Talking Point: The "Indie Spotlight" Was A Bright Point of Nintendo Direct, But More is Needed
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Both sides of the Atlantic should make noise for the Wii U eShop
Last week's major Nintendo Direct, by which we mean the full-fat multi-game broadcast on 7th August, served up the odd surprise and some release dates, with plenty also left in the tank for future presentations. What was certainly surprising, and one of the most popular news articles on the broadcast here on Nintendo Life, was the Nintendo of Europe sizzle reel of upcoming Wii U eShop titles. In a little over two-and-a-half minutes we saw a number of titles coming to the platform, and it was the perfect appetizer for under-fed download fans.
The trailer was surprising for a number of reasons. First of all, it featured a lot of titles that were previously unannounced and completely under the radar. Not many will be exclusive to the Wii U, but they represent early signs of the potential influx of Unity-based games, the engine that's enthusiastically supported by Nintendo with free tools available for developers. As a result games that have been designed for tablets, smartphones, PC and other consoles are clearly being adapted for Wii U, and this trailer helped to demonstrate that, for all of the talk about these development tools bringing smaller studios to the fore, we finally have evidence to support the claim.
If you haven't seen it yet, the trailer is below.
And we come to our second point — if you were focused on the North American broadcast and not following post-Nintendo Direct coverage, you may not have seen a lot of these games at all. This was included in Satoru Shibata's portion of the European presentation, which is a positive in that it shows an exciting number of games coming from European and Australian developers, but surprising in that there was no North America equivalent. With the exceptional work of Dan Adelman often at the vanguard of promoting Nintendo's download platforms, it's surprising that the team responsible for the NA regional presentation didn't opt to show some of the rewards of that work. Adelman has spoken positively of a potential 20-30 games coming to the eShop this year, and this video shows some that may be part of that list, but the absence of a sizzle reel for the North American contributions on the way seemed surprising, to say the least.
Whatever the decision-making or logistical considerations behind the absence of such a video in North America, it nevertheless brings us to the over-riding point — Nintendo needs to make more noise about download-only games coming to the Wii U. We've heard of Nintendo "doing the right thing without making a big fuss about it" in supporting download developers, but we would suggest the company shouldn't play the role of the quiet and nice platform holder, but rather both confident and nice. Sony has earned a lot of good press and credit by shouting repeatedly about its PlayStation Network agreements being favourable for developers, and Nintendo should make the exact same points. It'd be pleasing for good deeds alone to earn the credit they deserve, but in the modern industry it seems that doing the right thing and using persistent PR with noise-making are both required.
Our third major point, and why more should be made of these download-only games for the Wii U, is the potential importance of these titles for the system. Much has already been made of the value of small studios increasing in the current market, as modern development tools and expertise have transformed download games to, arguably, a higher standard of quality than that seen 4-5 years ago. We're talking broadly, of course, and there's always been a mix of the excellent and abysmal, but we'd argue that many $10-$20 games of the current era stand up well to major retail standards. The approaches and genres are often different, but some download games have become success stories, commercially and critically, because they're expertly crafted, creative and playful in a way that many big-budget triple-A games are not.
Download games often show less fear, and more willingness to be simple and focused, while also trying new ideas or bending established mechanics. It's easy to see why "indie" developers are seen by some to have such a notable stake in the balance of gaming power, as they can provide experiences simply not found on a full-priced retail disc. While these download games are unlikely to have the power to sell a system on their own, especially as many are multi-platform, they arguably contribute a great deal to retaining existing customers and changing the "message" around the Wii U. As retail shelves fill with the major releases for the system later in the year, having a dynamic Wii U eShop will also play its part in promoting a vibrant, active gaming system that consumers want to own.
A challenge for systems, as we saw with the Wii in its last year on the market, is not just initial sales — which are hugely important — but maintaining relevance as months and years pass. Consistent game releases are key, and in the HD big-budget era of retail games, where lengthy development times can be the norm, it can be the download market that fills gaps and keeps a console ticking over week to week. As the user-base grows, the Wii U's fortunes will also rely on strong software revenues over a consistent period, and filling a 4-6 week period between major high street games will be the responsibility of the eShop, and by extension the teams that support and encourage smaller developers on the platform.
Satoru Iwata has spoken of targeting a "critical mass" of Wii U system sales to change the message and bring positivity to the Wii U brand. A criticial mass of games seems equally important, so that those picking up the console feel that there are endless exciting options to consider. It seems that, with all of the work Nintendo has undertaken to attract developers, results are coming; European and Australian developers are clearly on board, and Dan Adelman of Nintendo of America has been clear that the same is the case in North America. The Wii U is becoming a part of the popular "Indie scene", gradually, while the system's capabilities and GamePad can give its versions of games an edge.
Yet Nintendo is happy to do this work "without making a big fuss about it". We say make a fuss, show off, bombard us with sizzle reels and developer insights, show why multiple companies are joining the Wii U eShop. Humility can be important, but so can promotional activity and positive press. Don't let Sony and even Microsoft — after more u-turns — seize the crowns of download software champions unopposed; show why the Wii U matters for fans of what could be some of the most innovative, exciting games of the coming generation.