News Article

Talking Point: iDÉAME, Unity and Nintendo's Continuing Indie Crusade

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Yet more evidence of the vital role of smaller studios

If you go back even a relatively short amount of time, for example ten years, most gaming was locked down by fairly high profile releases from the great gate-keepers of the games industry, such as Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Capcom, EA, Activision, Ubisoft and more. These names are all familiar and have enormous, immediately recognisable brands behind them, which is still true today.

A lot has changed in recent years, however, in that the competition to these behemoths is more organised and, most importantly, visible. Lower budget titles from small to medium studios are no longer niche affairs found in independent game stores or via online retailers and traders, but they're now grabbing our attention on download platforms alongside the big boys. The launch of the Wii U eShop was an example of Nintendo embracing this idea, with the download-only titles happily sharing virtual shelf space with big-name retail titles — though whether those smaller titles should have enjoyed more prominence is a debate for another time.

In fact, the purpose of this article is to highlight some examples that show Nintendo at the vanguard of encouraging developers of all sizes to publish games on its systems. While WiiWare and DSiWare were reasonable starting points — especially when accommodating for technical limitations of the hardware at hand — they undoubtedly had problems, meaning that the big N's digital platforms were, arguably, functionally weaker than rivals from Sony and Microsoft. The challenge has gone beyond conventional dedicated gaming hardware competitors, of course, with iOS and Android platforms gracing many smartphones and tablets, yet the 3DS eShop arrived and made vital improvements; the Wii U eShop has continued the trend.

We should also acknowledge the differences between Nintendo's platforms and those from Apple and Google — the eShops won't compete on price to that degree, and they're still license-driven and structured in releases, rather than the rampantly open markets on phones and tablets. They could be deemed to be negative differences by some, but they can also be argued as positives, with a controlled and licensed output helping to encourage quality from publishers and rules to prevent cloning. On pricing we're seeing regular and tempting price discounts on both 3DS and Wii U, while the rapid expansion of new developers emerging from the sources such as Kickstarter, and confirming 3DS and Wii U development, shows that Nintendo is being supportive in helping studios of all sizes get signed-up and to work with dev kits.

Those are all general points, but perhaps Nintendo isn't quite getting the press and praise it deserves for its specific efforts to support developers. Take for example iDÉAME13, a game developer's conference in Madrid this past weekend. Hosted by Nintendo, it brought many eShop developers together to show off their games — some of which were being revealed for the first time — and gave vital networking and debating opportunities for attendees. A glance at this official web page for the event (thanks, Andrés) shows which developers attended, and we imagine that attentive Nintendo download gamers will be familiar with many of these studio's names.

While perhaps not grabbing headlines like the Games Developer's Conference (GDC), it was an assembly of a number of companies that, either recently or for a number of years, have joined Nintendo's online platforms. Whether recognisable names that have stayed loyal and/or exclusive since DSiWare and WiiWare, or multi-platform companies taking tentative first steps, the list of companies happy to say they're fans of working with Nintendo continues to grow — including many others than didn't attend this event. If Twitter is anything to go by, it seems that developers and members of the public enjoyed the occasion a great deal; below are just a few tweets sharing the mood.

As the heading of this article made clear, we feel another important step being taken by Nintendo is its continuing development of tools utilising the Unity engine. There are other areas where different tools are being made useful (including HTML5), yet the licensing agreement with Unity is one of the most significant for Wii U, particularly, as it's a popular engine for smaller developers aiming for high-fidelity graphics with modest resources. Here's what Tracy Erickson, who is in charge of Developer Relations at Unity, said to us in our interview following last year's worldwide licensing deal.

Unity is easy to use and ideal for small teams. Our engine is designed to be straightforward and intuitive so that you don't need programming expertise to use it. Artists, designers, and coders are able to collaborate in the engine in ways that would be cumbersome in other engines. Unsurprisingly, this fosters more creativity and puts the focus on game design rather than building internal tech.

At GDC this year Nintendo also gave a presentation where it highlighted its Nintendo Web Framework, particularly suitable for apps, while a beta of an improved Unity development setup is available for free to eligible developers, with an emphasis on tools for easily integrating a game onto the Wii U GamePad and the system as a whole. It's all an important part of giving developers every reason to publish on Nintendo systems.

While it's debatable whether a robust, small-to-medium sized developer-driven download store is a selling point for either Wii U or 3DS when consumers are browsing the high street, they're arguably vital ingredients in keeping gamers interested in the months and years after they buy the system. Retail titles from major publishers often seize attention, but the regular and reasonably priced games on the eShop stores bring invaluable diversity and freshness to the systems. With its recent efforts at iDÉAME, GDC, increasing price freedom and discounts on both eShops and in promoting easy-to-use development tools, Nintendo is doing all it can to show the smaller developer's community that it can offer unique opportunities. Through concept-driven hardware and an established audience, the Kyoto-based company is encouraging developers to push the boundaries of gaming; without a big budget.

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User Comments (30)

Jaco

#1

Jaco said:

I really feel that Nintendo has the perfect opportunity to grab those indie developers for unique experiences on WiiU. I can't wait to see what will happen.

nik1470

#2

nik1470 said:

This is a real smart move by Nintendo and I hope to see experiances on par with Braid, Limbo, Super Meat Boy, Fez and Runner2 come out of this as a result.

HeatBombastic

#3

HeatBombastic said:

I want more awesome indie games on the Wii U, I can't spend too much money on a powerful computer!

cornishlee

#6

cornishlee said:

You're right that Nintendo doesn't get the credit for this that it deserves: I'm always seeing developers praise Nintendo here on Nintendo Life whereas on multi-platform sites like IGN and Edge all I ever see is how the PS4 is 'going to be' the premier home for indie developers. It seems that shouting about it on the hardware launch stage certainly got the mainstream video games media's attention.

Personally, I'm happy with the way the Wii U eShop's developing right now - there's a steady stream of quality titles; a big contrast with the Wii, which saw releases of higher rated games drowned out by a river of throw-away titles.

ninja89

#7

ninja89 said:

@nik1470

I agree. Nintendo is playing it smart by adding fresh minds and indie developers that can best utilize the Wii U's unique capabilities and will think outside the box.

NintendoPro64

#11

NintendoPro64 said:

I'll take these indie games over almost ALL the games Western third parties are putting on consoles these days. Seriously, I don't know why Nintendo fans are worried about some Western devs giving Nintendo the finger (Ubisoft, Warner Bros., Activision are still around) when indie games are 20X more fun anyway? :P

Dpullam

#12

Dpullam said:

I am not going to just simply believe that everything indie is golden in the game industry because a strong majority of them really aren't. Even so, I do like that Nintendo is dedicated to getting indies onto their system and as the article mentioned, I really don't believe Nintendo gets the credit they deserve surrounding their support of indies.

mch

#13

mch said:

This move from Nintendo (to deliver such great opportunity to Indie-devs) might pay out huge! I do hope so and I feel a wave of nice and innovative titles coming..

ledreppe

#14

ledreppe said:

Looking forward to what will hopefully be some good download exclusives that will fill that 2TB USB Drive of mine.

Rapadash6

#15

Rapadash6 said:

Amongst the sea of missteps Nintendo has made in the last couple of years, opening up to indie developers rises up above them as a beacon of hope for the entire industry.

The Wii U was, originally, intended as a system that would cater to everyone, but the stigma that pervades the big publishers and games culture media out there regarding Nintendo's hardware design choices was far too influencial for that to happen this time. Nintendo is lucky to have the esteem of indies now, because that's all the industry has left them in the wake of the "HD generation."

It does occur to me, and probably to Nintendo as well, that many of the mainstream publishers out there have become rather toxic to the hobby as of late. The ever increasing anti-consumer methods they've been employing have gouged the consumer to rediculous levels, and the iron fisted control of these companies undermines the creative process, leaving us with a sea of, admittingly technically impressive, but rather mundane experiences.

Nintendo, on the other hand, is one of the rare exceptions. Their game design philosophies have changed little in the 30 years they've released consumer hardware. Unfortunately their inability to be swayed by public opinion, for whatever worth that has, and to follow the changes in trends driven by technology has left them in the unfortunate position they're currently in. Of course trends are volitile and are constantly in flux, but Nintendo sticking to their convictions, I feel, will keep the companies head above water in the coming years.

Let's face it, increased hardware power comes at a price, both for the consumer and the publishers. The standards of the average core gamer have risen to almost unappeasable hieghts, and there is little room for error, financially, from the big companies that cater to this crowd. With the support of smaller developers rising, however, massive opportunities will come from the innevitable bubble burst of "AAA" gaming. Increased costs and development time will almost certainly lead to a more spaced out release schedule, leaving players looking for something else to play in between. Certainly an inexpensive option will be quite attractive in this scenerio.

For Nintendo though, they will go through many periods like they are going through right now, but the companies prestege, lineage, and refusal to follow the crowd may keep them in the hardware business long enough to not only be a part of this revolution in game design, but to use those attributes to further indies into a completely new era of video games.

WiiULoveSquid

#16

WiiULoveSquid said:

I'm so happy Sony isn't the only one grabbing the indies for their download store. Xbox used to be really good but MS left it alone and didnt evolve it and some of those devs are leaving to PSN.

Hopefully Nintendo can get more of those PSN focused indies to include eShop in the future so that if the two consoles can't share major releases they can at least share downloadable ones in PS360 fashion.

Dpishere

#19

Dpishere said:

@Dpullam Agreed, while some indie games are good there are many that are shovelware as well. Sometimes I think people praise indies just to "stick it to the man" as they say. As I have said before people tend to let their feelings for a particular company get in the way of what they actually want to play, though I am not saying that all indie games are poorly made, I just treat them as I do all games indie or not.

shingi_70

#20

shingi_70 said:

@Pixelroy

I'm not saying that sony hasn't made strides in helping the indie scene but to say Microsoft hasn't or won't when we know literally nothing about the next gen xbox live. The only thing you could is look at the developer and store rules for the windows phone and windows store which looks good.

WiiULoveSquid

#21

WiiULoveSquid said:

All im saying is that Xbox 360 didnt seem renew its store as an indie haven as PSN really has and now eShop is aiming to do. XBL was really great for where consoles and indies were at the time. but in the last while Sony has one up'd that relationship and so now has Nintendo. I hope MS start giving more of their store front again to indies with Nexbox and make it easier for them policy-wise to get an abundance of content to that store.

WaveBoy

#22

WaveBoy said:

Not a huge fan of the indie gaming scene, but i would love to see a Lost Winds 3

shingi_70

#24

shingi_70 said:

@Pixelroy

Well yeah i'm assuming the are waiting for the next console to make a lot of the changes. I mean the Xbox is the only Microsoft product that uses Microsoft points despite Windows/phone stores not using the currency in favor of straight dollars.

LavaTwilight

#26

LavaTwilight said:

That's awesome! I hate most mobile-phone app stores; it's frustrating drudging through page upon page of utter carp. I see download-only games the same as any game... is it worth the price I'm willing to pay for it?

kdognumba1

#27

kdognumba1 said:

I'm loving the fact that Nintendo is giving such strong Indie support this time around. It's a completely different stance then what they previously had and I think it's setting them up in the long run to build very good relations with the big future development powerhouses.

ramstrong

#28

ramstrong said:

@Rapadash6
Nintendo is lucky to have the esteem of indies now, because that's all the industry has left them in the wake of the "HD generation."

I don't think it's "luck". I think that's their company policy. Great game design above fancy graphics. With most big companies afraid to take on risky project, indies are the future. Sony and MS can have their fancy graphics, but I will stick to good games, even if they're text-only. Graphic!=Fun.

Schprocket

#29

Schprocket said:

@MadAdam81 I would pose the question here:
https://mwtactics.com/forums/index.php?/forum/7-general-discussion/

What I know of it though is that it is browser-based only - so it'll allegedly play fine on any PC OS running say Firefox - and there's not currently a Unity browser plug-in for the Wii U that I'm aware of. My guess is no but I'd be more than happy in this case to be wrong :)

I'd like Nintendo to check out more of the Unity-powered games on kick-starter... I have said this somewhere else: I'd like to see more than jump & puzzle games on the Wii U from the indies and they are out there;Nintendo just needs to give 'em a nudge in the right direction ;)

joey302

#30

joey302 said:

If the wii u gets blasted with many quality indie titles to choose from while Nintendo and its third parties put a strong virtual console lineup together it will really help the wii u take off until finally the retail titles start flowing in!! Look forward to seeing how it shakes out! Lastly, Nintendo really needs to shake up the vc service with some fresh new titles not previously available on wii like Demon's Crest etc or maybe even some Atari/Sega/Activision Classics?? Something new please?

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