Since the Switch launched in 2017, it has become a go-to destination for indie developers. It's easy to develop for (and port to), has a massive userbase and is ideally suited to independent games due to its portability and accessibility.
However, we've heard reports over the years that the intense competition on the eShop has meant that many indie titles get ignored or fail to generate the desired revenue, and a new interview on UK trade site MCV certainly backs up this perspective.
Joseph Humfrey, co-founder of 80 Days studio Inkle, laments that the eShop's design is failing a great many developers and publishers, and has led to many companies 'gaming' the system to get attention:
In terms of organic discoverability, the main problem with the eshop is that it’s simply too basic. There’s such a small number of pages where you can be featured, that it massively limits the breadth of potential discovery.
Yes, they have a Discover page, but it’s just one page, where games of all genres and types have to fight for visibility. Beyond that, they have Recent Releases (which you’re guaranteed to be on, albeit for a very limited period of time), Current Offers (which appears to be full of games that are err… gaming the system), and the Charts (which doesn’t even break down into genres as other stores do).
Humfrey is, of course, referring to the process of heavily discounting a game in order to make it rise up the eShop charts and therefore gain exposure; this also happens regularly at launch, with many publishers deciding to apply a discount when the game is released to boost its chances of scoring big in the shop chart.
I mean, they’re not just gaming the system, they’re unfortunately using the system the best way they can. Massive discounts are now the core way to sell on Nintendo Switch.
If you’ve ever wondered why there are just reams and reams of 80-90 per cent off titles on Switch – including at their bloody launches – it’s because the store is ranked by units, not revenue.
The top charts are the games with the most downloads in the last two weeks. So in other words, if you put your game on 90 per cent off, and as a result, inevitably get a ton of downloads, you shoot up the charts. Then once you’re at the top of the charts, you automatically get a ton of extra sales due to being at the top of the charts.
I really hate it. I try to scream at game devs all the time “don’t devalue your work! Don’t deep discount!” At No More Robots, we haven’t discounted any of our games by more than 40 per cent, even titles that have been out for more than two years.
As a result, we see incredible sales on Steam every single day, because consumers have learned that we’ll never deep discount. Now I’m stuck in a situation where I may be forced to deep discount on Switch, otherwise I literally cannot sell units on Switch. It’s heartbreaking, and it makes me really sad for the eShop.
Rose feels that if this trend continues, we'll see a 'race to the bottom' on the eShop:
The way it’s going now, I reckon in around a year’s time, the eShop is going to look like the App Store – tons of cheap-looking titles that were clearly thrown together in the space of a few months, all selling at a dollar each. And everyone trying to make an honest living on Switch, won’t be able to anymore. I can’t imagine how else it’s going to go.
Humphrey is quick to add that Nintendo has been very active when it comes to helping indies – it's just that the hard work it does isn't always helpful because of the way the eShop is designed:
The strange thing is that Nintendo has actually invested in curation. They have multiple pages on their various international websites, such as #Nindies, Indie World and their Indie Games page. Indie World even produces editorial content – interviews with developers and so on. The problem is that this content isn’t being replicated in the one place where players need it – on the device itself.
My opinion as a developer is that this is a simple organisational problem. The website editorial and content teams are probably entirely separate from those responsible for developing features for the software running on the device.
So how can this be solved? Humphrey has a suggestion:
My hope is that Nintendo will release a big software update in the future that will merge the news and eShop app together into one to create a seamless editorial and store platform all in one place. Currently the transition between reading a news item and going to a relevant eShop page is pretty painful. If they could do that while expanding their curation (and categorisation) effort within the eShop itself, that would be great!
What do you make of these comments? Do you think the eShop's design needs an overhaul, or are you happy with the level of discoverability it currently offers? As ever, let us know by posting a comment.