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The Real Story of Developing for Nintendo's Download Platforms

August 14, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

The Success Stories

It's not surprising there are misconceptions about WiiWare and DSiWare, especially with such heavy criticism from developers and publishers. The biggest fallacy, according to Australia-based developer Nnooo, surrounds sales.

"[People believe] that you cannot make money on [WiiWare and DSiWare]," says Nic Watt, creative director of Nnooo.

But that's obviously not the case for Watt and his company, which has thrived via the services. Watt gambled on WiiWare from the onset, developing the original title Pop with his team for the service's launch. The bet paid off.

"WiiWare and DSiWare have allowed us to do exactly what we set out to do -- develop and publish our own self-funded IP," Watt says. "In terms of success, the answer is an overwhelming yes! As a launch title for WiiWare, we sold really well and made enough money in the first six months to approximately double our investment."

With WiiWare success under its belt, Nnooo zeroed in on DSiWare with multiple titles, such as the myLifeCollected applications. Once again, the company reaped the rewards of developing for a Nintendo digital storefront.

"With DSiWare, all of our titles to date have at least broken even and most are well past that," Watt says. "The myNotebook series in particular has sold in the hundreds of thousands across all six versions. Both WiiWare and DSiWare have been profitable for us."

Nnooo also credits its success on Nintendo's digital platforms for enabling the studio to pursue grander projects.

WiiWare and, in particular, DSiWare success "has resulted in really great sales for us (a company of five) and allowed us to develop two new, more ambitious games in Spirit Hunters Inc. and EscapeVektor," says Watt.

Nnooo's EscapeVektor

But Nnooo hasn't only stuck to Nintendo's digital offerings in the past. EscapeVektor even followed its WiiWare release with 3DS and PlayStation Vita download releases, too. Watt and company have also developed for iOS, which receives much more positive press and word of mouth. However, App Store sales don't even come close to WiiWare and DSiWare sales, Watt said.

"In terms of sales, we have not seen anywhere near the volume of sales for Pop on iOS devices as we have on WiiWare and DSiWare," Watt says.

He mentioned that the main advantages with Nintendo's consoles are consumers are interested in games, first and foremost.

"The main advantage as far as we are concerned is that the people who buy Nintendo platforms actually care about buying and playing games. They are actively engaged in gaming and want new content and experiences," says Watt. "In comparison I feel that too many users of iOS are freeloaders who just want as much as they can get for as little expenditure. They are not looking for quality experiences or for longevity. They just want novelty and cheap prices."

Watt isn't alone in seeing better sales on Nintendo's consoles as compared to Apple and its App Store. Neuse and Gaijin Games experienced similar results with Bit.Trip Beat.

"Bit.Trip Beat is much more successful on WiiWare [as compared to iOS]," Neuse says.

The parallels continue between Nnooo and Gaijin Games, though the latter focused only on WiiWare development for the past few years. Neuse and company hit the WiiWare shop early with Bit.Trip Beat, which resulted in strong performances for the then newborn developer.

"WiiWare started off really strong for us. We hit the Wii Shop with Beat around 10 months after WiiWare's launch," says Mike Roush, co-founder of Gaijin Games.

"... Beat is our flagship and has done the best on WiiWare. Runner is a close second," Roush says. "... Beat made around 10 times the original investment on WiiWare -- not bad for a game that took three months to make on a service that's notoriously difficult for consumers to use."

It's also not bad considering Gaijin Games was relatively unknown prior to the development and release of its Bit.Trip franchise, which, once again, draws comparisons to Nnooo's rise.

Frontier Developments, however, was an established developer when it created the original LostWinds for WiiWare.

"The idea of WiiWare resonated with us very strongly as soon as we heard about it," says David Braben, Frontier's founder. "We viewed it as a route that developers like ourselves could use to develop and release games that were innovative and we believed in, but perhaps would have been viewed by traditional publisher as too risky and not a good match for their processes."

Apparently, WiiWare was a good match for Frontier Developments. While Braben wouldn't divulge specific sales figures for the title, he is pleased with the results. "We are very happy," says Braben.

The strong sales even led the company to create a sequel, LostWinds 2: Winter of the Melodias, a year-and-a-half later for WiiWare, but, once again, Frontier didn't provide data on its financial success.

WayForward didn't need an introduction either when it started focusing on DSiWare development. The studio, known for its 2D art and games like Shantae and Contra 4, found Nintendo's portable digital store a natural fit for its games.

"When you consider that DSiWare basically meant we could make a DS game and didn't have to find a retail publisher, you start to see why it was an obvious move for [WayForward]," CEO John Beck told Gamasutra earlier this year.

Beck further explained that WayForward has had profitable results with DSiWare and looks to continue development for Nintendo's digital services. The company recently announced an enhanced port of Mighty Switch Force for Wii U's eShop.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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Michael Pianta
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The handling of downloads was the worst thing about the Wii. I was amazed that consumers could not transfer downloads between machines somehow. the eShop is already an improvement though, and I hope they continue to improve with Wii-U.

K Gadd
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When a guy who made money selling virtual paper as a product for the DSi tells me that iOS customers don't care about buying and playing games, I'm inclined not to believe him. Props to them for their success nonetheless, but I wish they'd be a little more honest.

A much more plausible explanation is that customers with DSes are a captive audience, because if they want games their only choices are buying physical games or picking from the relatively small selection on the Nintendo store. It's only natural that if you put a typical Nnooo title up on iOS it'll get drowned out because there are literally hundreds of similar games all up on that marketplace already.

Tora Teig
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It is quite a grand thing developing both hardware, platform software and lots of games themselves. I'm not sure it is so wise, perhaps they should modernize? Microsoft and Sony do other things but games as well, they are not so vulnerable if their game platform "fails". Nintendo relies on it so much and the competition is only getting harder. Would hate to see them fail with WiiU :( Hope they find a way to stay in the game.

Jeremy Reaban
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Not so long ago, a WiiWare developer, Nordcurrent, had a plan of where they would buy people copies of one of their games that wasn't quite at the sales threshold, in order to get paid by Nintendo.

Still, I understand Nintendo's point of view. They built the console business back up after the crash. They don't want their devices flooded with awful games that don't sell.

Michael Pianta
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I wish Nintendo would excercise aggressive quality control, like they once did, but at retail the Wii is flooded with shovel ware.

Giro Maioriello
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@Michael Pianta

Shovel ware is the unfortunate side-effect of a successful platform.

The PS2 had loads more shovel ware than the Wii.