In the past week the 3DS eShop turned five years old, a notable landmark for a download store that triggered key evolutions from its Wii and DSi predecessors. Though Nintendo still has improvements to make in how it sells and handles download games, it's easy to overlook how vital the 3DS store has been in taking the company forward in the download market. It also attracted a range of new and established developers onto the platform, serving up some top-notch games in the process.
For our part we've highlighted its merits, produced a dynamic and ever-changing list of its top 20 games, and contemplated the next-gen challenges facing the eShop as a whole. For our final feature in the anniversary week for the eShop we're shifting the focus back to the portable's store and talking to those that know a great deal about the eShop's strengths and weaknesses - developers.
We've caught up with Bertil Hörberg (Gunman Clive 1 & 2), David D'Angelo of Yacht Club Games (Shovel Knight), Brian Provinciano of Vblank Entertainment (Retro City Rampage: DX), Manfred Linzner of Shin'en Multimedia (Nano Assault EX, Art of Balance Touch! and others), Brjann Sigurgeirsson of Image & Form (SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Heist), and Jools Watsham of Renegade Kid (Mutant Mudds, Dementium Remastered and others) We posed a small number of broad questions to each, so let's get to it.
What were your earliest impressions of the 3DS eShop?
Hörberg: According to my download history the first thing I bought was Artstyle: PiCOPiCT, as I never owned a DSi, and the free Excitebike 3D. The store itself was a huge step up from Wii and in many ways over the other console stores at the time. But it took some time before it started getting a good library of games and Virtual Console releases also felt much more sparse than on Wii.
D'Angelo: It was a huge improvement over the Wii eShop. Nintendo improved their UI, ability to find games, and removed some of the silly restrictions that made it hard for games to make it to the store.
Provinciano: The 3DS eShop was an excellent step up from the DSi and Wii Shops, so I welcomed it with open arms!
Linzner: We started digital publishing on WiiWare. The WiiWare shop was working as intended but was not really 'entertaining'. The 3DS eShop looked from day one much brighter and playful, more like 'Nintendo'.
Sigurgeirsson: Well, since we released a game on its predecessor, the DSiWare Store, the 3DS eShop was a leap forward in functionality and accessibility. When it launched it had this cool, unmatched feature of being able to show video clips, which of course is a good way to influence potential customers, but it also was way better than the DSiWare Store at presenting the contents of the store. The game we released on the DSiWare Store was SteamWorld: Tower Defense, and to our dismay visibility hinged largely on how you named your game. The games were displayed in alphabetical order by default - something that was detrimental to us, with a game starting with the letter "S". The 3DS eShop levelled the playfield quite a bit.
Watsham: I was very impressed with the launch of the eShop. It was a huge improvement over DSiWare.
How would you summarise the 3DSeShop as a 'developer's platform'? Is it generally supportive and accessible, or perhaps the opposite?
Hörberg: For me the eShop has been a great experience and releasing Gunman Clive there was one of the best decisions I've made. It's a great place for smaller titles to be able to get some visibility, and you have a big player base that enjoy classic genres like platformers. I wish the submission process was a bit more streamlined, but the eShop-team is helpful and easy to work with.
D'Angelo: Nintendo has done a wonderful job supporting new titles on the system, and it's allowed games like ours to really succeed! This generation of consoles was definitely much more accessible than ever before, and Nintendo's gone out of their way to support developers.
Provinciano: Yup! Nintendo's had the door open to developers for a long time, but didn't start to get a lot of recognition for that until recent years. They were the first of the three to make my company a licenced developer, way back before the mainstream indie initiatives, when it was more difficult for a small company to release on consoles 7+ years ago. That's why the Wii version of Retro City Rampage was the first to be announced, because they were the first to give me the greenlight.
I also really appreciate how responsive the eShop team is behind the scenes, whenever I have questions or want to set up a sale, they're on top of it.
Linzner: We think its working nicely. Especially given the small screen size of the 3DS everything is well done.
Sigurgeirsson: The Nintendo staff that work with the 3DS eShop are very supportive - as is everyone Nintendo person that works with third-party publishers like ourselves. They have to be, since it's generally pretty cumbersome to publish games for the 3DS; Nintendo are very good at setting up paperwork for us to fill out, the approval process (lot check) is very strict and your game easily fails a few times, and it takes a long time for your game to be approved.
I'd say there's a scale with Google, Apple and Steam at one end, where you do almost all of the legwork yourself in the publishing process, that is, getting your game onto the respective store through fairly modern and consistent online tools. There's very little human interaction, or none at all. Nintendo are the farthest away at the other end: lots of different forms to fill out and data submission through a number of quirky systems. That is why they have to balance things with human support, an area where I'd say they outperform everyone else. We rarely wait longer than 15 minutes for a solution to some issue where we've gotten stuck.
Watsham: The eShop has been a fairly decent place for us. Some highs and some lows in terms of units sold. Overall the number of people actively purchasing games on the eShop is perhaps a bit lower than other digital stores on different platforms, but it is a very dedicated and supportive audience.
What do you think is the best thing about the 3DS eShop?
Hörberg: I think the store itself has a lot of charm, with its music and animations; it feels more like an in-game menu than some soulless webpage. You can tell that at Nintendo a lot of the people that design the OS interface and online services come directly from game development. It's not always the most practical or fastest, but it's a pleasant experience to browse the store.
D'Angelo: Nintendo of America does a great job constantly rotating and featuring new games and content. Every time you visit the eShop it looks and sounds different! It makes the eShop a joy to peruse and really helps bring new titles to your attention that you may not have seen otherwise.
Linzner: There is a lot of quality in there. Compared to mobile shops it's not crowded with games (that most people are not interested in). It's much easier to find something great.
Sigurgeirsson: The community of course, and the paradoxical fact that developing for the 3DS is terrifying to a lot of devs and publishers - which means that there aren't that many fishes swimming around. When a game is announced for the 3DS, it gets real coverage. And Nintendo's sales tracking tool is old-school but very clear.
Watsham: I like the shop interface; I find it quite easy to see what's new and enjoy browsing the different categories/folders.
What's the worst thing about the 3DS eShop?
Hörberg: The number of clicks required to actually buy and download a game.
D'Angelo: Due to the small screen size and resolution of the 3DS screen, it's pretty hard to both make a UI that both features games in an appealing way and shows a large variety of content. Nintendo does their best, but it would definitely help if you didn't have to scroll or dig through lots of menus to make up for the lack of real estate.
Linzner: I think the 3DS shows a bit its age, so does the shop. We are looking forward to what Nintendo will come up with in the near future.
Sigurgeirsson: That you get paid quarterly, which of course isn't really a 3DS eShop thing but a Nintendo thing. I think they may be changing that, though - they're the only ones in the industry that potentially hold your cash for up to 120 days after a sale has been made. And of course the region difference. It's easy to believe that Nintendo is one company, but NOE, NOA and NCL are three quite separate entities - more separate than you'd imagine. One opportunity in one region may not exist at all in the other ones, and good visibility on one of the eShops does not guarantee something similar in another.
Watsham: It needs more marketing/exposure by Nintendo. It is too difficult for new players to learn about and discover the eShop. It would be great if awareness and access to the eShop was better.
Can you summarise your overall views of the 3DS eShop in one paragraph?
D'Angelo: Not sure there's much to say outside of the above. We truly appreciate the lengths Nintendo has gone through to improve their digital presence this generation.
Provinciano: I just wish I could build and release games more quickly, and wish I had more than one game currently available on there. I can't wait to release another! The 3DS is one of the best homes for my games.
Linzner: We had a blast in developing and launching all our 3DS eShop titles. Games like Art of Balance, Fun Fun Minigolf, Nano Assault EX or Jett Rocket found a perfect home there!
Sigurgeirsson: If you're ready to take your game to the 3DS, the 3DS eShop is very well worth the effort. Closer collaboration between the different regions would be a good thing.
Watsham: The number of great titles on the eShop is surprisingly high. It is a great place to find games that match the quality and scope of retail experiences for a fraction of the price. And, you don't have to worry about carrying the carts with you.
We'd like to thank all of these developers for their time.