5 ways Nintendo can help out Wii U eShop indie devs

Once the excitement of making games for a Nintendo console wears off, reality sinks in: Now you actually have to sell the game. Wii U devs explain how Nintendo can help them make more eShop sales.
For many game developers, to simply release a game on a Nintendo platform is sort of a dream come true. Many grew up playing games on Nintendo consoles, and thanks to new tools and online self-publishing, making a game for a Nintendo console is within reach. But once that excitement of making a game for a Nintendo console wears off, the reality sinks in: Now you actually have to sell the game. Nintendo's eShop is the place to sell digital games on Nintendo platforms. Last week, we saw a wide variety of Wii U eShop games on Nintendo UK's Nintendo Direct webcast (see video above), so we got in touch with their developers with questions. One of those questions was what Nintendo can do to help them make more sales from software. While virtually all said that working with Nintendo as indies has been a good experience, most had suggestions on how the platform holder could help them out.

Improve marketing of games, and game discovery

Making a game visible to potential customers is a challenge on any digital storefront that is crowded with content. Even though a lot of the eShop developers we spoke with saw the "blue ocean" upside with a Nintendo's lower-volume marketplace, they said there's still work to be done. "The biggest issues for indie developers on any platform these days is discovery," says Byron Atkinson-Jones of So Hungry developer Xiotex. "We can make the games a lot more easily using tools like Unity, but getting them in front of people when they’re finished remains just as hard as it always was. That’s a hurdle that still has to be vaulted over on Wii U so it will be interesting to see just what Nintendo can do to help with that." More so than Microsoft and Sony's evolving digital storefronts, the focus of Nintendo's eShop is on games -- not on movies, news or other distractions -- and that already helps with discovery challenges, says Adrian Goersch, managing director at Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams studio Black Forest Games. "You are able to find games there without going through several hundreds of sub-menus. We hope Nintendo keeps it this way. That’s the biggest support they can give to increase software sales." Discovery isn't the only way Nintendo can highlight eShop indie games -- proactive marketing on the part of Nintendo also helps. The company's UK branch did an impressive job showcasing indie eShop games on the Nintendo Direct webcast this week -- but Nintendo of America didn't really shine a light on indie eShop games.

Do a better job of selling the actual system

Let's face it: Wii U sales are dire, and Nintendo needs to do something about it. One of the best things Nintendo can do for all of its developers is sell more systems so game makers have a larger audience to sell to. Many developers we spoke with say poor communication of the value of the Wii U is hindering sales. "Nintendo did many things right no one else did so far -- yet it seems tough to make people see the unique advantages of the platform," says Peter Thierolf, creative director at TNT Racers: Nitro Machines developer Keen Games. "Outside of releasing system seller titles or a price-cut I can't see what Nintendo could do to bring in sales and - following - more third party titles." Jennifer Schneidereit, co-founder of Tengami developer Nyamnyam says, "There still seems to be a lot of uncertainty and confusion among consumers as to what the Wii U is and why they would want one. How does the Wii U differ from a Wii and why should they upgrade?" The most obvious differentiating factor for the Wii U is its unique GamePad controller. But Nintendo might be placing too much emphasis on that, suggests Dakko Dakko's Rhodri Broadbent, who's working on Scram Kitty for Wii U. "I think it would help all publishers on Wii U if there was stronger mass-market communication of Wii U's varied range of capabilities, not such a heavy focus on the GamePad. I really like the GamePad and it was a fundamental reason we chose Wii U for Scram Kitty, but as a consumer I also really like (and understand) the Wii Remote, and indeed the Classic Controller, and I believe Wii U's potential appeal is much broader than simply the advantages of the GamePad." And as far as system-selling games are concerned, Nintendo is pinning hopes on high-profile first- and third-party games this year to move units. When a price cut might happen is anyone's guess.

Release software sales figures for the digital store

Something that we constantly hear developers across all digital marketplaces is a demand for more transparency when reporting sales figures. "We would like to see actual sales figures from the digital store, something that we just don't have right now," says Keen's Thierolf. "Nintendo did release information about a few top-selling titles, including digital, but that is just not enough to base business decisions on." Being able to see what games work on a platform, and to be able to identify sales trends, is an asset to anyone distributing games on any storefront, whether digital or physical.

Create incentives for developers

Every developer we spoke with was generally happy with their relationship with Nintendo. For many, working so closely with a company like Nintendo is incentive enough to support the Wii U. But Daniel Da Rocha, managing director at QUBE developer Toxic Games says Nintendo could do more to attract small, interesting game developers to the platform. "I think there could be more incentives for developers to produce games for the Wii U, including guaranteed feature placements and other promotions. Nintendo have been very helpful to us so far, though." Steffen Kabbelgaard, CEO of Forced developer BetaDwarf, adds, "Indies are usually economically pressed and so are we. My partner and I recently loaned $200,000 at personal risk, to pay for our 10 person team the next few months before release. "Hence, if Nintendo would help pay for the port in favor of a few months of console exclusivity, I would find that helpful. Additionally marketing and featuring our game would indeed also be helpful, and i'm frankly counting on that."

Maintain a low-hassle submission process

Video game console makers like Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony are slowly but surely catching on to the realities of a digital video game business. Extended, complicated submission review periods for new games and updates can be a drain on developers' resources, and their customers' patience. "It is always helpful to have a lean and fast submission process," says Black Forest's Goersch. He says Nintendo is "already quite good" in this area. A lean submission process is particularly important to games using new business models -- game developers need to react quickly to the needs of their audiences. Nintendo seems to be on the right track so far, but it has to continue to adapt. "I must say they are really helping and developing pretty rapidly to our needs," says Jeroen Roding with March of War studio ISOTX. "For example, for a free-to-play title, a 'review period' on getting new features live in the game is pretty restrictive, especially with last minute hotfixes. We have discussed this problem with our contacts at Nintendo and they are now looking into improving this process by already allowing content to go live straight away, and reducing the 'review period.'"

More to come

We polled more indie eShop developers on topics relating to Wii U. We'll have a roundtable feature with these developers later this week.

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