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WiiWare: Developer Views

WiiWare game developers answer questions about Nintendo's upcoming download service

Last week, Nintendo held a media event in San Francisco where it unveiled a handful of DS, Wii and WiiWare titles to a gathering of journalists. While the event allowed for some hands-on time with the games, it was surprisingly light on specifics - especially considering that the event took place a month prior to the North American launch of the WiiWare service.

Nintendo has not officially confirmed which games will be launch titles on May 12. Nor has it announced pricing details - although, if the Japanese service is any indication, they should range from 500 - 1500 Wii Points. At this point, we also don't exactly know how Nintendo plans to address the lack of a hard drive - how many WiiWare titles can be stored on the console's flash memory, and will consumers eventually have to erase titles to buy new ones?

Perhaps the biggest unanswered question is whether Wii owners - a demographic that includes more older and younger players who may not be tech-savvy - will embrace digital downloads in numbers significant enough to justify development. We spoke with a handful of third-party developers who were at the event to learn their thoughts on the upcoming service.

GamesIndustry.bizWhy opposed to Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network?
Nic Wat

I think the nice thing about WiiWare is...There is quite a breadth of things you can do with [the controller], quite a breadth of software. I think that really differentiates the service.

I think the clever thing Nintendo has done is that there are really big titles there. Like Crystal Chronicles - that's going to pull in a lot of core gamers. And then you've got Pokemon in Japan. I'm not sure if it is releasing in America or not, but I presume it will be. And Pokemon is going to get every kid in the land going "Mom! Why don't we get on WiFi - I want that."

So, the brilliant thing about that is bringing people to the store. And once they're at the store then they'll see our game and all the other games. So I think Nintendo is being really clever about that.

David Walsh

The opportunity to be a launch title on the service was too good to pass up. It doesn't take a commercial genius to work out that it is a good idea with the number of Wii's that there are in the world.

We had this idea, and it is perfect, really, because the whole game is basically about making innovative use of the Wii controller. Putting the power of the wind in the palm of your hand.

Tom Gaubatz

In some ways, [Major League Eating] is a concept that is difficult to port to a game. I mean, eating - what do you do? You put food in your mouth. But that's what you do. With the Wii you can do that. You can create a concept that anyone can understand - they can just pick up the controller and do it. That's what sold us on the Wii.

In terms of WiiWare, what we've been looking to do is find something...Major League Eating is not obviously the first thing you are going to think of when you think of sports. But it is something that everyone knows about.

I think that is exactly right for a WiiWare game. It is something that everyone can relate to - it is quirky enough to appeal to a very broad audience. The game itself actually has enough depth and strategy, once you get into it, that core gamers - people who are actually playing downloaded games a lot - are going to appreciate, but at the same time is accessible enough to draw other people.

Ron Carmel

I think Xbox Live sucks now. Their royalty rate...I don't know why any developer would go there. I don't think any developer wants to sell their game at the royalty rate they're paying.

Dan Adelman of Nintendo contacted us a while back. He had heard of Kyle's work and really like it and talked to us about possibly doing something for Wii. At that point, I don't think WiiWare was announced.

And all of the sudden, we thought: "Oh, duh! Mouse control...Wii remote...Perfect!" And that's when we got really excited about it and it's been super easy to work with them - just a real joy.

Our main thing is we want to make a good game that just feels right. And it feels right with the Wii remote

GamesIndustry.bizWas the Wii's memory limitation a problem for development? And if consumers fill up the memory, will they need to erase WiiWare games in order to download new ones?
David Walsh

There are memory limits. Just like there are fixed sizes of discs, there is a fixed size of files you can download.

I understand the question. I think it is probably not for me to answer if Nintendo hasn't said how that is going to be addressed. I think they do have plans...

GamesIndustry.bizWhat is the WiiWare royalty system like compared to the other services?
David Walsh

Yeah, I couldn't really answer that. Mainly because I'm not familiar with what Sony and Microsoft's terms actually are, but...

Ron Carmel

I'm going to let Nintendo speak about their own royalties.

GamesIndustry.bizIf the WiiWare response isn't as good as you were anticipating, but your game is well-reviewed, might you also consider releasing it as a boxed copy at retail?
Ron Carmel

We don't have any objection to that. Again, it's something we probably need to check with Nintendo about.

David Walsh

We've considered that. We've clearly always known that it was an opportunity, but we see that download services are only going to become more prevalent in the future. Therefore, as a developer, it will be very interesting for us to try and be part of that early and get experience at it.

GamesIndustry.bizAre you concerned that the demographics of the Wii's installed base might be such that there might not be a sizable number of people interested in downloading games - or even technologically savvy enough to do so?
Nic Wat

I think a year ago - yes, there was some concern. It was like - "Are people just buying it for Wii Sports and not doing anything else?" But I think it has changed quite a lot recently.

WiiFit, I think, is going to bring an awful lot of people in. I think there are quite a few people online with it already. I know friends of mine who have small children and they're connected. They're sending me messages and photographs and all sorts of stuff. So I was actually quite surprised by the number of people who obviously are not technically savvy who are actually connected to the internet with it.

So, I think it is going to do really well.

Tom Gaubatz

Nintendo has been doing a lot on their side to promote the service and to reach out to their casual audience and the broader Wii audience - not just the core.

And on our side, what we can do is...We've been doing very broad promotional campaigns reaching outside of game publications, reaching outside of the usual games press, to reach a very wide audience and also just creating a game that anyone can pick up and play.

Ron Carmel

I'm not sure. Nobody knows what the sales [will be] like on the Wii.

Like I said, we try to make decisions based on putting out a quality game. If for some reason it does great, then that's awesome - we know we've found our audience. If it doesn't do so well, then maybe we'll try...other things.

David Walsh

We have obviously heard some of the estimates from Nintendo about how many Wii's have actually been online and it is actually quite significant. But, yes, you're absolutely right.

You are absolutely right that there is a question as to how the mass market who bought their Wii to play tennis with and stuff like that would even know about it.

A couple of interesting things - I think that Nintendo probably will be doing a lot of education and marketing of what you can do on the Wii. I don't know if you've heard, but in the UK a really big deal has just happened. The BBC has this thing called iPlayer, which they've had for about a month now, which is basically this video on demand download service. It's actually become this very big deal.

Nintendo just signed a deal with the BBC to get that on the Wii. Out of all the three - Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft. So, actually, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Wii will become a sort of living room internet access.

Ron Carmel is one half of 2D Boy. Nic Wat is creative director of Nnooo. David Walsh is Frontier's managing director. Tom Gaubatz is a production woof at Mastiff. Interviews by Mark Androvich

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