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Report: WiiWare's Minimum Sales Threshold Affects Developers
Report: WiiWare's Minimum Sales Threshold Affects Developers Exclusive
April 14, 2009 | By Staff, Simon Carless

April 14, 2009 | By Staff, Simon Carless
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    21 comments
More: Console/PC, Indie, Exclusive



According to multiple Gamasutra development sources, Nintendo's WiiWare service has a minimum sales threshold in place -- under which indie game developers do not get paid at all.

Originally discussed by Gamasutra publisher and IGF chairman Simon Carless in his Independent Games Summit talk at this year's GDC, for which full slides are available online, we reached out to Nintendo for further comment on the report.

Multiple sources have indicated to Gamasutra that there is a minimum amount of sales, on a per-territory basis, that WiiWare developers must reach in order to recoup any money at all for their games.

It is believed that this sales number is set in the mid-four figure range for North America, and lower four figures for individual European territories.

Until a WiiWare title sells over that number, nothing will be paid out -- although when the threshold is made, the full royalty amount is given to the developer, taking into account the amount of copies sold at that figure.

Gamasutra has spoken off the record to multiple developers who have acknowledged the limit, and at least one small independent studio whose staff believes they will never reach the minimum sales threshold to be paid anything for their WiiWare title.

Although Nintendo's reasons for instituting such a lower limit are unclear, it may have been done in part to stop large amounts of so-called "shovelware" titles flooding the service.

However, with the twin issues of no demo version and lack of storage space, it seems that some lower-selling WiiWare games may have done worse than Nintendo expected. This has made the minimum sales limit more of a potential issue than Nintendo realized when originally pitching game creators on the service.

In the wake of the company's GDC announcement on Wii storage fixes and resulting sales boosts for some WiiWare games, the issue may be somewhat ameliorated.

But with some titles long since launched and off the WiiWare charts, and over 75 titles already available on the service, some independent developers may be resigned to receiving no money for their existing work, unless Nintendo considers changing this rule.

Following GDC, Gamasutra's outreach on the subject to Nintendo elicited the following response: "Due to the nature of the story, Nintendo is putting forth this response: 'We do not discuss our internal business dealings.'"

[UPDATE: Nature of threshold -- with full royalty given to developer as soon as the minimum number is passed -- clarified.]


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Comments


E Zachary Knight
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This is a bit disheartening. Add this to the requirement to have an actual office and you really have shut out the majority of the indie market. I thought Wiiware was to be the home of innovation. But they seem to be making it more difficult to be so.

Bob McIntyre
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WiiWare has the same requirements as normal Wii development. That is, being an indie developing a WiiWare title does not get any extra "foot in the door" with Nintendo. Nobody should be surprised in the least to find Nintendo treating third parties badly, especially indies.



What's funny is that Sony has actually supported the independent development scene this generation (as has MS). Still, Nintendo just says "we're supporting indie developers" and people believe it without actually knowing what they're doing, whereas Sony looks like they're in an ivory tower even though they actually do support independents. It's all about marketing and PR. Actions don't really speak louder than words.

Bobby A
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So is it Nintendo who doesn't allow demos for WiiWare titles? In my opinion, that's what kills WiiWare (and PSN often times). I try a lot of demos on XBLA and often buy when the demo stops mid-action and asks me to pay to play.

Russell Carroll
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Bob, that seems a little harsh.



World of Goo was definitely helped by Nintendo and Meat Boy looks like it is being similarly helped by Nintendo. It's been clear that Nintendo is much less hands-on with WiiWare than Sony and MS have been with PSN and XBLA (for good and bad ;).



MS and Sony both act as publishers and have say over what can and can't go into your game (which typically rubs indies the wrong way). Nintendo doesn't do that, they leave it up to you (again, for better or worse).



Actually XNA creator's club is pretty close in spirit to what WiiWare is, but you can make a living by being a hit on WiiWare. (it is a little harder to be a part of)



I definitely agree that WiiWare is still difficult to make money off of, just like the rest of the gaming industry, but I don't see Nintendo treating third parties badly. They've made the required costs to get on WiiWare something an indie with next to no money can do, which is absolutely unique when talking about XBLA, PSN and WiiWare. They have gone out of their way in the US to help encourage indies and to help market them.



World of Goo has been pushed relentlessly by Nintendo and I'm sure 2D Boy appreciates all the marketing help that has definitely impacted sales for the positive. 2D Boy also famously worked out of Starbucks, not a home office. I would say that they definitely got an extra "foot in the door," and there are other examples.



Anyway, WiiWare is clearly not perfect, but it is an option that indies can take, and by far the most accessible and cheapest one (not including Creator's Club, which doesn't seem to be a feasible option financially anyway). With Nintendo pushing it, indies can only benefit...though I too would love to see demos now that size isn't an issue ;).

Bob McIntyre
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Russell: "MS and Sony both act as publishers and have say over what can and can't go into your game (which typically rubs indies the wrong way). Nintendo doesn't do that, they leave it up to you (again, for better or worse). ... Actually XNA creator's club is pretty close in spirit to what WiiWare is, but you can make a living by being a hit on WiiWare. (it is a little harder to be a part of)"



Replying to that, I would point out that a huge difference is that XNA is something anyone can download right now. Creator's Club costs a small amount of money, so little that anyone who can afford a 360 should be able to pay for it out of pocket. Getting into the WiiWare program isn't like that. There's a pre-approval step that happens before you can even start developing, whereas someone with XNA and a decent PC can start immediately and without paying any money or asking MS's permission. If they want to try it out on the 360, it's a little bit more, but not too much, and I don't think there's an approval process (just registration and payment of a small fee). I think that this difference is important.



I suppose that I just see the initial barrier to entry as strongly restrictive, which is where my opinion and yours seem to diverge.

E Zachary Knight
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Bob, On the other hand, the restriction on XNA can be a hinderment. You cannot access the full potential of the 360. You are locked out of a lot of what makes playing games on the 360 an enjoyable experience.



With Wiiware, you have complete access to all the Wii's features. Nothing is held back. Yes there is a larger commitment and cost but you get so much more than what XNA offers.

Bob McIntyre
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Ephraim, that's an interesting point. Having to use C# and their toolkit is somewhat of a handicap. However, I'm not sure if that really makes it worse than developing for the Wii. After all, despite the inefficient programming language, it's still a much faster machine and it has better online capabilities.

E Zachary Knight
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That wasn't really my point. The locked in development toolkit isn't the problem. It is the fact that you cannot access many of the key features of XBox Live which just happens to be the defining feature of the Xbox.



This would be like Nintendo opening up Wii development but not letting those developers use the Wii remote's motion controls.

Bob McIntyre
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What features of Live aren't accessible? It's been a long time since I used it myself. I know that Achievements aren't allowed. Playing with friends, as I recall, is allowed. For me, that's the "big" feature.

Chris Remo
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Ephriam,



The difference is that Nintendo has NO program that is similar to XNA. It would be one thing if Nintendo did have some kind of open development that is less restrictive, but it doesn't. You are either accepted into the development program or you're not.

Russell Carroll
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I see XNA as a great thing, it opens up the chance to put a game on a console to just about anyone.



However, you can make a living on WiiWare, and many have, including indies. The numbers from XNA suggest that no-one is making a living off of it. That's a pretty key point and difference at the present time.



The barrier to entry for WiiWare is definitely higher than XNA, but much, much lower than XBLA and PSN. Financially WiiWare is more comparable in what you can earn to XBLA and PSN than to XNA. So while I agree it does exclude some indies, based on what I see, there are a lot more indies who can do WiiWare than who can do XBLA/PSN. Estimating costs alone I'd guess it's like 10:1. Without financial backing you flat-out cannot do XBLA/PSN. The same is not true of WiiWare.



That is where I see Nintendo doing a lot right, and it's very commendable. Can it be improved? Absolutely! In lots of ways! But the opportunity in WiiWare to the average indie based on the barrier to entry is currently unique in the console space.

Russell Carroll
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Interesting David that we have such different thoughts on costs. Have you made games for both XBLA and WiiWare? We developed 3 for XBLA (2 released) and are on our second for WiiWare and our experience sounds quite different. It may be that the costs of XBLA have decreased substantially? Or are you estimating costs on WiiWare?

Bob McIntyre
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"Without financial backing you flat-out cannot do XBLA/PSN. The same is not true of WiiWare."



How is it not true of WiiWare? You need office space. You need to have your security approved. They also require a certain amount of money in the bank. If you're a new developer, they may reject you entirely. If you're not and you don't have a history of making Nintendo games, they actually ask you why not. How are you going to pass this process with no backing?



It's also not really a fair comparison, since getting a game through XBLA isn't the only way to put one on the 360.

Russell Carroll
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Well I'd point back to 2D Boy, working out of Starbucks, living at home. I don't know what they did to get approved, but they clearly did, and they were a new developer with no history of making Nintendo games. It can and has been done.

I do think it is a pretty fair comparison since XBLA is the only way to put a game on the 360 that makes money, XNA hasn't yet shown itself to be an option in that regard.

Mark Morrison
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here's some context left out: there are close to (or possibly) no non-Nintendo owned wiiware exclusive developers making any substantial net revenue from wiiware. someone please prove me wrong. wiiware....come on guys. we're better off placing 10 bets on exotic facebook apps than one wiiware only title. it will cost much less too ;) sorry moto-san, no disrespect cause i do love the wii!

Damir Slogar
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We released 2 titles on WiiWare; neither of them did particularly well (we barely recouped the development cost). There are numerous reasons for it but minimal sales threshold is certainly NOT one of them. Thresholds are fairly low and one thing that is not clear from the article is that you are getting paid for every unit sold after you pass the threshold (from unit 0).

Jamie Mann
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I think it's pretty clear that WiiWare is something of a missed opportunity. There's a few factors involved, the key ones being:

1) Lack of game demos - allegedly demos are "optional", but has any WW game implemented one?

2) Lack of storage space - partially rectified by the new SDHC firmware patch

3) Lack of visibility - the WW interface is slow, clumsy and doesn't offer much information on the games

4) Nintendo's licencing policy - as noted above, Nintendo still have fairly strict restrictions on devkit licencing



(It could also be argued that WiiWare and Virtual Console are effectively competing with each other - whether that's a factor or not is something which would need some number crunching...)



For me, the first two have always been the killer - there's a lot of games I'd like to try, but there's simply too many other options available, so I can't justify either risking the money or actively searching out game information via other channels (e.g. Youtube) - and even then, it's not the same as having a hands-on experience.



Overall, I think it's clear that Microsoft have done a much better job of supporting and promoting indie gaming. It's easy to point to a couple of examples where Nintendo have helped to promote an indie game, but there's dozens of similar examples for XBLA - Braid, Penny Arcade, Mutant Storm, Alien Hominid, Space Giraffe, The Dishwasher, The Maw, Deathtank...



It's also fair to say that the cost of entry for X360 development can't be beaten - XNA is free, after all! It may have been deliberately restricted, but it's still a more than capable platform for software development, as the wide variety of releases on XBCG shows.



It's something of a shame that there doesn't appear to be a clear path for XBCG - XBLA transfer (Weapons of Choice would be an ideal candidate), and XBCG is very much the poor stepchild when compared to XBLA - releases simply aren't getting the same level of visibility and attention, which is then translating into far poorer downloads and conversions.



Still, I'd argue that it's still a far better route than WiiWare for an aspiring indie developer - if nothing else, the XNA Community itself is a potent tool for development feedback!

Simon Carless
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Damir: apologies if the article was unclear, we've clarified the 'full payment after threshold' issue. As for the threshold, all I can say is that there are some developers who have been tripped up by it, and they tend to be the smallest ones, sadly.

Adam Bishop
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MT M:

2D Boy are not owned by Nintendo, and World of Goo has done quite well for them on Wiiware.

Russell Carroll
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Hudson has been putting a game a month on WiiWare (the limit?) and has been busy announcing new titles. Clearly Wiiware has been very successful for them as it has been for Telltale (Strongbad), Capcom (MegaMan9), and Square Enix. The developers of Defend Your Castle and Pop I would guess are also very happy, but the list may be notably short after that. Frontier maybe?



I'd point to Meat Boy, Cave Story, and Night Game as games that are being developed (by all appearances) in similar conditions as World of Goo.



Certainly there are plenty of games that don't make money, but there is Definitely more than one than has! In the console space I've always been told that 2/3 don't make their money back and 1/3 pay for all 3 and then some. I don't know how accurate that is, but I would guess the same could be said of WiiWare.



For Indies making puzzle games and/or games without much polish it's probably been pretty difficult, but I would point to that being more a statement of the general market than WiiWare. They'd have the same challenge on any other platform from the iPhone to XBLA (except that low polished games wouldn't make it onto XBLA or PSN - which is a part of the point we're talking about here, the accessibility of WiiWare to developers is very high - it's easier to put a game there).



I used XNA interchangeably with creator's club and community games, apologies for the confusion, XNA is obviously much more! I was referring specifically to community games.

Mark Morrison
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thanks for the updates on the wiiware successes. i still ask the same question. any wiiware exclusive devs. , non-Nintendo owned, reading this thread and rolling in dough? everything mentioned as updates that i see are multi-SKUed or ports. so, any developers making 'wiiware only' are doing so at their own risk, especially in light of the threshhold update.



one other point is that nintendo is slow to support online for it's core products. there is a reason for this that most of us know from years of experiencing their (lack of) online initiative. it is difficult for me to believe that nintendo wiiware is going to compete with xbla or similar anytime soon. if they are not pushing sales then how do they expect to beat the very threshholds that are needed for dev. revenue to be paid out. it's a flawed channel IMO.


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