model on their handhelds…) their reluctance to spend more money on their online infrastructure (heck even asking them to release a patch is nearly impossible – don’t know how Nicalis did it) along with their refusal to discount games since they believe people who payed full price will feel cheated (yet SEGA did it, no one complained), made for a very poor service.

    However the competition is far from perfect as well. It is still easy to miss a good arcade game on XBLA because the few pictures you saw did not do the game justice and I am sorry but Braid had tons of advertising which correct me if I am wrong, came from funds from the developer, kinda defeating the whole indy development idea. Incidentally there is a very interesting article about ballooning game development costs driving the entire industry to extinction which you can read – if you haven’t already – here: http://www.notenoughshaders.com/2012/07/02/the-rise-of-costs-the-fall-of-gaming/ and I believe that more community advertising (ie gamer ratings) along with a good promotional infrastructure on the console itself, could be the way forward for small indie developers.

    I am writing all this because I have supported indie developers in the past, from Shin’en and Over the Top Games to Redlynx and Twisted Pixel games by buying their games (the more expensive console versions) and MDK2 was one of the last games I was looking forward to the Wiiware service but I live in Europe so I can not play it (borrowed a friend’s wii, you really did a great job!) so I hope you have better luck on your future projects and if you do decide to make Baldur’s Gate HD for the WiiU, it would be my platform of choice. Thank you for your time.

  3. Stewart
    October 3rd, 2012 at 1:29 am #

    I just want to clarify: you mean that Nintendo is a bad environment for third-party and indie developers, correct? Because I can pretty much agree with you there.

    But if you’re trying to insinuate that Nintendo is anything other than hilariously successful — at least in terms of sales and profits — since the release of the Wii, I’m not going to be able to keep a straight face.

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