When you think of indie development, let's face it, Nintendo is not the first name to come to mind. Most indies these days are putting their titles on Steam, iOS, Android or PlayStation Network, but Nintendo's approach with digital efforts on the eShop is definitely causing some indies to rethink their platform choices. As noted by TinyBuild's Mike Rose, Nintendo's console is gaining some indie momentum. At a special event during GDC, Nintendo showcased some of its upcoming eShop games, and importantly had more third-party indie titles to show than first-party titles. GamesIndustry.biz chatted with several indies who were resoundingly positive about the support Nintendo has shown them.
E-Line, which is bringing its Never Alone to Wii U with special GamePad support, commented that Nintendo's process made things happen very quickly. "It was really fast, everything happened in like two weeks. We didn't have the build and now we already have the build running, and that's not something we would be able to do without the support of Nintendo," said Dima Veryovka, art director on Never Alone. "I think it's really good that they have opened up to independent developers. To be honest, that's the future. We really want to see the smaller groups [succeed] and the way Nintendo has supported us is tremendous."
"I'm ok with 10 million units. That's an ok platform to be on. That's punching weight with the other two. What they've done is they've made people remember that Nintendo cares about fun"
Dave Proctor, 13AM Games
Klei Entertainment, which is bringing Don't Starve Giant Edition to Wii U, was equally enthusiastic. Klei's Seth Rosen commented, "Nintendo's been really great. If you look around this room, seeing all these indies, that's a good indicator of how dedicated they are to improving the indie scene on the Wii U. And we're really excited to bring Don't Starve to it, especially with the GamePad features."
Dave Proctor, producer at 13AM Games, which is bringing a frenetic nine-person multiplayer game called Runbow to the Wii U, said that what attracted his studio to Nintendo over other platforms is the focus on fun that the company has historically been known for.
"We grew up with Nintendo, so did a lot of people and the people who went on to make Sony games. So that's a big honor, and Nintendo has a real commitment to quality, so when a game is fun they will support it whether it's their own game or an independent game. We've been noticing that trait as we get closer and closer with them," he said.
Proctor added that discoverability on the eShop is a huge factor as well. On Steam and mobile, it's very difficult to stand out, but on eShop you can have a big game like Smash Bros. sitting right next to a smaller effort like Sportsball. The sense we got from Proctor is that Nintendo is really doing what it can to make indies feel at home on Wii U. Similar to a free agent in sports, being wanted by an organization can make a big difference. "Just playing a build of Runbow, Nintendo saw what it could be and that was just the shot in the arm that we needed," Proctor noted.
The indie community is often a tightknit one and Proctor said he's definitely sharing his experiences with other developers, encouraging them to consider the eShop too. And he added that the Wii U's installed base should no longer be a major concern.
"It's a well known fact that the Wii U is not the most successful platform out there but at the same time I feel that in our space, or for the kind of numbers that we generally do, we don't need a platform with a billion users"
Jasper Koning, Romino
"I wave the banner. I can't not support them after what they've done for us, which is amazing for a team and a game that didn't exist two years ago. If you put time and effort into making your game fun Nintendo will recognize that across the board. With other indies we're watching them put stuff out on Nintendo faster than they ever would otherwise, and I feel like the tide is kind of turning. Everyone gets a little scared when they look at Wii U sales numbers from two years ago but when you look at them today, I'm ok with 10 million units. That's an ok platform to be on. That's punching weight with the other two. What they've done is they've made people remember that Nintendo cares about fun. They made consumers remember that and they've made the industry remember that," he said.
Another indie supporting Nintendo is Romino, which is launching Swords and Soliders II this May. The company already had a solid working relationship with Nintendo because of the original Swords and Soldiers, which came out on WiiWare and at the time was one of the highest rated games on that service. Romino's Jasper Koning said he's definitely seen the indie wave picking up for Nintendo recently.
"eShop is actually pretty good to indies right now. For the type of traditional, say $10-$15 fairly polished indie game it's a really nice safe haven from places like iOS and Android, which are crazy crowded, and even on Steam it's hard to stand out," he observed.
Similar to 13AM's Proctor, Koning also said that the Wii U's sales level is not a concern. The fact that Nintendo can aid in the discoverabiity issue and that developers can feel more comfortable selling games for $10 (compared to mobile where that price feels expensive) makes a huge difference. "It's a well known fact that the Wii U is not the most successful platform out there but at the same time I feel that in our space, or for the kind of numbers that we generally do, we don't need a platform with a billion users," he noted. "Even though this game is a lot bigger than the original and took us a lot more time it's still not like a AAA title where we need to make millions back. I think we're in a good place."
Indeed, with lower investments from the beginning, a project on the eShop has a fairly good shot at being profitable. Koning said that most games on the service likely cost somewhere between $500,000 to $1 million to make. As an example, let's say you sell your title for $15 and just five percent of the Wii U's roughly 10 million owners decide to buy it - that's $7.5 million in revenues on 500,000 downloads. It's easy to see how developers can recoup costs.
"We actually decided to start building this game for Wii U even before the Wii U was out, so back then no one had any idea and then when the Wii U came out and it didn't do the crazy numbers the original Wii did, we were kind of scratching our heads and wondering if everything was going to be alright. We talked to a lot of indies who had already gotten games out and they told us 'yeah it's perfectly viable to stick with Wii U.' So we're happy," Koning concluded.