We don’t know about you, but our visits to the Switch eShop have turned into a monotonous routine that goes something like this: hit the ‘Great Deals’ tab, scroll down while eyeing fodder for the backlog, wait for more games to load, scroll, repeat, scroll, repeat. Sound familiar? There's a gloriously huge variety of games available for Nintendo’s console, but if it isn't on sale, we probably aren’t seeing it.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. The store opens on the ‘Recent Releases’ screen, so we do get a glimpse of at least nine games that have launched within the last day or two. And sometimes we hit the wrong tab or the lag on the screen leads us to scroll down one slot too far, so occasionally we’ll see the 'Best Sellers' or 'Charts' list, too. However, it has reached the point that most of our eShop jaunts are simply a trawl through the sales. Even then, it’s very easy to miss things thanks to the huge volume of discounted software. So. Much. Scrolling.
Race to the bottom
Limited Run's recent example is an extreme one... but it shows the lengths publishers and developers will go to in order to get noticed on the crowded eShop.
Publishers and developers have resorted to dramatic tactics just to get their games on players' radar. Just yesterday we reported on Limited Run’s Revenge of the Bird King on sale on the North American eShop for a mere 9 cents, and developers have reported success offering heavy discounts and getting on the Best Sellers list as a result. Whether this practice offers a benefit for developers beyond the discount period is another question, and the uptick and impact provided by a great number of tiny transactions would depend entirely on the size of the studio. 100,000 unit sales at 9¢ a piece might be enough for a one-person team to stay afloat for six months, but $9,000 won't go very far with more mouths to feed and that's without considering overheads and other factors.
Limited Run's recent example is an extreme one - other teams have had success in the 1-to-5 dollar range - but it shows the lengths publishers and developers will go to in order to get noticed on the crowded eShop. As a tactic it's likely to attract an enormous number of downloads, if only from people with a few Gold Coins knocking around on their account. At the time of writing it's far from alone on the North American storefront, either. Mecho Tales is down to $0.10 and Hyper Sentinel sits at $0.12. Quest For The Golden Duck, on the other hand, reckons it's worth over double the price of Bird King at $0.19 and Anodyne and Xeodrifter have clearly got delusions of grandeur costing a staggering $0.99 each. The cheek!
There are more. In fact, right now you could probably get a dozen games for the price of a pint on Nintendo's digital storefront. They won't all be winners, that's for sure, but someone, somewhere made them and despite the great value they represent, there's also danger in devaluing all games while racing to the bottom. Who cares if you never even play the thing if it cost you less than a dime? And who in their right mind would pay the enormous sum of $4.99 when they could have got the game for just 9 cents?
The only way to get seen
Still, developers are resorting to this because it's one of the few ways to get seen. Visibility for non-AAA titles is a problem that’s been around almost as long as digital storefronts themselves, but it’s become more acute on Switch thanks to the huge variety of games, both big and small, flocking to the platform. Even big-name titles are suffering - we recently reported on a new 'reminder' trailer for Level 5's celebrated Ni No Kuni which anecdotally got lost in the crowd less than a month ago.
For Nintendo it’s a fabulous problem to have, but it’s something the company needs to address sooner rather than later. As a site, we at Nintendo Life try to cover as many titles as we possibly can and champion deserving games wherever possible, but the sheer quantity can be overwhelming. The array of excellent indie offerings on Switch has been a huge part of the console's success and third-party developers, big and small, deserve a fair chance on the eShop. Rubbish will naturally get buried, but it's getting harder and harder to find the good stuff.
How can this be addressed, though? Back in March we spoke to various indie devs who came up with various suggestions. More curation seemed to be a popular answer, and although Nintendo does a decent job of spotlighting different genres periodically outside the store (on News Channels), the eShop itself does little to highlight anything that isn't a top seller or brand-spanking new. The 'Discover' or ‘Featured’ tab is a cursory nod in that direction, but it tends to recycle games found elsewhere. A spotlight on genres or developers that included fan favourites, ‘editor’s choices’ and similar picks would be a start.
Making use of players' 'Time Played' metric was another suggestion, along with user ratings. Standard ‘you might also like’-style recommendations might be useful in helping games gain exposure, too. In truth, from a user perspective we’ve personally found those to be something of a double edged-sword on streaming platforms. It can be mighty irritating (not to mention patronising) getting served the same type of media over and over again – as if we're dullards that only like one type of show/music/game and nothing else. More often than not, the recommendation is a blander, less-polished version of the thing we liked in the first place. No thanks; show me something different.
Time for 'the Nintendo difference'?
Naturally, it's difficult to account for personal tastes. Perhaps, then, it's time for more radical ideas. We know that the prevailing wisdom suggests that ‘boring is best’ when it comes to storefronts (after all, why risk putting buyers off or confusing people with anything that isn’t a simple, familiar menu-based system?), but that approach is proving inadequate. What about a new spin on an online store with a peppering of that patented ‘Nintendo difference’? That may come with its own challenges, but the company is filled with the most talented game designers in the world – why not experiment a little with some new UI ideas for the storefront? After the Wii U and 3DS eShops, Switch is extremely conservative. Yes, its eShop is snappier, but it's a long way from fast and there's much room for improvement.
Miiverse is one of the few bits of the good ship Wii U that Switch hasn't rightly plundered
For example, how about mixing up the interface with some sort of radial dial system – you could start in the middle and push out into 'clouds' of genres, following threads to new games. Alternatively, the congregating Miis on the Wii U menu screen offered something a bit different. Perhaps they could commune around popular titles on the eShop, or carry items that promoted the games our friends were enjoying. Hang on, why is Tony's Mii carrying a massive axe and being chased by a gremlin? Oh, that’ll be because he’s knee-deep in Massive Axe Game 5: Re;ckoning - Definitive Origins Edition at the moment. What's Sandra playing on that comfy sofa in the corner of the screen? Oh, I forgot – Brain Training came out! I wonder how much it is…
Of course, the standard, relatively zippy storefront should probably remain available if you'd rather scroll through a big ol' list, but we can't help thinking that injecting a little Miiverse spirit could help diversify the eShop and get eyeballs on different games. Let's be honest, Miiverse is one of the few bits of the good ship Wii U that Switch hasn't rightly plundered, and there was a delightful quirkiness to it that we miss. The dry Switch eShop could be a more fun and informative place and really showcase the breadth of software just sitting there, currently hidden from view. Nintendo is one of the premier game companies on the planet – why not add a little 'play' to the eShop? That doesn't necessarily mean Mario should explore an eShop castle with game paintings on the wall, jumping into them to find out more... but is that definitely a bad idea?
We know that sounds outlandish and these 'far-out' proposals present new problems that a plain old list sidesteps, but the problems with the list approach aren't being addressed either. We're not suggesting that Nintendo can click its fingers and solve visibility issues that have plagued digital storefronts for many years, but there's a window of opportunity (while all these developers and players on board with Switch) to do something different and perhaps find a better way. Solutions do exist, and it’s clear that the drab menu-and-tab driven system is failing both developers and players. Nintendo is chock-full of incredible game designers and problem solvers - they should be put to use on the Switch eShop.
And if all else fails, at the very least let’s have some music, no? A nice, catchy tune to enjoy while we scroll and scroll and scroll. Whatever happens, something needs to change if Nintendo wants to maintain a healthy, thriving platform for developers of all sizes and show off everything Switch has to offer. Ultimately, it’s not just game makers that suffer; players too are missing out on fantastic experiences simply because they're hidden.
Reckon you can solve the world's digital storefront woes with a simple suggestion? We appreciate it's a big ask, but it's strange how no-one seems to be trying to solve these problems on any platform. Feel free to share your own ideas below.