Nintendo draws line between "indie devs" and "hobbyists"

Fils-Aime: "We are not looking to do business today with the garage developer"

Reggie Fils-Aime has said that Nintendo will not be doing any business with what he called "garage developers" in the near future, seemingly underlining the company position set out in Satoru Iwata's GDC keynote earlier this month.

Whilst the Nintendo of America president was keen to point out that Nintendo very much wants to engage with indie devs, he drew an analogy with the music industry to deliniate between small, professional studios and part-time developers, calling them "hobbyists."

"I would separate out the true independent developer vs. the hobbyist," Fils-Aime told Gamasutra. "We are absolutely reaching out to the independent developer. Where we've drawn the line is we are not looking to do business today with the garage developer. In our view, that's not a business we want to pursue.

"Look at the music industry. There are certainly highly talented people who work other jobs and have a passion to be in the music industry. They work at it. There are reality TV shows that revolve around this concept. I love it when there's a game that's found that captures people's imagination, just like that...singer toiling in a factory."

The attitude seems to fly in the face of the efforts of Microsoft's attempts to engage up and coming developers with the likes of XNA and the newly released Kodu. It also seems like something of a contrary position against the background of the success of the App Store.

What it does echo is Iwata's GDC keynote, in which he took a thinly-veiled swipe at Apple and the App Store by insinuating that Apple had not exercised the proper quality control which a responsible platform holder might in order to protect its developers, instead allowing quantity to swamp quality in its market.

"We make platforms designed to demonstrate the high value of high quality videogame software," said Iwata. "But, there is a second, entirely different way to consider the value of software. The objective of smartphones and social networks, and the reason they were created, are not at all like ours.

"These platforms have no motivation to maintain the high value of videogame software - for them, content is something created by someone else. Their goal is just to gather as much software as possible, because quantity is what makes the money flow - the value of videogame software does not matter to them."

Fils-Aime seemed keen to reiterate that in his comments.

"When we talk about the value of software, it could be a great $1 piece of content or a $50 piece of content," he said. "The point is: Does it maintain its value over time or is it such disposable content that the value quickly goes to zero? We want consumers to see value in the software, whatever that appropriate value is. And we want to see that value maintained over time."

It's not a completely isolated stance. Recently both Trip Hawkins and Chair Entertainment's Donald Mustard have passed comment on Apple's quality control policy, although neither in such unrepentant terms.

More stories

Nintendo loses case over eShop pre-order cancellations

German consumer organization successfully argues against platform holder's digital storefront policy for returns

By Jeffrey Rousseau

Nintendo updates policies to increase push for diversity

Platform holder says women make up 4% of managerial staff in Japan, almost 24% globally

By Jeffrey Rousseau

Latest comments (28)

Matthew Harrington Programmer/ game designer 10 years ago
I understand the flooding of markets with poor apps, but ever heard of let the market decide what they want?.... not what the publisher or somebody else, who doesn't play games decide?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Bjorn Larsson CEO/EP/CD, Legendo Entertainment10 years ago
Obvious decision but said with the wrong words. Microsoft are doing this too, XBLA games are more prominently featured and revered, whereas the XBLIG section has been kept in the back until one of the more recent updates. XBLA games are more or less closed off to BOTH indies and professionals, and XBLIG sales are abysmal. Sony seem a lot friendlier though.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
They're not wrong. Some games on XBLA are ridiculous. I believe some garage devs must really put some effort in their games to polite then before release. A lot just 'make it works' and forget about anything else.
Magicka devs, for example, are garage devs, but this game is awesome and well polished. NOW they are indie devs, and will grow very fast while they continue polishing their games.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (28)
Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship10 years ago
For XBLIG, it's a little bit chicken-and-egg. The environment on the indie marketplace just does not support the assertion that making more polished games results in *much* better sales. It just doesn't. That's not to say that polish is bad - not at all, just that it's weakly correlated with sales performance, as far as I can see.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
On the one hand, it would be kinda nice to not have to compete with some dude creating games in his spare time. On the other hand, isn't that sort of the history of the entire industry?

It's just console protectionism, it's no different now to how it's been for the last 2 decades. People are reacting cos someone said it in public, is all.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
That said, Nintendo have had the 3DS SDK off-limits to anyone without a publisher for a long while now. Not exactly helpful to indies, "garage" or not.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Wojciech Mroczek Brand Development Manager, Klabater10 years ago
Steve Jobs and his gang must be enjoying the hell out of the statement. I'm not an iThings fan (not even remotely) but I think letting the market regulate itself and not introducing arbitrary limitations is much healthier.

And music industry is actually an excellent example of how regulating the market results in a flood of repetitive, uninspired "music" products while most of original stuff happens outside the mainstream.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Wojciech Mroczek on 18th March 2011 3:00pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Andrzej Wroblewski Localization Generalist, Albion Localisations10 years ago
Well, I previously considered buying some Nintendo products. Now I'm certain, that I won't be buying anything from "corpo hagglers".
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 10 years ago
Hmmm... I guess Nintendo thinks there a "b" somewhere in the word "garage", huh?

Kidding aside, a LOT of XBLA stuff was/is this dollar games crap barely above those old "hit the monkey!" flash ads that sell well enough because a few too many users are saying "Hey, it's ONLY a buck, right?" (or whatever a buck in in MS Points) before they click away and buy what they're going to delete off their hard drives an hour or so later.

Now, while I heartily agree with the "market settling things out" idea, the problem here is the longer it takes to do so, the more consumers get used to wanting to pay less for more. Or less for less in a few cases.

Which by the way, isn't a good thing for those console protectionists.

Sure, many gamers can tell the difference between a good cheap game and a bad cheap game, but you still need at least a minimum standard where you're encouraging people to experiment as they wish, but to produce content that's actually fun (which has zero to do with "innovation").
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Julian G Harding Video Media Editor, SOS Publications10 years ago
Sure there is crap that comes from hobbyists, but also great work, just as there is abysmal shite (with polish) from established devs.

Prejudging the quality of a product by the financial situation of the developer is patronising and a little silly. Otherwise we'd say that a developer with no talent but a huge inheritance is an 'indie', while someone that works 19 hours a day to make a passionate and powerful gaming experience, as well as work a code job, for example, is a hobbyist. Surely we can't be comfortable saying that? It'd be nice to foster some kind of meritocracy.

Plenty of successful companies from all media began with one person doing things part time while they paid their rent with other jobs. Looking at the economic climate you'd expect to see even more of this. The industry appears to many youngsters to be a clique/closed shop (especially in Britain) at the moment, it'd be shame to back-up such a damaging image. Pride/fall etc...

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Julian G Harding on 18th March 2011 4:30pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game10 years ago
Hmmn games projects developed in someone's spare time whilst they hold a day job...

Why did I immediately think of Minecraft? (yeah I know he had worked as a game programmer, but it was still a sparetime project at first)

My next thought was valve, I believe Counterstrike and Portal both came from hobbiests originally, and the there's DOTA and Dear Esther.

And Worms came from a second place entry to a comp in an Amiga mag. That's done ok since.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Goodchild on 18th March 2011 4:52pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Andrew Jakobs Lead Programmer 10 years ago
well, if you can tell me the difference between an indie developer and a 'garage' developer.. because I can't tell the difference, both are independant developers, and I've seen some crap coming from indie developers and enough beauties from 'garage' developers....

Let's not forget, most big names in the industrie were bedroom-developers anyway.. LOL...
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 10 years ago
You know this is dissapointing but expected by nintendo. I remember when the company was hanging by threads prior to the introduction of the Wii, yet the success of the Wii has made them arrogant. I remember "The Nintendo Seal of Quality", that is now just "The Official nintendo Seal". Nintendo used to have high standards for what games they would accept on their consoles, but those days are long gone.

As i recall alot of these independent games and low budget games are far superior and better then much of the commercial crap coming out for their system. I went to iowa and stumbled upon a Gymnastics game that featured the Gymnast Shaun Johnson and a game based on that hell's Kitchen TV show. Nintendos first party games may be good, but most of their third parties suck and I for one dislike motion control. I dread having to play Zelda by swinging that thing around. And to say this about indie game development is a low blow. Simply cause most of their games are either crap games or ports. For every hardware upgrade, we get the same first party games with better graphics and gameplay tweaks. Anyway i was rambling there for a bit...

When alot of the games for their consoles are such crap, compared to lots of indie games, I cant help but wonder, what nintendo is really worried about. Ill tell you what nintendo is worried about: Not being able to sell a DS cartridge for 40$ or 50$ dollers.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 18th March 2011 6:51pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship10 years ago
To be honest, it really doesn't matter. Nintendo are on the wrong side of history here, but are simply trying to protect their business model which values AAA above everything else. I can understand that. Fortunately, the entire rest of the games industry is moving in the other direction, with barriers to entry coming down everywhere you look.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Thiago Vignoli Creative Director, Fan Studios10 years ago
The consumer decide what wanna buy. The public rating show the better choices.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Benjamin Seeberger Writer/Translator 10 years ago
It's hilarious: many of Nintendo's top-selling products came from small 5-man teams, some with just the vision of one person and a handful of programmers and artists (anyone ever take a clear look at the credits for Final Fantasy on the NES?). What you label someone, regardless of being a "garage" developer, an "indie" developer, or a "triple aaa" developer, really just comes down to the product. Refusing outright to work with "hobbyists" as they put it, is going to limit innovation, which is the one thing many of these Japanese companies are moaning about so much these days.

They could always set up a quality-based acceptance system and set up a team to evaluate whether products are worthy or not, instead of just alienating all "hobbyists" with such a swiping statement.

Of course the other end is that a lot of "hobbyists" are just looking for a quick buck and release products that are buggy, boring, or flat out insulting to customers. While the ample quantity of crappy products hasn't changed much (companies have always released bad products) the "ampleness" is sure to have improved with the iPhone and the iPad. But setting up a system in order to evaluate these programs would sure help send some small-time devs back to the garage to rethink their designs.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
Rick, Nintendo has never "hung on by a thread". Check their financial history. They profited more last generation than Sony did.

And the "seal of quality" never was actually a seal of the quality of the content rather that it was tested to operate properly...kinda like their own Underwriters Laboratories. Also serves to denote whether the product is licensed or not. Crap quality of content has always appeared on the console that sells the most That's the nature of an the industry. And with licensed developers putting out tons of crap already...just imagine how much more crap we've had to weed though if the gates were open to all. I'll grant that we'd get a few gems but if you're complaining about too much crap right now, I bet that you would complain even harder with more crap to deal with.

Consider that. If too much crap makes it there from the licensed developers, it's going to be 10 times worse going the Apple route. And it's hypocritical to complain of too much crap now as it is not complain when it gets worse from the influx of hobbyists.

Benjamin, even 5 man teams would be considered indie developers over hobbyists. And if you want to look at the changing nature of the size of development teams, just look at how many people (and the budget) of the first Mortal Kombat game compared to the most recent. 4-5 people and less than $200k versus hundreds of people and probably $20 million. When those kinds of dynamics change, it changes how you have to approach them.

And while it may appear to some of you guys that Nintendo is ignoring the hobbyists, it isn't as if they are without options. Hobbyists have more options now than ever...and in fact are better off starting on those devices more geared for hobbyists development anyway.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 10 years ago
@Jimmy: EXACTLY.

In a way, Nintendo doesn't "need" some of these indie games simply because they can do well enough without them, no matter the device (and no let's not walk backwards into Virtual Boy territory) _ I like the view from the front window, kids.

The funny thing is, most of these indie games are better off on platforms where the user base is more likely to not have issues with "quality" as long as that dollar they spent gives them enough fun to last until they buy the next dollar game.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Julian Cram Quality Analyst (Test), Wicked Witch Software10 years ago
I love how people say "the market decides" and "the consumer is no 1", but I bet you're the same poor bunch of saps who whinge when Evil Publisher buys the studio that made Underground Game X, which doesn't get a sequel because they're force to work on Space Marine Modern War 6 because the previous iteration sold a metric fuckton.

Letting the market decide is why there are so many crap games on the Wii. Letting the market decide is why there are so many failed MMOs. Letting the market decide is why there are 3 good games on the iphone and piles of crap otherwise.

Letting the market decide kills difference and innovation, because people who purchase products in a market don't like things that are different.

It's been like this since a bunch of people got together in once place and started selling their wares. In a market place, the most successful person is the one selling a competitors product at a lower price, not the most innovative and original.

And to suggest the idea that small studios are somehow more creative and innovative than others is even more laughable.

Innovation is created out of limitation. Access to resources, limited time, limited budget, and finding out how to get around those obstacles - this is what creates masterpieces of innovation.

Small studios may encounter those limitations more often, that's why they appear to be innovative. But they're not innovative for any other reason.

And people say look at the music industry - have you really looked at it? People say it's a dinosaur, a bloated dying beast, and a warning to those who don't embrace the market and give people what people want.

And people now have complete freedom to make and distribute their own music. But when was the last time you heard something good and original?

Music use to be good because publishers had the system locked up, and breaking into the industry was hard. Now that any twit can jump on Garageband with a vocoder and upload to youtube so we get the biggest song of 2011 being by a 13 year old who can't hold a single note!

I agree with Nintendo. I wouldn't ever want to see the video gaming equivalent of Rebecca Black on my console, either.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
Greg, Julian: well said.

To add further to Julian's point, Henry Ford once said, "If we'd asked the people what they wanted they'd have said faster horses."

I'm all for market forces in the big picture but direction from innovators and visionaries are what change the market for the better.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Shane Sweeney Academic 10 years ago
This goes earlier too. The video game crash of 83 occurred because of a race to the lowest price as cheap unlicensed clones flooded the market in the console space. Nintendo started the new wave of the industry by lining up third parties, bringing them under there wing and then ensuring a certain level of quality.

You could argue the current profit model from the console industry is the "Nintendo Model", and this statement is not inconsistent with that, nor do I see other platform holders opening their systems up to a 99c app store.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
This is just Nintendo publically stating what their corporate position has been for years - the difficulty we had getting WiiWare dev status (and support) underlines that.

I was wondering if (and how?) they would try to do an "Apple" and open themselves up to dealing with everyone - and the answer seems to be a strong NO.

I would actually recommend that "smaller" indies (i.e. proper full-time devs) steer clear of Nintendo anyway - and work with the "lower-(work)overhead" distributors instead. Its the bigger indies, publishers and those with big brands who should be working with them.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Rod Franklin Business Development, CiRCLE10 years ago
Birth an industry from garage development, make money, and then look down on the garage developers of today? That stinks, even though a great game doesn't depend on who the developer is. On that note "support those willing to support you".

As developers, creating products geared towards "everyone" should consider "everyone (including aspiring developers)" in my opinion. You have to start somewhere, and my hat goes off to Microsoft for making a way for Garage Developers to step into that Indie spotlight (not to mention other companies doing similar).
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Yannick Boucher Project Manager, Crytek10 years ago
I'm happy Shane linked this to the crash of '83, because there are a LOT of similarities between then, and now.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Alan Jack Studying MProf Games Development, University of Abertay Dundee10 years ago
I've definitely seen more innovation on Live Arcade and even Indie Games than in mainstream X-Box releases over the past 12 months.

This really is going to hurt Nintendo in the long run - to be seen as the place where you can ONLY get mainstream, run-of-the-mill games will restrict them to being the "gateway" format I've heard them described as in the past. I used to put that up to games-culture fanboyism, but I see it now. Anyone who picks up a Wii as their first console will soon find that the "cutting edge" of games is happening elsewhere, and move towards another format as a result.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Alex Winton Website Administrator 10 years ago
Bringing up the handful of 'garage' development games that buck the trend against poor quality at low value doesn't really do much more than emphasise Nintendo's point that the markets for these games are saturated in garbage, with only a few diamonds in the rough strewn across a pretty hard to traverse marketplace.

Many who create quality content in their spare time and make a success of it will generally be able to at least take part in the industry on a full time indie basis eventually - and then Nintendo will work with them.

All Nintendo is doing is cutting out the tumour that is an over saturated, undervalued market of poor quality software from their business model. If anything, it's actually a pretty selfless stand to take. Microsoft and Apple are the only real winners in their anything by anyone markets, with those who take the time and effort to develop quality products often finding themselves struggling to overcome the unstoppable tide of inferior, cheaper products and make a good return.

I have to completely agree with Nintendo's position on this 100%, because in my experience, they're completely right. There's a place for an open, free development, but the market for it is broken and there's little value to anyone - neither Nintendo nor their consumers - by them attempting to buy into it today.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Benjamin Seeberger Writer/Translator 10 years ago
@Jimmy: I assume by "hobbyists" you mean 1-man teams, then? I think the line of delineation has been curved too far one way with Nintendo's statement. By deigning to expunge the threat of "garage developers" (not too carefully worded) and the "hobbyist" it's not too clear what the statement implies. I can think of several games just released in the past several years that have been led by 1-man teams, notably Cave Story, Braid, Dwarf Fortress, Aquaria (2-man team), Minecraft, Noitu, or for that matter any of the dirt-cheap games but incredibly well-made games that have come to us from Jonatan Söderström. While those developers may not have had any desire to release their products on the DS (except for Cave Story, which is currently in the works for the 3DS), the statement that Fils-Aime made seems fairly crude, especially given that they have software like the 3DS coming out which already has proven a testing ground for many "hobbyists" who are trying to break into the market. It is probably a groundless fear on my part, but the idea that this statement could be developed into policy is a bit frightening.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
By hobbyists, I mean someone who does not work full time in the industry. An indie developer can still be a 1 man team.

I recall during the early days of Gamecube development that part of the rules to obtain a development kit was that you had to have a verifiable business and I think that is the distinction that Nintendo is using. Hobbyists will not likely have a business in their name while indie developers would.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.