Damon Baker

Nintendo recently attended Indiecade East 2015 in New York, where Damon Baker - Senior Manager in Marketing and Licensing - met with fans and developers alike, and led a seminar called "Self-Publishing with Nintendo." Nintendo Life attended the informative seminar and then had a chat with Mr. Baker.

Beginning the program, Baker asked for a show of hands to gauge how many developers were in attendance. A good majority raised their hands, but it dwindled when he asked how many of the developers worked on consoles, and nobody raised their hands when he asked if anybody had developed for Nintendo platforms. Not surprised, Baker hoped to introduce and promote self-publishing with Nintendo, mainly on the Wii U.

It was stressed that Nintendo of America has been actively working toward making the independent publishing process as intuitive as possible, with tools like the Nintendo Web Framework (which allows developers to make games with HTML5) and support for Unity making it easy to port existing software to the Wii U without much trouble. The Nintendo Web Framework in particular opens the door for beginning developers, which has had mixed results (as Nintendo Life has seen in many releases), but Nintendo believes there's plenty of potential. An example cited was Elliot Quest, an upcoming retro-style action adventure title, as showing some of what the Web Framework can do, noting its polished gameplay and highly professional presentation. Elliot Quest was created using Impact, a flexible HTML5 engine. Nintendo also provides a free Unity Pro license to all its Wii U developers, only charging for the development kit. Nintendo currently supports Unity 4.3, and it was noted that the company has official plans to support Unity 5.0 when it's released. Of course, developers and publishers are welcome to use any middleware they'd like, including proprietary engines.

Nintendo of America supports independent developers through the Nintendo.com site, the eShop storefronts and Miiverse (for which developers have their own verified account). One of the more impressive initiatives Nintendo of America has for independent developers is a hardware allocation program, in which it will supply hardware to developers for any event or trade show they're participating in. Baker also noted Nintendo of America's various social media channels, though he acknowledged they aren't as extensive or open as they could be (more on that below).

Nintendo at Indiecade East

As the Nintendo 3DS doesn't support Unity or the Nintendo Web Framework, the 3DS wasn't discussed in as much detail, though indie releases such as IronFall: Invasion (and its free-to-download model) and Gunman Clive 2 were given as examples of successful titles. He noted that the best way to develop for the 3DS right now is through proprietary engines.

Interestingly, Baker explained that while many smaller developers are reluctant to publish on Nintendo platforms because Nintendo's own software brands are so powerful, they've found that indie releases and bigger product launches actually complement each other, especially when a first-party title hits the eShop. After the presentation our speaker answered some questions from the audience, clarifying that developers are responsible for ESRB ratings, primary bug checks and any other individual tasks.

The detailed and friendly presentation was met with an enthusiastic crowd and, our host stayed after to talk with the audience and answer any individual questions they had. After the crowd dispersed we sat down with Damon Baker to discuss the state of the eShop, Nintendo's strategies for involving the fans and more.

Wii U E Shop NEW

What's a typical day for you and the indie team?

We actually don't even have a specific indie team. It's all hands on deck, really. In terms of indie support, it's all third party. Our licensing team is really third-party relations. We usually start off the first hour or two scouring the internet, seeing what's going on in the industry, finding out the latest news, gossip, what people are talking about, going through some new game content. And on my side, I'm handling all the marketing and communications, which is a two-fold job. It's both internal and external. Externally it's with the developers and publishers, understanding what initiatives they have lined up, what they're doing in terms of campaigns, if they're working with retailers, and internally I'm working with all the various teams within Nintendo. What are the first party plans? What are their campaign plans for new hardware, are they doing mall tours, or any sorts of events, eShop merchandising and events... everyone on my team has a different area to look after.

Are you involved with hardware development?

We're involved in that communication internally on what is the planned strategy, who they're trying to target, especially with this recent hardware launch of the New 3DS XL. This is a great opportunity for us because it's an integrated campaign plan. We had it driven first-party with Majora's Mask and third-party with Monster Hunter. So not only are we working on a separate campaign plan with Capcom, where they're promoting Monster Hunter on their own, we get to integrate it with TV commercials and other first-party plans that are all there to complement the hardware so we can double, triple it up in terms of exposure and visibility. So far it's been awesome. We worked with Capcom on the Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate demo experience. It's no secret that that franchise tends to hit a threshold and it's a challenge to get past that. There's a really core audience, but expanding beyond that is very tricky. We thought we could contribute to how to create an effective demo, how to deliver a message to a wider audience and apply that to the Nintendo audience. So we worked together with Capcom to achieve that.

The 2DS did really well over the Holiday season, paired with the Pokémon message.

Did you expect the blowback from not releasing the New 3DS with face plates in North America?

Yeah (laughs). Look, the face plates are super cool, but we're a different market. And now we have clear differentiation between those three systems. Before, there was a very limited difference between the 3DS and 3DS XL: other than size. It was the same resolution, same functionality... now, there's the 2DS, 3DS, and New 3DS XL, all of which have their own functionality and features. The different price points give it a clear message for consumers. The core audience... we weren't going to win with them on that decision. But we had to think about expanding the user base, we had to be able to market it and make it easy to pick up for consumers.

Are there plans to update the 2DS infrastructure to reflect the New 3DS hardware?

We have nothing to announce at this time, but it's still geared toward a younger audience. The 2DS did really well over the Holiday season, paired with the Pokémon message. There's still a very active market there, where [parents] might find it a little more robust structurally.

What's the transition been like since Dan Adelman left?

It's actually been a really good exercise for us. Through various scenarios, everybody needed a point of contact at Nintendo and it's easier to identify that as one person, rather than a group of people or email alias. He's a personality, and we love him, so it's easy to associate that as the "face." Since his departure - and he's been doing great stuff on his own - it's forced us to take a more unified approach across the board. Everybody in licensing contributes. We get recommendations across the board as well, because we're all fans of games, so we've got people that follow Kickstarters or read about something and they forward it to us and say, "Hey, check this game out." So it's been nice to be able to spread that out and internally others can see their recommendations and suggestions coming to fruition. We've still got work to do, but I don't think we want to get into a situation where we just hire someone to be a "new face" for the position.

Shovel Knight achieved notable eShop success in 2014

What kind of content from indie developers do you think works best on Nintendo platforms?

I would say that the games that work best on Nintendo platforms are the ones that share a similar heart or "DNA" with Nintendo. It can be character-driven, but it's just a feeling, a passion for the genre or style of game. It's a bit nostalgic, but I think that whether it's a Shovel Knight or Shantae or Teslagrad, you could say "Oh, those are Metroidvania games, there's pixel art, retro music," but it's a level of heart that comes through in the marketing and development of those titles. You can see the heart that goes into creating it and Nintendo fans get that and see it. They can also see when something's been slapped together. So much of the content on Nintendo platforms is driven by word of mouth and positive impressions. That's why reaching out to the community is so important.

Personally, I want to see more of an environment that's experimental, but it goes two ways. As much as we'd like to push more artistic and exploratory content, you have to have an audience that's willing to try it and pick it up. Good examples are titles like Little Inferno, Spin the Bottle, or Affordable Space Adventures, which is a brilliant collaboration between Nifflas and KnapKnok.

How much do you look online for reactions and opinions?

I'm there daily, multiple times a day. You have to go there with an open mind. I'd love to get to a point where we have marketing channels where we can promote direct communication with the community, where people comment on stuff and Nintendo can communicate back. That's my dream. Right now, PR is driving our social media, we're not actively engaging the community, or very rarely. People have a fascination with Nintendo and want to be close to it and we feed off that excitement. We need to be more active there.

When I was growing up, the only way I found out at E3 was to read about it in magazines... now information is instant.

What factors go into some promotions, such as last year's E3 programs?

I think what's brilliant about Nintendo is that we're full of ideas. Last year, we felt challenged to be more conservative in our spending, and we've seen that the way things have been done in the past aren't leading to any results, so what can we do with a more conservative budgetary approach while still being impactful? So we thought about what we could with livestreaming. So we thought about doing Treehouse Live, doing the Smash Bros. tournament, doing these things that really open the audience to E3. When I was growing up, the only way I found out at E3 was to read about it in magazines. You're finding out about it in print, delayed. And now information is instant, but you're still confining E3 to people who pay for a ticket. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw more companies doing similar programs next year so we are going to continue to innovate and expand.

Treehouse Live was like Christmas for a lot of people.

They did a great job. They're being very particular about the brand. It has to be the right scenario to bring them out, and they're not going to be exploitative with it. Whenever you see Treehouse Live, it's going to have that respect, that clout, that you know you're going to get something informational and special.

What brought about the decision to show the Zelda footage at The Game Awards?

The way that Geoff Keighley did that show was really great. He has great relationships with people in the industry, and having that collaborative environment was really impactful. He worked with us on it for some time. It was great to see Reggie get some face time, and to show Zelda. We approach every opportunity with who we want to reach and what we want to achieve from it and go from there.

Iwata Direct

How do you decide the real estate of the Nintendo Direct broadcasts?

It's constant. There's a committee. We collaborate with Japan and Europe, we try to figure out what the messaging is, what makes the most sense, how to create consistencies in the regions... even in terms of maximizing the delivery of it. Every Nintendo Direct has been at a different time of day. We've tried to figure out which time is best to launch in which region. So it's a constant thing. That team works all the time. It's almost full time on Nintendo Direct. It's a powerful thing for us. I feel very fortunate that licensing has been involved. I'd love more opportunities for us to promote relevant third party content. We're constantly evolving the program.

What are your goals and vision for the future?

My vision is to create an environment where all content supports each other. So the third party content is there to complement first party and all first party content complements third party. We can live in harmony. We're already starting to see that and I want to continue driving and solidifying that. It might result in separate channels of marketing - maybe it's Let's Play videos, developer blogs and other ways.

What is the feeling on third party support for the Wii U?

We're in a unique position. Some of our more popular content this past year was from Warner Bros. with the LEGO games, Skylanders from Activision, Disney with Disney Infinity, Ubisoft with Just Dance, even Sega with Sonic. We also want their shooters, sports games, but we want them done right on the platform. So we are going to continue focusing on quality and things that make sense with our audience. I think one of the most interesting things is toys-to-life. Everyone sort of thought it would be a three-way war with Skylanders, Disney Infinity and amiibo. But we've actually promoted as a company that in order to play all three toy platforms, you need a Nintendo system.

Finally, how has Indiecade East been for Nintendo so far?

We're really fortunate to be invited and participate in an event like Indiecade, where we can meet both developers and fans. Sometimes it can be a grind day-to-day, and this reinvigorates us.

Thanks to Damon Baker for taking the time out of his busy Indiecade East schedule for this interview.

Main image credit: gamefob.com