News Article

Talking Point: The Download Games Battle is Just Beginning

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

So where does Nintendo and the Wii U eShop stand?

As a sign of the increasingly busy — or perhaps that should be frantic — times in which we live, it took a matter of hours for an element of a news item from yesterday to become comprehensively out of date. We're referring to an article where small 'indie' developers outlined Nintendo's approach to self-published download games in comparison to Sony and Microsoft, with the concensus being that this was an area where Microsoft was weak. Perhaps the dismissive language of NyamNyam's Phil Tossell (speaking to Edge) said it best in terms of Microsoft's stance — "do they even have an approach to indies?"

And yet, hours later, Game Informer broke a story that Microsoft is reversing some policies — such as indie developers needing a publishing partner for the One's download platform — that had driven smaller studios away; this also follows more recent moves to drop charges for patches and game updates on the Xbox 360. Another feature to emerge has been that developers will be able to register online to have their standard Xbox One approved as a dev kit, though it won't be a day one possibility when the system launches; in other words, it'll be possible for any system to be used for development, it just requires the approval and necessary steps that follow to set it up.

Microsoft is, much like its DRM-policy u-turns in past weeks, reacting to its rivals and trying to ensure it isn't left behind, and while cynicism is often the first port-of-call it's ultimately a valid practice. Nintendo used to largely shun DLC and be fairly archaic in its approach to download software, but has been undergoing extensive modernisation over the past two years to provide developers and gamers with services more in-line with current-day expectations; shifts in policy are part of the game.

Before going into how Microsoft's approach changes things — or perhaps the degree of its potential impact — we should also acknowledge that the company is holding back on details until the Gamescom event in Cologne, which takes place in late August. There are a lot of unknowns, too, as Microsoft's idea of developers applying to have their system registered for dev tools says little about whether there'll be related costs, whether all developers will have the same tools or whether it'll be tiered in any respect, and so on. There's also much to be clarified in terms of how much the "vision", as Microsoft terms it, of all developers having easy access and golden opportunities translates in the final approach. One sceptic is Brian Privinciano (Retro City Rampage), who said the following to Engadget:

I'm very happy to see this. After all of the developers have spoken out, they're finally listening. However, this is yet another example of them changing policy, but it sounding better than it is when the whole story is revealed. Make no mistake; while this is a great thing, it's again not the equivalent to what other platforms offer. On PS4, for example, developers can tap right into the system; use every bit of RAM and all of its power. Indies have access to everything that the AAA studios do, from platform support to development and release. The indication on Xbox One is that it's essentially XBLIG 2.0. Instead of XNA, it's Windows 8. Windows 8, which is already struggling to gain developer interest, will gain a boost from developers wishing to target the console. However, it won't be as full-fledged as published games on the system.

And so the debate about the battle over download developers, particularly "indies", has another serious player, with Microsoft turning heads with its shift in policy, albeit while encouraging caution with a delay to giving full details. As yesterday's summary of developer comments helped to make clear, a large number of developers are particularly interested in the PS4, but the efforts of Nintendo could be summarised as strong and still improving, with the company quietly going about its business in a constructive way.

Of course, that's been a prevalent message since before the Wii U launched last year, and the majority of our developer interviews have prompted positive comments about Nintendo's enthusiasm in supporting developers and the increasing ease of the process to publish a game. Development kits have sometimes been loaned for free, while it's clearly far easier to become licensed and start down the development path, with free Unity tools and the Web Framework contributing to making the nuts and bolts simpler to apply. All in all, studios that have published on the Wii U eShop or begun the process have, in the vast majority of cases, been enthusiastic about the experience.

So, to go back to our tagline, where does Nintendo stand? For one thing, being welcoming and accessible, though vital, isn't likely to be enough on its own to attract small developers to the Wii U eShop; Sony and — it seems — Microsoft are also welcoming the same group of studios, while the calling of Android and iOS platforms are as strong as ever. The smartphone, tablet and Android console markets are the most accessible of all, but as the app stores show — and to an extent the early days of the Ouya — having a market that open can be a negative, with a lot of amateur and downright terrible games seeing the light of day and crowding the market. A platform without notable gatekeeping may seem to some like a paradise, but it also has serious drawbacks.

In some respects, there are valid concerns — which only the passing of time will address — that Sony and Microsoft's platforms will have similar issues with overcrowding, another point made by NyamNyam's Phil Tossell. The more open a platform, the more content will come, and it's notable that Tossell spoke of Nintendo focusing on "quality over quantity", while KnapNok Game's Lau Korsgaard spoke of the company "establishing genuine human relationships with the indies". It's here that the role of Nintendo of America's Dan Adelman and his team, as well as their contemporaries in other regions, seems pertinent; processes are easier, projects are still authorised and, vitally, processed with a degree of human oversight and interaction.

That's slower than an automated iTunes-style process, of course, which is also rumoured for Microsoft's One plans, but it ensures a degree of quality assurance and structure. We still get the occasional example of dross on the eShop platforms, of course, but neither store is — by any stretch of the imagination — overwhelmed or groaning under the weight of shovelware.

It's a tricky balance, so while Nintendo will continue to cultivate relationships and strive for regular, quality games on the Wii U eShop, we'll quite likely see a higher volume on rival platforms. The eShop will certainly need to secure much-wanted multi-platform downloads — including those from major publishers, such as DuckTales Remastered — while striving for more exclusives like Spin the Bottle: Bumpie's Party and Scram Kitty And His Buddy On Rails. Perhaps this is where the Wii U concept will be particularly vital, with the GamePad offering dual screen possibilities unique to the system — other systems can mimic the idea with multiple devices, but let's not forget that the Wii U still has that functionality intuitively right there in the box.

While download-only games are very rarely system sellers in their own right, they can contribute to a console's overall value to the gamer, and a number of exciting indie games on a platform can be a positive marketing point. Nintendo isn't alone in being welcoming to small studios, is still fighting in a market under increasing strain from other gaming alternatives on multi-functional hardware, and will surely rely on its gatekeeping and personalised approach, alongside the Wii U's capabilities, to continue to attract developers against such varied and fierce competition.

The PS4 and Xbox One markets are still to come, of course, but "quality over quantity" may be a wise approach for Nintendo.

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User Comments (52)



Rafie said:

I believe Nintendo is doing just fine with the eshop. Some of those prices are a bit steep, but not unrealistic. I do agree though that Nintendo needs to secure some of those mulitplat indie games for better exposure. It's capable, so I'm failing to see why this isn't happening now.



LegendaryQ said:

Well, this is the first generation where Nintendo really has some good opportunities to really beat out the competition in terms of downloadable games.
I don't know if they will or if they won't, but they have the tools.



crazyj2312 said:

The eShop is definitely not the pinnacle of online game stores but each of them have their drawbacks to be honest, and the one the eShop has, which has to be the pricing of some of the games, is tolerable compared to the app store, sony's, and XBLA. I find the others to be bogged down with too many terrible games compared to any actual good ones they have and I personally like the approach they're going for with quality over quantity and immediate ease of access.



SkywardCrowbar said:

The eShop is really great. One of the best components of the Wii U. It's full of very good titles, it enables you to download retail games, and it provides the best variety of retro titles on the market. It would behoove Nintendo to focus on quality over quantity in the eShop. Nintendo quality is what sells Nintendo consoles.



sinalefa said:

Wow, what is Microsoft's next move before launch? Reversing the $500 tag price? I would not be that surprised if they do.

If what has been told is true (regarding Chronicles of Mystara missing on the eShop because Nintendo found bugs that Capcom let go in other online stores) then it is true that they care about quality over quantity and that may help them to avoid excessive shovelware.



JebbyDeringer said:

Steam is already the best download platform there is. Sure you can call it PC specific (it's on Mac as well) but much of it can be controlled with just a controller and most PC's have HDMI ports (ie simple hook up) now. The difference between PC and console has narrowed drastically. And the compatibility issues and constant upgrades are pretty much a thing of the past. Steam has games that go back decades, you don't lose your games when you get a new PC (this is HUGE), they have sales which means you can pick up games a year or two old for sometimes as little as $3 when they retailed new for $60. You can argue that you prefer console type games, even Nintendo specifically but when it comes to indie games they are typically multi-platform and so many of them are on Steam.



Mainer82 said:

I still prefer the physical disc. I plan on buying Ducktales but I wish that they'd have a physical copy as well.



DualWielding said:

really if Nintendo wants to even compete in downloads the first thing it needs its an account system, no matter how good the games are, many gamers are put off by the risk of losing their investment if their consoles gets broken or stolen.... Without an account system its really at a disadvantage...



DualWielding said:


You have to give credit to Microsoft for being able to accept when they have screwed up and make changes, of course is better not to screw up in the first place, but what Microsoft is doing by reversing their unpopular policies is better than what Nintendo is doing by not even bothering to listen to fans concerns regarding region locking



KilluaZoldyck said:

I dont think that multi-platform indie games would be as important as unique indie games. the selection of indie games on the ps4 and xbox are nice, but i don't understand the draw if I can download those games on steam already.



sinalefa said:


For me that only shows that Microsoft's greed is bigger than their pride. They don't care about their consumers, they are doing this for the potential sales they are losing. Mattrick's comments during E3 were insults to their fanbase.

Nintendo already stated their stance about region locking, which proves they listen to their fans. That they do not do as they please is an entirely different thing.



DualWielding said:


I agree, but that's how business is done, you are not going to get very far by standing by your bad decisions for pride's sake when its costing you money



b23cdq said:

@JebbyDeringer Off-TV play. To get the same on Steam you need a PC powerful enough to run the game, and you need a device capable of recieveing stream from the PC over wifi, such as Poject Shield, which alone costs as much as a Wii U.



banacheck said:

JebbyDeringer: The difference between PC and console has narrowed drastically.

How exactly?

Console's cannot have a Steam because thay are closed platforms, there is no direct competition. Unlike PC's that are an open platform, and have a shed load of competition. And with Federation of German Consumer Organisations hoping to have Value in court by the end of the year, it'll be interesting to see if thay win what impact it'll have on Steam.

The Federation of German Consumer Organisations hopes to have Steam in court by the end of the year.

The body is challenging Steam’s refusal to alter its terms of service following last year’s ruling from the European Court of Justice that European consumers should have the right to re-sell their digital software purchases.

I think Nintendo is going in the right direction.



MegaManEP3 said:

@ferthepoet this is my biggest issue with Nintendo's online service. They need an account based system. They already track what games you have if you connect your WiiU to your Club Nintendo account, they just need to go one step further. I've never had a Nintendo system die on me, but my friends launch WiiU died a few days after he got it. He had bought a couple online games that he never got back. Nintendo did give him a free copy of Ninja Gaiden 3 to make up for his lost games though.



shingi_70 said:

The most interesting thing about microsoft's strategy is that the the system itself can be used a dev kit. Still funny how much non info they've given trying to do flashy reveals.

Nintendo has done pretty good on the indie front. The only problem I see is no 3DS crossbuy and not marketing indies as much as sony has.



unrandomsam said:

The lack of XNA on the Xbox One was the thing. I think they will replace it with something like coding for Metro Windows 8. Don't think that will be enough though because most people buying games using steam and windows 7. If they don't allow you to make just a normal desktop application for it as well it won't work.



Sceptic said:

@banacheck: While I follow that dispute out of professional interest, what exactly do you deduct for consoles?

Most notably, that EU Court ruling applies to Nintendo as well, and they are even less in a position to enable reselling of digital downloads than Valve is. Heck, they don't even have an account based system. If anybody is royally screwed by that ruling, it's Nintendo.



Meaty-cheeky said:

@JebbyDeringer I like how up brought up Steam, Nintendo really needs to follow their example of a digital game store.

Plus I also wish Nintendo would just instantaneously move Wii virtual console games over to the Wii U eShop, and would just add Wii U Game Pad support updates as time goes on. I find this very frustrating.



unrandomsam said:

Nintendo sucks for indie stuff they should give anyone the tools to load their own stuff on their own console.

(Still charge for the hardware debugger that the big devs probably want and for a fully unrestricted dev system).

The indie stuff I want on Nintendo is written entirely for Nintendo. When something is only for one identical hardware platform you can make it tighter and there is nothing like an OS getting in the way. Abstraction and portability makes the end result less good.



Samurai_Goroh said:

@MegaManEP3 I may be thinking wrong here, but your purchases are tied to the hardware. Fine, if the hardware dies you contact Nintendo, send the console to repair and they repair it, or if it is beyond repair replace it with another but they have the tools to transfer your account from the dead system to the surrogate, right? You just have to go to eShop and redownload with no added cost.
Of course if it's out of warranty, you'd have to pay them and they may not be cheap, but if things are not as above described then I agree Nintendo has really screwed this up.



Mizzah_Tee said:

And this is why Nintendo didn't want to flood the eShop with VC games. They want to make sure indie devs and NEW downloaded games have a chance to shine. For all the Virtual Console crybabies...



shingi_70 said:


How would those cross each other? The real reason they're taking so long is they have to re-license the third party stuff and its easier to make money on drops of content instead of unleashing the full monty.



MegaManEP3 said:

@Samurai_Goroh I've never had a Nintendo console or handheld go out on me so I'm really not sure. I have heard that they will do exactly what you described but those are rare instances. In my opinion, it still shouldn't be that hard. They should have all your downloads attached to an account and that account should be cross platform just like PSN.



unrandomsam said:

@siddyp00h Problem is most of them are not good enough or junk ports (That are 4-10 times the price of the original version that came out 6 months earlier).

The indies that are worth having are not releasing on Nintendo. (They are either using XNA and incapable of actually getting it to work well on anything other than Windows/360 or still making games for Dreamcast / Neo Geo or even Megadrive. (Pier Solar Looks Ace - Gunlord is ace I have the Dreamcast version).



unrandomsam said:

@Sony_70 He is right otherwise there would be no reason not to put GBA on the 3DS.

(If they did though it would show what utter garbage nearly all of the rest of the eshop is in comparison).

I am not bothered about playing any game that is not close to the best in its genre or not like any other game.

I am certainly not bothered about paying much more money for something I have already played. (I get games on steam and buy games that I would never take the risk of buying on Nintendo cannot trust review sites - average across the whole of metacritic is 70% and too many sites complain about reasonable difficulty being too difficult. Makes it very difficult for me to find stuff. I have probably wasted £500 on games I don't like that much on steam if I paid Nintendo prices it would be closer to £5000). Paying £2 for something you might like is not the same as paying £15 you might like. If that was the only option I just wouldn't even try those games.



Slapshot said:

Nintendo's indie games are filled with terrible games that cost a good deal more than other platforms. The "quality over quantity" argument is a weak one. I'll take my quantity any day, because all it takes is a little research to find the great games hidden within the masses - Ouya and the mobile markets are proof of just this.



Samurai_Goroh said:

@MegaManEP3 I know it may be a bit unnecessarily complex, but I'm ok with it. If my console died I think I would want it repaired by Nintendo anyway, rather than go buy another instead. And they seem to support their systems for years, I read some news a couple years ago that Nintendo was shutting down the repair service of Famicom and Super Famicom for Japan, that is. If that is so they had official repair services for consoles over 20 years, which seems more than reasonable. If they do extend the same courtesy/ service worldwide, I'm happy knowing I could get my Nintendo console repaired (at a price, ofc there are no free lunches ;]) by the pros in the next couple decades. And as you say yourself, Nintendo console last a lifetime, I haven't had one dying on me either. Can't say the same about others.



Bragoon said:

@MegaManEP3 My 3DS system got some water in it, and they did just that - I mailed them my old 3DS, paid them money, and they transferred my eShop account over to a new system. When it got back to me (only a couple of weeks after I mailed it), I was able to re-download my games and all was well.



HeatBombastic said:

I really love the e-shop, and more special combo sales and temp discounts (perhaps even daily sales when enough games role in), games, and better individual pricing for the virtual console would make it even better



JaxonH said:

@Slapshot Well, to each his own. I personally hate going on PSN and scrolling through a legion of dull, uninteresting monotonous titles, without so much as a clue as to what's worth its salt. I think a little less from Sony, and a little more from Nintendo, would find the right balance in between. I will say I am disappointed Limbo is not available on the eShop, so perhaps there is some merit to your position.



JaxonH said:

@siddyp00h That's not legit though. It's a capitalistic market, and companies are in business to provide what the market demands, regardless of where that leaves indies. I want the best games, regardless of who developed them. If VC is where those games are at, why are they not being offered on a dedicated gaming device? That is why we buy dedicated gaming devices after all. Besides, if indies can't make games good enough to compete with 20 year old VC games, then I'm probably not interested in buying them anyways. Besides, VC games are segregated from the rest of the eShop titles, so that those who are interested can browse them, and those who are interested can browse an unadulterated list of indie games.



JaxonH said:

@ferthepoet It's not that they aren't listening, it's that Nintendo isn't in the same boat as Sony and MS for region locking. Sony and MS don't have a myriad of 1st party titles in development at any given time, and aren't localizing many games. This has all been explained before. Freeing region-lock would cannibalize sales of localized games, and the end result would be inaccurate marketing projections and forecasted sales (which directly affects budgets) in those regions. The end result is we'd stop getting as many localized games, save for the really big releases. Xenoblade, Last Story, Pandora's Tower... these most likely would have never been localized if region locking wasn't in place. I'm sorry, but I choose localized games over importing any day. It should be noted that you can still import if you want to- all it takes is a NTSC-J or PAL console. If you're the type who's willing to spend $80 or more to import a game, all you need do is muster the one-time funds to purchase a Japanese console, after which you can import to your heart's content. Yeah it sucks you have to buy a 2nd console, but again, it's only the cost of about 3 imported games, and it's a one time cost that you'll never have to pay for again. And it's nothing more than you have to do with Sony systems. I have a Vita, and it can play Japanese games, but you have to have a Japanese PSN account, and since each system must be completely reset to change regions, the only feasible way is to purchase a 2nd Vita to do that. So, Nintendo's no different than everyone else in that respect. Not to mention, statistics show an extremely small percentage of gamers import, yet I hear the region locking stuff from so many people, most of whom don't even know HOW to import. Just because MS reversed its DRM policy, and several other policies that got bagged in with it (like region-locking), doesn't mean it's reasonable to expect Nintendo to just up and reverse a company policy that makes a lot of sense to keep in place, at the snap of your fingers. It's perfectly fine to criticize Nintendo's stance on region locking if that's how you feel, but to further criticize them for not changing said policy at the demand of 0.5% of their total customer base is completely unfair.



Funny_Moblin said:

@MegaManEP3 I agree that Club Nintendo tracks CERTAIN games. Not only is it uncertain that Nintendo would give you the games back just by looking at your club Nintendo, but also not all the games have the code. I got very frustrated when I got Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate only to find out there was no Club Nintendo code.



Sleepingmudkip said:

i hope the e-shop doest get crowed i know apple store and psn has way to many games on there and i cant find the hidden indie games i know i will love.



DualWielding said:


The problem is that the policy is not clear, I have heard that they sometimes restore the games but there is not guarantee that they would.... Also the issue remain of console lost or stolen, granted the risk of that happening to a Wii U is small, but for the 3DS it is quite a real risk



Relias said:

I likes me some Eshop.. even if I don't use it very often.. the others have to much crap.. at least our Eshop has for the most part really nice games for the price.. though I wish they would work on the pricing a bit... but hey..



DarkEdi said:

Why not to unify the Wii shop with the Wii U eshop like the 3DS did with the DS shop? Nintendo, don´t be lazy, unify the shops, so automatically a lot of people will have access to more than 400 VC games and more of 200 Wiiware games. I´m very sure more than 80% people doesn´t know there is a hidden shop inside the Wii mode.



wombatkidd said:

@JaxonH You forgot to mention that if you buy a Japanese console you can use the Japanese eshop on it. If you make all your Japanese purchases on the eshop, the cost you save in shipping alone will pay for the console.

@ferthepoet If your machine is damaged, they most certainly will transfer the eshop profile. If your system is stolen, they will do so if you filed a police report and can prove it was stolen. If it was lost, you're SOL. Keep track of your stuff is what I say. It's not like they don't warn you about that constantly.

(The TOS say what happens if you lose your system, as well as the Eshop itself the first time you use it, and a warning pops up whenever you add funds that says pretty much the same thing.)



Sam_Loser2 said:

Steam is the best download platform ever, but if Nintendo would just let us have a bloody account system I'd be happy.



unrandomsam said:

@wombatkidd If you want access to the full game library then you need to take 3 3DS's around with you which is just not going to happen. (And if you lose the system and it is an import one dunno if you can even pay to get it fixed). With the vita all you need to do is swap the card. Carrying 2 cards is not too much of an annoyance. For shootem ups (I have an import US Castle of Shirigami III and I really wish I didn't know what they were saying turned the story off straight away). Milestone Shooting Collection 2 cost £15 from play asia and it has 2 extra games than the US one and that it is in Japanese makes no difference whatsoever. Having the UI of the console in Japanese is not something I particularly want either. I would have paid full price for Kokuga a year ago if I could just play it don't see how having to change the price to much less than it is worth helps the developer.

I think I might have made a bad choice - more games I want even on the PSP than on the 3DS and the Vita makes them look better. (Ultimate Ghosts and Goblins / Star Soldier / Dracula X Chronicles (Much better than the junk Westernised Castlevania the 3DS has)). Probably take me as long to fully master those games than every single game in the 3DS library.

I have imported consoles before (US N64 / Japanese Mega Drive) it was never a problem because the region lock was so easy to get around if necessary. (I had a 60hz modded PAL SNES played pretty much everything.)

Carrying one console on your person is annoying. Carrying 3 is just stupid.

If there is a game I want and the option is buy a region free bootleg. (Which will probably start existing before long). Or buy another console. Then I will get the bootleg. (As long as it labelled as such. They have already stated they don't want my money). Don't see how that is a benefit to anyone other than the bootleggers.



Drawdler said:

I just want the choice to buy physical games. The concept of non-optional digitalised games really annoys me. Though, considering all the "download from the eShop" promos and how much more convinent it would be to publish, I can understand why it would happen... I just hope that whenever it happens- which it will- the systems are ready and come with a buttload of internal memory.

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