[Gamasutra's first-ever WiiWare postmortem reveals the story behind overlooked block puzzler MadStone, with technical, design, marketing and productivity lessons galore.]
Eighteen years ago, my brother and I decided to make a Nintendo game. I was eight years old and he was four. I didn't know what we were going to make, much less how to make it. Nevertheless, nearly two decades later, we actually managed to achieve our childhood goal. This is the story of our first game for a Nintendo console, a WiiWare game called MadStone.
MadStone is a 2D falling block puzzler that costs $8 on WiiWare. It was designed to mimic the simple-but-deep mechanics of games like Tetris Attack, Meteos, and Puyo Pop. It features a linear 1-player arcade mode and several competitive modes.
Before releasing MadStone, my company, RiverMan Media published two moderately well-received PC casual games, Cash Cow and Primate Panic.
A screenshot from the final version of MadStone
What Went Right
1. Stalking Nintendo
I work part time at IBM as a user interface designer. One morning, one of my coworkers stopped by my office. He had just read an article about WiiWare, Nintendo's downloadable software service targeted at smaller projects and indie developers. My friend suggested that my company should pursue making Wii games through the program.
My initial reaction was, "No way!" I'm a huge Nintendo fan and I love the Wii, but I thought that we were way too small, too inexperienced, and too underfunded to actually pull it off. Also, the prospect of directly pursuing my childhood dream scared me a little. What if I screwed things up?
My friend left my office and curiosity got the better of me. Sitting at my desk, I Googled Nintendo's corporate phone number. Not really expecting anything to happen, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed them up.
Apparently Nintendo's receptionists don't get a lot of calls from random people asking to develop Wii games, because after an awkward moment they actually put me through to someone.
The WiiWare representative I talked to told me that he'd be at the Austin Game Developer's Conference the next week. He told me that he'd be happy to tell me about WiiWare in person. Woohoo! I bought some expensive last-minute tickets and headed to Texas.
Unfortunately, there was a flaw in my strategy: I had no firm plans for when or where to meet up with the guy! Nintendo didn't have a booth, and when I arrived at the conference, I found myself frantically scanning name badges, hoping against hope that one of them would say "Nintendo." No luck.
Finally, in desperation, I Googled Nintendo's phone number yet again. I pleaded with them to give me the representative's phone number so I could get in touch with him. Of course, giving out employee cell numbers is understandably against company policy. I explained to them that my entire reason for being in Austin was to meet up with him, that the conference was almost over, and I really needed help. Finally they broke down and gave me his number.
Just a few hours before his flight home, the Nintendo representative and I met up for coffee. I told him about my company and explained how much we wanted to develop for Nintendo consoles. He agreed that RiverMan Media sounded like a good fit for WiiWare. I left the meeting feeling absolutely ecstatic.
All told, it took us about three months, dozens of phone calls and emails, and lots of pestering before we finally crossed the threshold of becoming Wii developers. We are a small team and Nintendo clearly wasn't overwhelmed with our credentials. It was a frustrating process and I often wondered if I'd made the right decision.
However, a lot of good things came out of the ordeal. We became closer with several key people at Nintendo, and we got a chance to develop our core technology without the temptation of diving right into a game. Nintendo even helped us get development kits at a reduced price from a company that didn't need them anymore!
The Lesson: Getting your foot in the door is not easy. Crossing the threshold will almost certainly require you to move beyond your comfort zone.