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Opening the Marketplace

November 21st, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

As Nintendo’s latest console (the WiiU, for those of you not aware) hits the market, the indie gaming community is reacting to the news that its online market will allow developers to set the prices of their releases, and not Nintendo acting as distributor. Further, in what may be a particularly generous move, they won’t charge developers, nor require them to charge, when releasing patches for their games.

“These seem like perfectly reasonable things to me, and I don’t know why you’re writing about them,” I hear you say.

“Because they’re not the current industry model,” I reply. “Currently, developers have to pay distributors to patch their game, and can’t set their own price points.”

Nintendo is setting itself up for success here. They didn’t do a lot with the Wii in terms of helping indie developers out the last time around, and invariably, they flocked to the better games in town, if you’ll pardon the expression. We got gems like Braid and Limbo, but on the XBox and the PS3. The Wii was sort of standing in the cold, having three main problems: an unfriendly marketing system, advertising which stressed professional development, and developers wary of trying to build a game around the Wii’s controller system.

At least two of these problems vanish with Nintendo’s about face. With their embrace of letting developers set their own pricing, their online market becomes much more appealing for people making small games on their own. They still have to drum up about $5,000 for a WiiU development kit, but considering that XBox’s new development kit Durango is going for about $20,000, this is a small hurdle. Second, Nintendo isn’t shy about trumpeting their new policy on indie gaming, nor should they be. Lots of press around the move has already circulated, and Nintendo has gotten acclaim from such indie studios as Frozenbyte (Trine 2) and Tomorrow Corporation (Little Inferno), both of which are eager to work with the industry veteran when it comes to their new platform.

The third issue, Nintendo’s unusual controller setup, presents a challenge for the interested indie developers, but I hope they think of it as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle. Can they create something to use the WiiU well, or are they just going to be trying to get something that functions without looking too deeply at the hardware?

Whichever situation pans out, I’m hoping that the increased interest in indie development will spur some competition between Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft to treat their consoles as new playgrounds for young developers. Give indie teams something to work with and on, rather than clutter that gets in their way. With review systems to get games into the market already established, there’s no need to further burden small but talented shops from taking the plunge into developing for consoles, rather than PCs. Congrats to Nintendo for realizing this, and starting what I hope is a trend.

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