Talking Point: Nintendo's eShop Policies Deserve Both Praise and Attention
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
We break down the known details of eShop publishing
Just recently we reported on announcements made by Nintendo of Europe's Business Development Manager, Ed Valiente, who gave a presentation on eShop publishing at The Indie Games Collective event at the UKIE HQ in London. We picked up on a couple of notable revelations, relating to Miiverse coming to the 3DS "soon", along with potential smartphone Apps at a later date, and also confirmation that there are no paid feature slots on the Wii U eShop.
Aside from those details much had been previously announced in other presentations and interviews, often by Nintendo of America's Dan Adelman or colleagues from that region, yet with plenty of these policies this week was the first time that they'd been shared with the public in Europe. With the details spread across multiple articles in recent months, we thought it'd be worthwhile outlining the core parts of Nintendo's download publishing policies, and also some developer reactions from the European event.
Policies to encourage diverse, quality download content
It's absolutely no secret that Nintendo got some key policies wrong in the Wii and DSi era. While there was some logic to the decisions of the time, revelations of sales thresholds and hardware-driven file size limitations placed challenging restrictions on both of those platforms. Even with sound business reasoning, these policies did little to support or foster developer loyalty, especially with the rise of rival services that were more open and accommodating. The 3DS eShop went some way to alleviate those issues, in the process drawing praise and helping to encourage some diverse offerings from various developers, large and small. In the portable store's early days there was still a degree of rigidity, however, with sales promotions rare and a sense that the storefront was still somewhat static.
The 3DS eShop has improved a good deal from 2012 onwards, however. We've seen the arrival of retail downloads to drive more traffic to the store, an improved dual layered front page and a greater range of promotions to give new life to older releases. The Wii U eShop, since its arrival in November 2012, has arguably taken these improvements further, which are thankfully gradually being supported by more regular download-only releases; that looks set to continue for the remainder of 2013 and into 2014. The front page layout and some of the machinations for actually purchasing games will naturally have aspects that some feel could be improved, but generally we'd suggest it's doing a reasonable job. It gives spotlight support to a mix of small developer's releases and major retail titles, not isolating smaller games in a sub-menu. If you publish on the Wii U eShop, regular viewers will see your game.
We're certainly not suggesting that either eShop is perfect and the finished article, but that also applies to any competitor's marketplace that you'd care to mention, including the iOS App Store or Google Play. Beyond aesthetics, what's vital is that Nintendo has lowered barriers and loosened rules to move with the times, adjusting the eShop platforms from niche stores for dedicated developers familiar with Nintendo, to a legitimate and relatively low-effort option. The recent Wii U eShop sizzle reel showed how a number of developers are stepping onto a Nintendo platform for the first time, highlighting the benefits of inclusive policies.
So what are these policies we're banging on about? Below is a list of terms, benefits and policies of publishing on the eShop, as discussed in briefings by Nintendo of America and, now, Nintendo of Europe.
- After passing the submission process, developers decide on a release date, price and sale promotions — This was explained to us by various developers in the Wii U eShop's early days, and is hopefully increasingly the case on the 3DS platform. Setting a release date and having flexibility on price is hugely important for developers. Prices can vary per region or even country, promotions can be arranged and free-to-play models are also an option.
- Publishers receive royalties from the first unit sold, with no threshold — This was an absolute no brainer.
- Developers can provide updates for their games with no charge — Another no-brainer.
- Nintendo will provide free promotional download codes & 3DS QR codes — Perfect for distribution to the media or building buzz through contests, Nintendo will apparently even help to distribute codes if developers lack contacts.
- No office space is required — In the modern world of developers working from home addresses in small — occasionally one person — teams, this is vital in helping studios keep costs low while being able to publish on Nintendo systems.
- Unity tool-sets and the Nintendo Web Framework — Particularly relevant with the Wii U eShop, content is being attracted courtesy of tailored and free Unity tools available to developers, allowing relatively easy porting processes. The Nintendo Web Framework, for its part, opens to door to HTML5 games, among others, while there's talk of conversion software that will allow almost instantaneous porting from smartphone and tablet platforms.
- No paid featured slots in Nintendo's eShop, with exposure for games of all levels — As can be proven by a glance at the Wii U eShop after an active update week, games from small publishers receive spotlight treatment alongside retail releases.
- Devs can self publish without concept approval — Though Nintendo will continue to act as a gatekeeper in an attempt to ensure a degree of quality across the eShop library, the system is setup for developers to release games without third-party publishing support or having a concept approved up front.
- No demands on exclusivity — The download game market is rapidly evolving to the point that many studios will release on multiple platforms simultaneously, making exclusives relatively rare. We hope Nintendo will invest in and support some exclusives, but it's a positive that no such demands are placed on developers.
- Nintendo curation policy aims for quality over quantity — This isn't a guaranteed home run, as our occasionally distraught and tormented download review team can attest. Yet developers such as Phil Tossell of Nyamnyam have suggested they believe that's the approach, and Nintendo itself states that it's a goal to maintain solid levels of quality.
- Using system functionality isn't mandatory — The Wii U and 3DS are both devices with functionality unique in the marketplace. While that can be great for gamers, it can be beyond the scope for developers to tweak games on tight budgets; apparently developers do not have to use these features any more than they want to.
- Developers can get 'verified' Miis and interact with their game's community in Miiverse on the Wii U, web browser and in future the 3DS and smartphone apps — Direct feedback from gamers is a big deal, so having an integrated social network is a valuable asset. Customer feedback can lead to fixes, patches and tweaks that may not have happened as naturally as before.
It's time to spread the message
A lot of what was written above has been written about in recent times both here on Nintendo Life and in various other places around the web. And yet the message isn't necessarily reaching as many developers as Nintendo would hope, which explains why Nintendo of Europe is now following the example set by Nintendo of America, stepping beyond NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) to share these policies. Yet we can't blame developers unaware that the download scene has changed with the 3DS and Wii U, especially if they're cautious of negatives from the Wii and DSi era. With so many platforms offering open doors and multiple publishing options, it's down to Nintendo to spread the word and engage the development community. The company is starting to do this, which is a major positive.
Communication works and changes opinions. Here's a selection of immediate feedback from that recent Indie Games Collective event in London, to illustrate how reaching out to the development community can turn the tide of opinion.
First time Nintendo is speaking in Europe is at #IGCH2 - this is amazing!— Byron, game designer (@xiotex) September 6, 2013
Dear Nintendo 'no one said blow the bloody doors off' but Ed is doing it. Sensational stuff. #igch2— Andy Payne (@PercyBlakeney63) September 6, 2013
There were few negative posts on the social network around Nintendo's appearance, with just the occasional "about time" comment, which is difficult to counter beyond "yep, you're right". What's clear is that there's a battleground over small developers, with Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Apple and Google all major players offering viable platforms. Nintendo is in the game, however, and the more it can spread the message, the stronger the eShop stores can become.