Brandon Sheffield is, arguably, just the sort of developer Nintendo should be wooing — he produces games through his own studio Necrosoft, is an editor on Gamasutra and is a familiar face at industry events such as GDC (Game Developers Conference) and IDF (Independent Games Festival). In his role with Gamasutra he contacted Nintendo of America in order to try and speak to Dan Adelman, manager of business development at the company but best known as a figurehead of Nintendo's download store policies. Having spoken to equivalent executives at Sony and Microsoft, Sheffield was shut down in his attempts to arrange an interview and, instead, has shared his own analysis and perception of Nintendo's issues in the download space in comparison to its console rivals.
Titled "The brick wall: No close encounters with Nintendo's indie exec", the article highlights that the issue is unlikely to be Adelman himself, but the fact that he appears to have been silenced. Once an active figure on social networks and taking part in multiple interviews — we had a chat back in late 2012, shortly after the Wii U's launch — he's been silent on Twitter since 12th October, and Sheffield's attempt to provide a very human perspective of Nintendo's indie-centric business was shut down at a press relations, corporate level. A second response after a lengthy letter explaining his motives highlighted the problem, as it was a meaningless three sentence PR reply that failed to address any of his concerns.
Sheffield highlights that while Nintendo's policies are actually supportive, its messaging and studio-to-studio activity struggles to match that of Sony and Microsoft. Explaining that Nintendo's rivals are actively funding indie games, providing website coverage and inviting them on stage at major expos and events, the big N either isn't providing any funding or is not communicating that fact, even if it is. Both tangible support and messaging, Sheffield argues, are issues.
Renegade Kid is an exception. The Austin, Texas studio has found success on the eShop, and Nintendo has supported it. But that support really does feel like a calculated exception on Nintendo's part, rather than the rule. Renegade Kid says it's ridiculous to say Nintendo is closed — that you just have to go talk to the company. That's all well and good, but the other companies come and talk to you. They tell you what they're doing, they ask you to meet with them, and they invite you into the fold, and support you once you get there, even if you're a smaller developer like me.
On a basic messaging level, consider the fact that every indie publishing to Wii U from Unity can do so without cost. The license fee is waived. That's great! But how did we find out about it? Nintendo never announced it properly. It was soft-announced through indie developer Brian Provinciano, who simply wanted people to know. Nintendo couldn't even announce its own best selling point for indies. That its secretive policies go so deep is a big problem.
Again, don't mistake this for me disliking Nintendo's indie guy. Dan Adelman is great. He's personable, knowledgeable, and he is in fact the sort of guy you could have a beer with and talk about anything. But Nintendo's draconian corporate tactics keep him completely under rein.
I've received word from a reliable source that Adelman is no longer allowed access to Twitter. You'll notice his last post was in October of last year. Apparently he wrote something along the lines of "I travel a lot, so I feel your pain," in response to someone saying they didn't like the region locking of the 3DS. This was viewed as unacceptable in Nintendo's eyes, so there you go. All they had was that Twitter account, to talk to indie devs. There are no blogs, no casual podcasts, only corporate-created messaging from Nintendo Direct. No more public voice for indie development from within Nintendo. That's it. It's gone.
In that same section, called "Prove it to me!", Sheffield shares some rough sales figures that he's obtained from eShop developers that he knows, which are worryingly low.
The majority of indies I've talked to that made games on Nintendo platforms did so because they simply love Nintendo. They played NES games when they were growing up, and having one of their titles on a Nintendo platform is a bit of a dream come true. But then the reality hits, and they have to make money, and then they port those games away to other platforms.
I decided to speak with two eShop developers and one publisher to get some actual numbers. A developer of a 3D action game sold 1,000 units in the U.S., and 400 in Europe in their first month. They're hoping to eventually reach sales of 5,000. A developer of a casual game sold fewer than 3,000 units across EU and NA in six months, but got a similar number in Japan in just one month. The publisher I spoke to, which is very experienced in the eShop space, told me that with the sort of game I was pitching — an action puzzle game — I could expect an income ceiling of about $2,000, and I should plan accordingly.
These are low numbers. It's possible for a savvy indie dev to increase those sorts of numbers and break the mold, but not without some serious marketing support and institutional help from Nintendo. Not without a better-integrated store, greater discoverability, and some space to actually talk about their games in the context of Nintendo's brand.
This is an opposite view to many positive views on the eShop stores, of course, with a reasonably long list of games on the way and various developers sharing praise about Nintendo's download market policies. There are plenty of developers not actively working on Nintendo hardware, however, and Sheffield makes a final point to emphasize that the Kyoto-based company needs to be more proactive in winning over these studios.
The problem is that Nintendo's "push" is "Hey, we're here! We've got a platform! Put your games on it!" And that simply isn't enough. Show us why we should make games for your platform, Nintendo. Prove to us that you'll support us when we get there. Talk to us. Unlock a bit of funding for some key creatives in the indie space, and talk it up. Let Dan Adelman speak.
Prove to us that Nintendo consoles are where our games should be. While your corporate policy blocks you from doing something as simple as answer one silly email that makes you look good, I'm afraid you won't be able to.
We naturally share a lot of positive stories and opinions about the eShop stores, its games and its developers here on Nintendo Life. While there are those clearly engaged and very happy to be working with Nintendo, this editorial from Gamasutra does provide an alternative perspective from a developer on the outside struggling to get in, while he's clearly more enamoured with the equivalent communication and policies of Sony and Microsoft. We do recommend that you read the full article.
What do you think of these comments and arguments? Do you feel Nintendo has to up its game when engaging and working with a wider range of download developers?