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DSiWare needs to improve usability to evolve

Developers call on Nintendo to push digital platform to keep up with other services

Indie developers have praised Nintendo's DSiWare channel for offering them an avenue which with to get their games directly to consumers, but have highlighted a number of ways in which the service could improve.

Echoing comments made by studios of WiiWare earlier this week, developers called for an increased advertising push by Nintendo focusing on the DSi's internet capabilities in order to increase the number of owners using it to go online, as well as a more user-friendly DSi Shop.

Developers also cited problems with marketing their titles, due to a convoluted system in place for gifting points to the press for them to download games, and questioned the lack of a ranking system in the store in order to properly rank titles.

"We're extremely happy that DSiWare even exists," said Jason Schreiber, CEO of Powerhead Games, the studio behind acclaimed DSiWare title Glow Artisan. "A year ago we had no way to put out Glow Artisan. From our perspective, how cool is it we self-published our own original DS game?"

But the service could improve further as Nintendo continues to grow it, said Schreiber, suggesting that a 'spotlight' section of the shop would make it easier for users to pick out good games.

It's essential the ergonomics of the whole shop are improved, added Mateusz Makowiec, VP of business development at Teyon, creators of Robot Rescue and Ball Fighter.

"Browsing games in the DSi Shop becomes more and more difficult as the number of titles grows and there's a lack of trailers or demos," he said.

The lack of rankings within the store make it tricky to navigate games, agreed Thierry Platon, creative director at BiP Media, the studio behind DSiWare Viking Invasion. "Your game stays one week with the label 'new' on the DSi front page - if you are lucky Nintendo will only release three games on the same week - and after it's in alphabetic order.

"For now, there are few games on DSiWare - but at the end of 2010 this will be a real problem."

"As Nintendo grows its service I'd love it if great games were easier to find," added Schreiber. "There should be a one-click solution to buy DSiWare games online. is an example of one way to do this, but any system that can turn a website link into a sale would be a win-win-win for all involved."

In terms of marketing titles, developers shared many of the same problems those developing WiiWare had encountered - little notice of when a game will go live on the DSiWare channel makes it difficult to plan promotions or get code to press in a timely fashion.

"When it comes to release dates [Nintendo] could work more closely with developers on this issue. It would make release dates more predictable for us and allow us to plan PR activities," said Makowiec.

It should also introduce some sort of promotional points for the press - "We'd like to be able to gift points for reviewing purposes - right now it's complicated," he added.

Schreiber however argues that while an Apple-like beta program to distribute pre-release games to the press would be welcome (if a lot to ask), the onus of marketing still falls primarily at the feet of the developer. Although he says it would be helpful if the press paid more attention to digital titles.

"May I politely suggest the press could be less concerned with games that aren't out yet in favour of finding great games players can actually buy? Indie games live and die based on the reaction in the press and word of mouth," he said.

Despite that, Powerhead released Glow Artisan "in the dead zone between Christmas and New Year with almost no hype," he says.

"We spent our marketing budget on the ESRB rating and crossed our fingers that the game was good enough to generate its own buzz. The nature of independent games - DIY everything, including marketing - requires patience at times. We expect Glow's popularity to grow as more people find it, play it, love it and spread the word."

Marketing for the service itself is a different matter, with most developers agreeing Nintendo could do more to push the DSi's internet capabilities and its digital store.

"I think Nintendo doesn't promote their digital services with the energy we expect from such a successful company," said Makowiec. "It looks like it's not their priority at the moment. Everything else is a consequence.

"I agree with Nintendo that digital download publishers should take care of PR activities for their games. However a promotion of the whole service would help everyone, including Nintendo.

"Due to limited resources, we can't build DSiWare or WiiWare awareness among DSi/Wii consumers. Nintendo could also improve their consoles' connectivity rate - I expect it still doesn't look very well."

Overall though, developers agreed the potential for the service was good, with all of them planning further DSiWare releases based on the performances of their released titles.

"We consider Nintendo digital platforms a tremendous opportunity to expand our publishing," said Makowiec. "Overall we're happy with the DSiWare potential and plan a lot of releases for this year."

"While many other developers and studios chase the great white hope that is the iPhone, we have stuck to a format which has a core fanbase who purchased the device because it plays games. These users want to purchase more software and are eager to look for it day in, day out," added Nic Watt, CEO of studio Nnooo.

How it evolves in the future is, of course, paramount to its continued growth - and some question whether Nintendo will follow the lead of more user intuitive and interactive services offered by, for example, Apple's store.

"It's hard to argue with success and Nintendo has historically done very well with its 'walled garden' self-contained gaming universe," concluded Schreiber.

"But the current trend towards networking everything socially isn't going away."

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