Just a month after the service's launch, Nintendo is already making bold proclamations about WiiWare, saying it is ushering in a new era for games developers.
Speaking last month during a special showcase of the service’s launch games at its European HQ in Frankfurt, Germany Nintendo Europe’s marketing chief Laurent Fischer said that the company had “from the very beginning” planned to add an open distribution platform like WiiWare to its offering as part of its market-widening strategy.
Fischer told the assembled journalists and developers that the platform was successfully removing barriers between studios and consumers. “The general way Nintendo is approaching game development and game creation is very unique – we think the game creator shouldn’t have to fight against anything and only focus on their own creativity. Technology, publishers… all these things shouldn’t influence the creative process. To us that’s the way to create innovative software,” he said.
Nintendo expects that the service will in time help unique ideas and new gameplay genres make it to market, he said, via its cheaper production demands.
“Because it is an open digital platform it allows people to work and not have to take care of financial costs and risks associated with selling a game into retail – the things that make developers sometimes too uncomfortable to take a creative risk. Because all the barriers to publish software are lower, and you have a direct connection to consumers, you don’t have to worry about taking a risk.”
“If you have a single creative idea that would make a great game, maybe the idea isn’t big enough to full a normal DVD but now you have a way to get that great idea out,” added Fischer.
“I’m not sure if something like Tetris, given its concept, would be released at all today,” he said, echoing previous comments by Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata.
Developers can also choose which territory to release their games in, which offers the opportunities for culturally targeted games, said Fischer, who give a cricket game as an example. “It would work well with the remote, but it would require a lot for a retail game – would a publisher take a risk on that?” he added. But a cricket game would find its feet in the UK, India and Australia, he said, saying that developers could target these regions for such a title.
WiiWare’s other strengths, said Fischer, was its encouraging small teams to work on games that won’t come under scrutiny from concept approval. Over half the 100+ WiiWare games in production are being made by teams less than 20, and the only requirements developers must adhere to (apart from making sure it actually runs) are ones relating to QA and age ratings.
“We do not have anything to do with the concept,” added Laurent, and he’s right – to an extent. While formally Nintendo doesn’t have concept approval the way other formats do for their digital platforms (and, indeed, their disc-based games), it’s clear the firm has collaborated closely with those working on third-party launch games to offer feedback and advice.
With no major first-party game on the service (a deliberate choice to match the platform’s laissez-faire approach it seems), Nintendo seems to have chosen Frontier’s LostWinds as its initial centre-piece title. It’s a poster boy for Nintendo’s entire ethos behind the service. Developed in just three months (although the concept was kicking around Frontier for some time) by a 12-man team and on a budget around £100,000 (that’s our estimate – one factor of the WiiWare non-disclosure agreement is that studios don’t disclose exactly how cheap their games have been to make), LostWinds has received numerous good reviews as we went to press.
While that’s not to say Nintendo has its favourites, it’s clear the company does favour third-party studios when it comes to some creative elements. The Gameloft-developed TV Show King breaks with tradition and allows a third-party game to incorporate players’ Mii avatars – something even the likes of EA hasn’t entirely been allowed access to.
Meanwhile Two Tribes’ puzzle platformer Toki Tori – itself a game that was originally made for the Game Boy Color but now has a new lease of life when remade for a digital platform – sends messages from the game characters back to the Wii dashboard, a trick previously reserved for first-party game Super Mario Galaxy.
Laurent says that Nintendo also hopes that developers step up to take advantage of its peripherals as well, such as the Wii Balance Board or Zapper – all of which can be utilised by WiiWare titles.
NEW IDEAS, NEW ERA?
All of this comes back to finding new gameplay ideas, added Fischer: “We have the opportunity to provide Wii owners unique gameplay experiences. From the beginning Nintendo has been focused towards making sure anyone can play video games, be that via playing on a handheld via the DS or with the Wii. The key is that the entire video game industry has an important role to play in making that happen. Previously, the industry has seen more turnover of profits, but less people buying software.”
And WiiWare “can trigger lots more creative ideas,” and find “unique gameplay experiences”, said Laurent.
Of course, as the platform currently stands, its line-up is a mix of the familiar and the reinvented – LostWinds is the stand-out title because its one of just a few that is based on wholly new IP. In time Nintendo expects the range of software will grow and mature, but only with outside influence hence why Nintendo has so keenly courted third-parties for games on the platform.
“A successful platform cannot exist in the long term without every kind of game from every kind of publisher. Because the structure of the WiiWare platform allows small teams to work well together we think that we can create an important dynamic for the development community around the world. If WiiWare fulfils its potential we will be able to offer new gameplay experiences and some surprises.”