While Steam, smartphones, Xbox Live and PlayStation Network may steal the spotlight when it comes to digital gaming, Nintendo's been quietly building up its own digital effort with the eShop for Wii U and 3DS. Increasingly larger percentages of total game sales are coming digitally for Nintendo and there are no signs of that slowing down.
"I'll say that we've seen a fundamental difference over the last couple years in our consumers' interaction with the eShop. The eShop is now one of Nintendo's top retailers. We sell as much software as some of the major chain stores through the eShop," David Wharton, director of marketing and analytics for Nintendo's network business department, told Gamasutra.
"Our consumers expect to be able to buy digital content on our platforms and are voting with their dollars in favor of digital content in a big, big way. It's been a dramatic shift over the last couple of years, and I don't see it changing anytime soon. There are certainly examples of individual titles that have done really well. But as a category, the audience is there and they're willing to spend money. The eShop has just grown a tremendous amount."
It was revealed recently that Smash Bros. saw 20 percent of its sales digitally, but Wharton noted it's been even higher than that for a couple other titles (without naming which titles). It's definitely a growing business for Nintendo. "Our unit sales and revenue from 2013 to 2014 was about 200 percent growth. So, I'm not going to get into specific figures per se, but we expect that kind of growth to keep going in 2015," Wharton added.
Nintendo has made it clear that it places a high value on unique content from indies, and the company reiterated that it's doing what it can to cater to developers on eShop.
"We try and create a whole bunch of promotional opportunities that independents can participate in. Where rather than promoting a single title, we're making them be part of something larger," noted Wharton. "Because one of the things we've found is that when we have a bigger story to tell, consumers respond to that.
"Whether it's an indie sale or whether it's something around a particular theme, or a particular event like PAX or E3, if we can tell a bigger story, we can create these promotional events that they can participate in. When they can take advantage of the fact that we have a whole bunch of people all coming to the platform at the same time."
While Nintendo doesn't have a pub fund system for developers, Damon Baker, senior manager of marketing in the licensing department, remarked that the company will assist with marketing and promotion where possible. "A lot of independent developers are amazing coders, and amazing at bringing experiences to life, but they may not be as familiar with how to market their game, or how to promote it, or how to take that to the next level. So we put in a lot of resources there to kind of hold their hands and show them examples of how they can make the most of it, and they can then use those tools for all of their future releases as well, regardless of platform," he said.
Baker added that with Unity being so popular among indies now, he'd love to see even more devs bring their titles to Nintendo platforms - Unity makes it easy. "We want those developers to make the most of every opportunity that they have. If it's really easy for them to bring that content over, because it's been developed in Unity, then we encourage them to do so. If you're making a game in Unity, there's no reason it shouldn't be on Wii U," he said.