Some speculate that the market for Nintendo DS games has reached a saturation point, and new titles are challenged to make good sales without a license tie-in or favorable retail positioning.
Mekensleep, developer of critically acclaimed action-puzzler Soul Bubbles
, might know as well as any small studio how difficult it is for an offbeat, original title to enter the market -- and this stressful climate, says creative director Oliver Lejade, is threatening the DS gaming space.
"I think it's being killed by lack of originality," says Lejade, as part of an extensive Gamasutra interview
on the developer's experiences. "Most publishers are pushing crappy clones, quickly made for little money, and that's having a detrimental effect on the public, because the public doesn't know what to choose, doesn't find any good titles, so it tends to go to established, known titles and games -- Nintendo games, basically."
But it's not necessarily the publisher's fault, says Lejade. "I think distribution is largely responsible for that, because [retailers] have, basically, selection companies.. that decide what they're buying, and how many quantities they're taking from the publishers, and how they're exposing it on the racks."
Publishers present games to retail selection committees, says Lejade, and each game only gets about five minutes' presentation time to explain what a game is all about.
Licensed titles do well, says Lejade, because these selection committees recognize them immediately. They're also likely to demonstrate much more affinity for titles similar to those that have already sold well.
"But when you come in with an original game, that they don't have any clear reference to the gameplay of something that has been done recently, that has no license, then it's a very hard sell," Lejade says.
"And if you have only five minutes? I can't explain Soul Bubbles
in five minutes. It's not doable -- and I made the game."
And the committee requests only a small amount of units of titles that are unfamiliar, Lejade says -- and the message to the publisher is that different doesn't move units.
"It's very obvious on the DS, but it's true for all distribution," adds Lejade.
He sees hope for originality in digital distribution, however, which lacks the shelf space concerns of boxed products.
"Right now, at least Steam, or PSN, or WiiWare, or whatever, or the web, basically... [is] not run by Kmart, or -- it's not the same people. So, maybe there's hope."