In recent days we've had multiple readers and colleagues direct us to licensed game assets available to buy online that appear to have been utilised extensively for games sold on the eShop. The developer in question is RCMADIAX, a studio that has produced a substantial volume of releases over the past year, in particular. Following some examples provided by readers, and through our own checks and searches, we've identified a total of 10 games by the studio that have originated - to varying degrees - from asset products that can be purchased within dedicated stores from widely used development tools.
Multiple game engines, with Unity being a familiar example to many, have stores where programmers, designers and artists can sell pre-made assets of various kinds, effectively licensing the content out. The products on these stores vary from packs of assets that can include graphical templates and samples, to sound effects and music, right through to functional games that can then be adjusted and edited.
It is a legitimate practice, depending upon the licensing terms on products, to purchase them from these stores, develop a game from that base and then sell it on consoles, PC or smart devices. The licenses often limit how many commercial products can be used off a single purchase, and it is down to the developer to determine whether purchased asset packs are baselines for a different, more individual game, or foundations that will only be adjusted a little.
Quite a number of the most recent Wii U and New 3DS eShop releases from RCMADIAX appear to be heavily based upon pre-bought assets in this way. Notably, these games do have the text 'Published under license' on their home pages, providing disclosure of this fact. It's also important to emphasize that this is a perfectly legal thing to do, provided that in each case the terms of the license are being followed.
It's also important to point out, for the sake of clarity, that not all RCMADIAX games are being 'published under license', nor are they all based off these aforementioned pre-bought resources. Titles like BLOK DROP U and more recently SUPER ROBO MOUSE, among others, seem to have no such content.
These are key points - it is a legitimate process to publish under license, and not all of the games by RCMADIAX have origins in these asset stores.
With all of that clear, which games are based upon licensed content? Well, as mentioned above, the games themselves do state as much, but we've identified what we believe are the relevant products that have been used. Nine of them are on the Scirra store, which is also the home of the Construct 2 engine. We reported on this way back in January 2014, as it's a powerful toolset that is particularly effective for HTML5-based development. That makes it ideal for titles using the Nintendo Web Framework on Wii U, a platform that RCMADIAX has utilised extensively; in fact, BLOK DROP U was the first release in the West to use the framework.
Below you can see eight games that we've tracked to products on the Scirra store. Finding them was not hard, unfortunately, as five of the games published by RCMADIAX have the same name as the asset products, and three are very similar. In each bullet point our game page in bold is followed by the equivalent Scirra store page.
- PANDA LOVE - Panda Love store page
- PIXEL SLIME U - Pixel Slime store page
- SKEASY - Skeasy store page
- INVANOID - Invanoid store page
- JACKPOT 777 - Jackpot store page
- DON'T CRASH - Dont Crash store page (grammatical error at source)
- AVOIDER - Avoider store page
- SPLASHY DUCK - Splashy Pong store page
An upcoming release on Wii U, SHOOTY SPACE, also appears to have an equivalent asset store page. Though the names and logos are the same, it should be noted that the web demo for this product is far simpler (basically moving boxes) than the RCMADIAX title. In addition, recent New Nintendo 3DS release BRICK RACE has an equivalent product on the Unity platform store.
In terms of pricing, a standard license for a number of these products is between $5-15; an exception is Pixel Slime, which has a UK price of £270.
Ultimately, what does this mean? RCMADIAX is publishing some of its games under licence with pre-bought assets and resources, which is a legitimate practice, and the degree to which the studio is adjusting and customising the core assets and content appears to vary. With some of the examples above it's hard to get away from a sense that changes are relatively minimal - that is clear from the unchanged names, the strong visual similarities and in some cases closely comparable gameplay between the original product and the eShop release. Each title is clearly adjusted to be suitable for the eShop and to pass lotcheck requirements, which evidently necessitates some user interface and control changes, at the very least.
Though publishing under license based upon pre-bought resources is above board, and is also a frequent occurrence on PC platforms like Steam, it does raise more subjective questions. Does the rapid turnaround and use of assets like these undermine the eShop, and are there moral questions to be asked? Is licensed content like this what we want to see on Nintendo's platforms?
Certainly, RCMADIAX has been producing a rapid turnaround of titles this year in particular, and the speed of those releases now makes more sense. It also seems to be a reversal of the studio founder's plans earlier in the year. When we spoke to Michael Aschenbrener in February this year he expressed an eagerness for SUPER ROBO MOUSE to be the first of many long-term projects. His goal was to move on to releases of a bigger scale and with less frequency.
Ideally I would love to develop just a single project at a time - releasing maybe once per year or two. This is the goal starting with SUPER ROBO MOUSE, and should it prove successful, you would likely not see my next release until 2018/2019.
Evidently that hasn't worked out as yet, with ten releases this calendar year already; of those ten games released in 2016, seven of them are in the 'published under license' list above.
We contacted Michael Aschenbrener about these releases; we asked for details on topics such as the number of changes he typically makes on games published under license, and offered him the opportunity to outline his perspective on this aspect of his publishing record. He declined to comment.
As we've highlighted above, the objective fact here is that it is a valid practice to purchase products from asset stores and, even in cases where relatively few changes are made, to sell them commercially under license if the terms allow it. Subjectively, though, it's certainly legitimate to ask whether publishing games of this nature is in the good faith of what console gamers, in particular, expect. We've written a number of times over the last 4-5 years about the issue of quality control on the eShop, and whether some games should be passed for a console store. One side of the argument is to allow a free market with basic lot check standards, effectively what we have now with the eShop. Another side is to desire a 'gatekeeping' system, where Nintendo actively accepts and rejects games more stringently.
For now, the eShop is host to an exceptionally broad range of games, of varying types and price points. When all is said and done it is the gamers that will decide what content they want on Nintendo hardware.