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Developers call on Nintendo for more WiiWare support

Indies frustrated at lack of support from Nintendo; consumers unaware of internet connections and services, say developers

Nintendo needs to do more to promote WiiWare to its users, as well as encourage the simple act of connecting the console to the internet, according to independent WiiWare developers.

While Wii buyers are, initially, herded in the direction of internet connectivity with a pre-installed video, Nintendo's digital services aren't being pushed hard enough, developers have told Continued marketing by Nintendo is needed - in the form of targeted advertising - if users are going to keep visiting the Wii shop and spending money on digital titles beyond their first purchase.

"We feel that Nintendo is not doing enough to promote the service at all," said Jag Jaeger, VP of Las Vegas-based studio JV Games, whose WiiWare releases have included Pong Toss and Incoming! "We feel that the vast majority of Wii owners have absolutely no idea that they can even connect to the internet."

It's a view shared by many - analyst Michael Pachter recently estimated that as few as 20 per cent of Wii owners - in contrast with up to 80 per cent of PS3 users - had ever connected to the internet.

And Nintendo's launching of a dedicated 'Ambassador' scheme, which gives users 500 points for every person they help to connect to the internet through the Wii, indicates the company itself is all too aware of this problem - and is keen to correct it.

The company has also just embarked on a three-week long TV campaign - in the UK at least - focused around Wii and DSi internet connectivity, and its digital stores. The ads in particular show a user accessing WiiWare and purchasing Bonsai Barber - a third-party title from studio Zoonami.

This support for the service is exactly what has been lacking up until now, according to some studios.

"Nintendo, in my opinion, could do more to keep the WiiWare and DSiWare stores in customer's minds," said Nic Watt, CEO and creative director of Sydney, Australia-based studio Nnooo - creators of WiiWare's myNotebook and Pop.

"It is great that every new customer knows about and uses these services when they first connect their Wiis or DS. However, how many continue to frequent those stores? I think it is and should be Nintendo's responsibility to have a continued marketing presence to maintain people's awareness about the service."

In terms of Nintendo support once a developer has actually created a WiiWare title, experiences seem to differ vastly.

"Nintendo's stance to developers from the start has been: here's the service, follow our rules, you're on your own and we're not getting involved unless you create controversy," said Jaeger.

"Nintendo could really help by throwing developers a bone. Help create a more even playing field by allowing developers to use Nintendo resources. Even a more fair use of the Nintendo Channel would help. Pokemon will be advertised for months while third party titles get a week usually."

This problem with a lack of resources is compounded by the fact developers often have very little notice of when their game will go live on the service.

"We are not notified until almost the last minute when the title will really be released. That by itself makes it hard to plan any promotions," pointed out Jaeger.

"Basically the product goes onto the service, you get a press release by Nintendo, and you might be on the recommended list, then you are off to fend for yourself."

A further issue can arise when a US company is planning a European release and vice versa, due to the disadvantage a small studio is at when faced with language barriers and a lack of contacts in those territories - and has limited resources to throw at the problem.

"Being an American company we had no experience or contacts in Europe for our Beer Pong release," said Jaegar. "We essentially relied completely on Nintendo to help with marketing the title. We felt completely let down in this avenue as a small blurb on a press release typically has little effect."

Watt argues though that Nintendo provides adequate means for developers to market their games - citing the Nintendo Channel's various benefits, which include games videos and demos, and a weekly email that goes out to subscribers.

He agrees that developers do get short notice on when their game will go live - and says that Nintendo could do more to inform the press on upcoming releases - but says that it's a necessary result of Nintendo's rigorous testing process.

And when it comes to the marketing of titles, that job falls singularly at the feet of the developer, he adds.

"It is hard and frustrating and doesn't feel like part of making a game, but if you want to break away from the publisher/developer model of funding, you have to accept the areas a publisher is traditionally good at and do those areas yourself.

"Nintendo are not publishing your game for you, they are putting it on the shop shelves. You don't expect EB to promote your game, so why expect Nintendo to?"

In terms of improvements to the service itself, those suggested included a direct WiiWare link, a universal payment system for DSiWare and WiiWare, full sized screenshots and new and improved ways to keep customers informed on new products.

But even with improvements pending, the success some developers have had with the platform is largely encouraging.

"EA were boasting last year about Burnout Paradise selling 20,000 units on PSN within its first month. One colour of myNotebook achieved that number inside its first month on sale. For us that is a significant milestone," said Watt.

Every WiiWare product Nnooo has released onto WiiWare has recouped development costs within its first six weeks on sale.

Unlike the iPhone, the Nintendo userbase is committed to gaming, with many fansites dedicated to spreading the word on quality titles, Watt points out.

"If you are looking for advice on what WiiWare and DSiWare game to buy, you can find a site in seconds with a review of that game," he said. "Show me a website for XBLA or PSN which does the same. How many users of the iPhone actually care about or research the software they buy? How many have bought an iPhone because it is the best phone and iPod out there? And how many of those users are actually actively looking for software, reading reviews or becoming informed about what is out there?"

"We are huge fans of Nintendo and truly love their system and will probably always support it," concluded Jaeger, whose studio is currently working on Dart Rage and a second version of Pong Toss.

"That said, Nintendo has always been really inept in their networking department. Creating a system so locked down that it becomes unusable defeats any purpose of creating it. Just to say you have it isn't enough."

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