Nintendo has managed to convince hundreds of developers from all over the world to make games for WiiWare and DSiWare. But in the age of the iPhone what else needs to be done to increase studios’ chances of success on the platforms? Will Freeman speaks to Nintendo’s Laurent Fischer to find out…
Uptake for WiiWare and DSiWare has been strong, with a mix of developers on the channel. What has been key to making that happen?
The reason we made the platform is, quite simply, to help people create great games for our consoles. You must make it as easy as possible for developers. When we meet publishers, studios and game creators, they are all passionate people with a love for video games and lots of ideas. Making those games a reality is a long journey, from the concept idea to the playable software.
That considered, when we were designing the WiiWare platform, the key area for us was an entry point with a very open door, and a real way for developers to take their concept through there. It is made to work like that, and we’re happy that it is working as we wished. Actually, if we were ever not able to keep that wish, all the work we did to allow games makers to reach us would have been wasted. In other words, the low barrier for entry is the absolute priority for us.
And yet it’s arguable the iPhone, with its freely available SDK, has a lower barrier to entry, and you don’t yet offer anything like XBLA’s indie games channel. Would you say it’s still easy for smaller teams and students to get games on WiiWare and DSiWare?
There are a lot of opportunities to develop for us. We are in a very dynamic area, where we are always considering how to improve the system for developers. We are constantly looking very carefully at it.
Already, we have many different people making these games for us. Developers with such varied profiles. We have veteran developers who have been creating games for many years, but we also have a student team making a game for us, which started as an end of year exercise. Something done at school is becoming a game.
Key to any distribution platform is its userbase. While the Wii is a big success, what is Nintendo doing to make sure Wii and DSi owners understand and use the WiiWare and DSiWare services?
Attracting people to use our services is a long process. The first barrier is the natural technical barrier of connecting your Wii to your internet service. Now, those of us who have been through that process know it is not so complex. Lots of people don’t know that, or don’t think about it and some people try and just don’t manage it.
The first thing you have to do to attract people to a service like this is provide a large amount of appealing content, to motivate them. The developers making the games for this platform are the ones providing a good reason for people to connect.
The second thing we have done is create the new ‘Ambassador’ scheme, where our customers are rewarded with points and games for connecting their friends’ Wiis to WiiWare. The point of this is that if you have a technical barrier, but you also have willing people in the community who know how to connect the Wii, then with an initiative like this you can help overcome the technical barrier in the long-run. Really, we want to reward our audience for helping attract their friends and family. It works with this community mood that we have, and people enjoy what the Wii can offer.
Who is the intended audience for WiiWare and DSiWare? Is it Nintendo’s family and casual demographic?
The key challenge for Nintendo is to make sure everybody has both a good opportunity and a good reason to go to WiiWare or DSiWare. Basically, our customers have so many different profiles and tastes. Even with Virtual Console we have both older retro gamers and newcomers who are looking into the history of modern games like the more recent Mario or Zelda releases.
We try to offer a selection that provides an information flow and experience gathering between all of our gamers.
Some developers have criticised the rigid nature of the WiiWare release structure. How much say do developers have? Is it something you plan to make more flexible?
At the end of the day, this is a very complex issue. The thing is that the time from when a game is finished, tested, and ready to play and the point when we are ready to publish it can be very short – usually one or
With all the developers and people working on this, everyone has their own agenda. We don’t want to say ‘your game is ready, but you have to wait six months for a better slot’. We don’t set such barriers, and in most cases the rule is that if your game is ready, and you would like to have it published as soon as possible, it’s fine. We are not the one to prevent people from working to their own agenda.
However, sometimes we do have a very packed week, with three or four games going in the same direction, and then we sometimes have two weeks with not so many games, or some very different games, so we have to be careful with conflicts.
In general though, when a game is ready it is published without much time elapsing. And really, with physical software where you have to actually produce, package and deliver to stores, it can take weeks or months.
With WiiWare and DSiWare, if it is ready, it can be published very fast. We try as much as possible to give the developers the release dates they want.
With XBLA and iPhone and PSP Minis, obviously developers are now faced with a huge choice of download platforms. Why should they choose Nintendo over Apple, Microsoft and Sony?
I think the best developer entry point is the unique nature of our platforms. The DSi and the Wii are very unique in terms of enabling people to create games with completely new concepts.
With that entry point, and the open door, it makes sense for a developer with an idea no one else has had to come to us, with our unique control systems. That’s the DNA we have, and it brings us great games.
Of course, some concepts we have could work perfectly well on other formats and platforms, but that’s fine. As long as we let them realise their dream, and let them turn an idea into a final game, that is what matters the most.
Do you think that having two unique control systems has prevented Apple from stealing away the attentions of possible new developers?
I think we have a mutual goal that is to make sure we can always drive people to play – both people who already play and people who never have.
As long as people find a way to access what we consider to be great fun, then that is what counts. We are confident that having these unique systems makes for a very strong case for people to be interested in playing releases for our platforms.
Does that mean all these new teams are only focusing on digital downloads from now on? Are they forgetting about retail?
There are two ways that WiiWare and DSiWare offer benefits to retail of physical goods. The first is having more people being able to play games. We know from all our experience that what people enjoy on the services makes their appetites for playing games far bigger. That’s the first benefit to retail.
The other way is that WiiWare is a laboratory. What we know is that some of the games that are – you could say ‘tested’ through this platform – they may one day get access to the normal retail channels. That’s because the developers have managed to polish their software through the WiiWare experience. That is going to provide sales.
Again, our core business is in the retail, and our other download services are complementary. They just provide something that can’t exist alone in the retail system.
Click here to read our in-depth look at new WiiWare sequal, LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias.