Moon Studios CEO calls out console firms for hardware secrecy

Thomas Mahler says Nintendo NX will "just not have any software support" at launch due to lack of devkits

Moon Studios CEO Thomas Mahler believes Nintendo's NX console won't be adequately supported by software when it launches, due to the difficulties the developer faced when working with the company.

Mahler was the game director on Moon Studios' debut project, Ori and the Blind Forest, which was greeted with both critical admiration and commercial success. In short, Moon is very much the kind of developer Nintendo might like to have working on content for the NX, particularly given that a lack of software seriously undermined the Wii U.

However, Mahler joined a discussion on NeoGaf regarding Nintendo's bewildering need to maintain absolute secrecy, even if it means depriving interested partners of necessary information. The discussion was motivated by a comment made by Coldwood Interactive's Martin Sahlin, who told GameBolt the company was interested in porting Uravel to the NX, but, "it's kind of hard to pitch something when you don't even know what it is."

"I can already guarantee that [the NX will] just not have any software support, since nobody can just jumble games together in less than a year"

"This is actually the singlest [sic] most annoying thing for every dev out there," Mahler said in his comment, per DualShockers. "We also talked to Nintendo and got absolutely nothing - I'll never understand that."

Mahler was quick to point out that the complaint applies to all console manufacturers, "treating their devkits and their unreleased consoles like they're the second coming and are insanely secretive about it to a stupid degree in today's time. It's not even that the hardware isn't finished (duh), but you could at least give me the goddamn specs, so we'd know what to build shit for!"

However, Mahler's criticism was sparked by Moon Studios' experiences trying to build a bridge with Nintendo for the NX, which may be launched within the next 12 months. The absence of accessible devkits and or even solid information about the system itself led Mahler to what is now a familiar problem for Nintendo's consoles.

"With Nintendo not having any devkits out there at this point and probably even wanting to sell it in 2016, I can already guarantee that they'll just not have any software support, since nobody can just jumble games together in less than a year," he said. "I mean, you can, but it'll be garbage.

Mahler extended that to engine support, which is handled too late in the hardware's evolution to be useful for, say, a Unity or Unreal developer at launch time. Instead, developers run into basic problems when time to actually make a game is already running short.

"I want the goddamn devkits or at least proper hardware specs ideally 2 years before release," he continued. "Keep all the developers updated, start a forum where devs can chat and figure out all the problems everyone's having, instead of everyone just having to deal with it.

"None of that's happening anywhere and it's just brain-damaged."

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Latest comments (22)

Thomas Mahler CEO, Moon Studios4 years ago
I didn't expect my forum posts on NeoGaf to blow up like they did... but anyway, I still think I'm on point. In this day and age, hardware shouldn't be hard to come by, especially for developers. The 3DS and the WiiU were almost killed by not having strong software support and it's not necessarily due to developers not wanting to offer support. Devkits shouldn't be a magical thing you get 2 months before the damn thing launches, they should be readily available at the very least a full year before launch. The earlier the better, so that quality stuff could actually be created for the launch-window. And indies should play an important role in that picture - It's probably unlikely that the big publishers will work on any exclusives for Nintendo, but indies might. So why the radio-silence? Does that really help anyone? We have quite a few very, very cool prototypes in development and some of them might have fitted nicely into Nintendo's strategy - Now they're missing out on it and it's just due to crazy policies.

When exactly did all hardware manufacturers decide that not having strong software support during the launch-window is a good idea? The games industry is rapidly changing at all times, but one fact always remained true: Software sells hardware. And that's exactly why it's frustrating that even if you want to support and if there's a window, you're still being left out in the cold.
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Sadly Ninty have consistently been the worst when it comes to dealing with 3rd parties. They start each console cycle off with the same "We value game devs, they are awesome, we know we sucked in the past, but we promise this time it will be different, we pinky promise..... no really" and then they go on to screw the devs with this sort of stuff.

At least they are consistent. It just kills me because they can and should be a force in the space right now.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.4 years ago
I think the big problem is the presumption of date of launch and precisely what kind of device NX is.

1. I don't expect a 2016 launch for this device. Nintendo has never unveiled a home console and launched it the same year.
GC unveiled - Aug 2000
GC launch - Sep 2001

Wii unveiled - Spring 2005 (first announced spring 2004)
Wii launched - Nov 2006

Wii U unveiled - April 2011
Wii U launched - Nov 2012

Given that nothing was unveiled last year, it puts an incredible level of doubt on a 2016 launch. All the rumors of 2016 have been speculation.

2. Home console, mobile console, hybrid, phone, family of products, car, holodeck....we don't know. This is different than just knowing the specs so you can develop target builds. It may be a product (or series of products) wholly irrelevant to your project plans.

It would be nice if they hurry up and unveil everything but depending on exactly what it is, the secrecy may be totally understandable. It simply may not be ready to be unveiled. And this secrecy has been on going since the early days of 3rd party development for all platform holders. Nobody wants to publicly announce a device 3 years ahead with a product already on the market that they must support themselves on.
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Show all comments (22)
That is a fair point, but how hardware works is that they know at least 2 years before launch what the specs are. The reason being that you cannot order these components from Fry's. Supply chain management is tough in hardware so you need to have a component flow, to make sure that this is possible you have to place orders with the partners at least 2 years in advance.
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Renaud Charpentier Game Director, The Creative Assembly4 years ago
@Thomas: It has always been like that, consoles have always been kept away from most devs until almost release. If you have strong ties to a console maker like Naughty Dogs with Sony, you will know in advance, you will be consulted on the hardware and you will get early kits. If you are an Indy dev, you will have to wait and yes, it has, always, resulted in weak launch game offering with usually only one or 2 strong system sellers like Hallo in his time. I remember on Ps2 there was nothing worth playing really for almost 12 month, until Onimusha came out... then the masterpieces came out like MGS2 and ICO, but it was YEARS after the hardware launch.

I think you need to consider that the earliest they show their hardware the earliest their competitors can adapt + there is the marketing habit of the "big unveil!!" ... consider that if you dev on tablets and smartphones you will get the device... after it release, not even 6 months before :)

So that's unlikely to change, even the new "top" PC video cards are not fully described a long time in advance...
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital Extremes4 years ago
The NX's success depends on Nintendo software and Nintendo IP and their software often drives hardware development and their hardware often drives their software development. It has to work for them first and foremost and with the NX has to be revolutionary and unique. It cannot be and will not be another PS4. As such internal development is far more important than any 3rd party, we'll see it when all their plans are set in stone - which in this case probably means a complex online network that marries a handheld, a console and your phone seamlessly. Not surprising in the slightest that they aren't showing it to anyone yet.
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James Berg Games User Researcher 4 years ago
@Richard: "marries a handheld, a console and your phone seamlessly"

Nintendo has nothing in the phone market (Miitomo isn't even out yet), and the 3DS just barely, grudgingly does online. They haven't even bothered to streamline system updates, the user has to dig in Settings to launch it. The likelyhood of them popping out with some magical interconnected-online devices seems incredibly small.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.4 years ago
James, you do know they just opened registration for their cross platform account system last week?

Covers all Nintendo hardware plus PC and mobile devices. So yes, they are "popping out with some magical interconnected-online devices".
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James Berg Games User Researcher 4 years ago
Jim, I'd love for you guys to be right, and if anyone can surprise it's Nintendo, but what they announced last week was basically cross-platform sign-in. They're only planning on having 5 games in mobile through DENA in 2017. The speculation that there's going to be meaningful cross-platform play seems really sketchy so far.
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Curtis Turner Game Developer - Monsters of War 4 years ago
MonoGame isn't on any of Nintendo's platforms... You'd think supporting frameworks and engines would be the most basic, if not most important thing to any hardware/software company.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.4 years ago
So how long before the Xbox One and PS4 launch did Moon Studios receive full system disclosure and dev kits?
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Caleb Hale Journalist 4 years ago
I'm sort of with Jim on his point about the presumed 2016 NX launch. I think it's being carried more by disappointment in the Wii U than realism about when Nintendo can get a system on the shelves (that has a reason to be there). Besides, Nintendo seems to be perfectly fine letting a console languish with very little in the way of software support. I seem to remember 2012, up until the Wii U's launch, was pretty grim. The few notable titles to hit (Xenoblade Chronicles, Last Story, Pandora's Tower) were games fans had to petition heavily for here in the U.S. to even get. The starving Nintendo fans may yet have to cope with the fact that dinner won't be ready for at least another year or more.
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Andy Samson QA Supervisor, Digital Media Exchange4 years ago
Is this Moon Studios' way of saying" notice me senpai"? Do they even know what the NX is? What if it turns out the NX that will launch this year is a handheld, will they be interested in that? It's kind of like the accolades have gone to your head and you feel very entitled. I don't want the NX to become like another XB1 or PS4. They have to understand that whatever the NX is, at this point, it could make or break Nintendo. Their competitors are known to copy stuff from them. Nintendo's probably prioritizing on developers with games that have a greater potential of selling hardware based on consumer demands or how new they are. If the game had already appeared on competing platform months before the system's release, you'd better wait in line. You'll get your chance if Nintendo thinks you are capable of being entrusted with their company's future.
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Andreia Quinta Photographer, Studio52 London4 years ago
@ Andy Samson
You'll get your chance if Nintendo thinks you are capable of being entrusted with their company's future.
I don't believe that's much of an issue as Ninty just prefering to use theire in-house devs. at an early stage. But mid to long term they don't seem to care, all one has to do is look at all the shovelware the DS and Wii had available.

But if you're exclusively referring to very early stages in development/launch, then I agree.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 years ago
If the NX is a fully featured home console, then it is hard to imagine it being anything other than the next Intel/AMD/Nvidia derivative.

If the NX is handheld, then there is a limited pool of ARM chips to choose from as well.

Judging from the WiiU stories floating around, the yardstick of the NX will not be hardware prowess, but how convenient one can develop for that system.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Klaus Preisinger on 25th February 2016 3:34pm

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Andy Samson QA Supervisor, Digital Media Exchange4 years ago
@ Andreia Quinta
Yes, pre-launch development in particular. Based on the series of patents they have filed, whatever they're releasing this year it's not just a souped up PS4/3DS. The system's bound to have very unique features to distinguish themselves from the competition. Post launch however, at this stage the secret's out so there's no need to hold back. Nintendo needs to step it up and make those dev kits available to competent people who wants to support them, even free of charge as long as they commit to deliver.
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital Extremes4 years ago
I don't think they have a lot of choice James ; clearly the DeNa agreement is not a simple "make mobile games from our licenses" - they knew they had no infrastructure so they partnered with someone who could do that for them. Its smart on Nintendo's part because clearly their history in that area is not exactly confidence boosting.
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Brendan Sinclair North American Editor, GamesIndustry.biz4 years ago
@Andy I wouldn't put too much stock in the patents Nintendo files. They make lots of patent applications, and it can take a very long time for them to actually get around to using them. For example, this pre-iPhone patent on a multi-touch screen that they still haven't used:
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James Berg Games User Researcher 4 years ago
@Richard - I hope you're right! Nintendo doesn't often collaborate with others very closely, on either software or hardware, relying instead on their (impressive) in-house capabilities. I worked on Grand Slam Tennis, which was the first non-1st-party Wii game to make use of the Wii Motion+, so I know it can absolutely be done, and well, I'm just dubious.

Nintendo going from marginal online capability, compared to any of their meaningful competitors, to full-blown cross-platform play, based (from what I can see) purely on the DeNa partnership, seems unlikely. I carry a 3DS, phone, and iPad pretty much everywhere though, so I'd be the first person to be thrilled if they pull it off :)
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James Berg Games User Researcher 4 years ago
@Andy "You'll get your chance if Nintendo thinks you are capable of being entrusted with their company's future." That is, it seems, exactly the attitude Thomas is arguing against :) Keeping the gates closed until after the hardware is launched didn't work well for the Wii-U, and it'd be great to see better 3rd-party support on the NX, whatever it ends up being.
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James Terry4 years ago
Microsoft/Nintendo/Sony are not going to unveil their hardware early to a developer they don't have a relationship with already, ideally games released or in the pipe. The companies that are going to see it and make launch titles for it are the ones with an existing good working relationship.

Coming in from the outside saying, "Hey, we want to make a game on your next platform when you already have one out and actively supported right now.", isn't going to work so well.
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Guy4 years ago
Why I agree with Thomas on the principle from a developer standpoint, I believe there are two reasons for this kind of attitude from Console manufacturers:
1) They do not want technical information to leak to competitors to early, afraid that they might try to 1up them (This one is probably more relevant for consoles that lunch back-to-back). I believe that the PS4 having 8GB or GDDR5 came as a surprise even for internal dev teams
2) Perhaps more importantly, the think about quality control. Internal producers coordinating development with external studios are limited in their capacity, and perhaps they prefer to focus on a more narrow set of games where they see a bigger potential for a successful lunch line-up. You can argue for and against this strategy, but I believe that this is at least part of the "closed" mindset.
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