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Nintendo's indies guy tells you how to get your games approved
Nintendo's indies guy tells you how to get your games approved
March 25, 2013 | By Christian Nutt

March 25, 2013 | By Christian Nutt
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If you want to get your indie game onto Nintendo's platforms -- the Wii U and 3DS -- you'll want to talk to Dan Adelman, who works as the company's liaison with indies.

While his title is "business development manager," he's best known as the man who helped World of Goo and the Bit.Trip series, among many others, land on the WiiWare service for the original Wii. He joined Nintendo in 2005 to help build that service; Since then, the company has transitioned to new platforms, and offers a much better shop on them, called the eShop.

The abovementioned games were notable successes. Some other developers, however, later spoke out against Nintendo's policies and practices, and shared dismal sales numbers for WiiWare titles. The company has quietly been changing its policies, but has had a difficult time getting the word out.

As GDC begins, in this extensive interview, Adelman fills Gamasutra in on exactly what indie developers want to know about releasing a game on the Wii U and 3DS.

Let's state this simply, to start. Is it possible for an indie to get a game onto the eShop service right now?

Dan Adelman: You know, it's crazy that there are so many developers who don't realize this, but yes, it is not only possible for an indie to get a game onto the eShop service, we've tried to make it as frictionless as possible.

Developers have always been able to make their content available on our systems since the WiiWare days, without the need for an intermediary publisher between the developer and Nintendo. Nor do they need to mount a big PR campaign just to be allowed onto the service. Our philosophy is that if you believe enough in your game to build it, we want to do what we can to support you.

Do developers need to be registered Nintendo developers? What does that entail?

DA: Yes, they do need to become licensed Nintendo developers, since they will need access to our development tools. It's actually pretty easy to become a licensed developer. We really have only a few requirements to sign up as a licensed developer with Nintendo. The most notable ones are that you have to have some experience making games, you have to be able to keep any confidential materials like dev kits secure and you have to form a company. None of these should be prohibitive to any indie developer.

In the past, you've required developers to have an office, but many indies work from home or are individuals. Is this policy changing?

DA: So that second requirement -- the ability to keep confidential materials secure -- was originally defined in terms of an office that was separate from the home. Back when that rule was created, that seemed to be an appropriate way of defining things.

As you point out, more and more people are working from home, and we recognize that developers are forming virtual teams around the world. I know we've shied away from talking about these things publicly in the past, so I'm glad that I can officially confirm that the office requirement is a thing of the past.

I've heard from developers that to publish on your services, they need an address in the territory in question, for example a Japanese address. I've even heard that Canadian developers need a U.S. address to publish in the U.S. Can you explain what's going on here?

DA: That's actually not the case. Anyone from any country can make their games available on the eShop within the NOA and NOE region -- i.e., pretty much everywhere outside of Japan.

Steam is the obvious market leader here. Developers are used to Valve's functionality, like sales, preorders, preloads, and painless patching. Can you talk about your plans around these four aspects of your service?

DA: Developers set their own pricing for their Wii U and Nintendo 3DS content. As one example, Little Inferno launched at $14.99. They did a sale for $9.99, and it went so well, they decided to make that price change permanent. It's completely in their control.

Updating games is also fairly straightforward. If they find an issue they need to fix, they can. In terms of other Nintendo eShop functionality, there's a dedicated team working through a roadmap of new features. We'll be able to announce those as they get closer to release.

What kind of outreach are you doing on the tools side, since Nintendo platforms require custom dev kits?

DA: Dev kits are actually not all that expensive. They're about the price of a high-end PC. Nothing that should be a showstopper for anyone.

There are a number of really exciting things going on in this space right now. We recently announced that we're providing Unity Pro 4 for Wii U to licensed developers at no added cost. So if a developer is currently working on a game in Unity and has a Wii U dev kit, it should be super easy to bring that game over to the Wii U console -- and not just do a straight port but also take advantage of any features of the console they want, like motion controls, Miiverse or of course the second-screen GamePad controller. Or vice versa -- making a game for Wii U and then going to other platforms should also be seamless.

In addition, at GDC we're going to be talking about some new tools we're rolling out for developers to use HTML5 and JavaScript to make games. The thing I'm most excited about for this is how easy it is to prototype new game ideas to find the fun quickly and easily.

Is someone who's licensed to publish to the eShop for 3DS also capable of going to the Wii U and vice versa, or are these separate?

DA: The process and policies are virtually identical. If they're licensed developers for one, it's a fairly straightforward process to become a licensed developer on other systems.

What's your payment schedule like? Indies need quick and frequent payment. Have you changed your policy, which previously didn't pay out until a game crossed a 6000 unit threshold? What about frequency? Quarterly or monthly?

DA: We tend not to talk about business terms, since those are considered confidential. That said, the unit threshold is something that's been a problem for a lot of developers, so I'd like to address it head on.

Let me give you a sense of the thought process behind the threshold in the first place. Even as far back as the early WiiWare days, we allowed developers to forgo the need to hire an intermediary publisher to get their content on our system. We didn't believe that Nintendo should screen game concepts. That should be up to the developer who's making the investment. Instead, we wanted to have a mechanism that would encourage developers to self-police their own game quality.

The threshold was thought to be a convenient way to go about it. Unfortunately, some great games that just didn't find an audience wound up being penalized. So for all systems after WiiWare -- DSiWare, Nintendo 3DS eShop, and Wii U eShop, we decided to get rid of the thresholds altogether. Developers receive revenue from unit 1.

Has working with indies like Vblank, Nicalis, and Gaijin Games helped change your tune? Have you been taking feedback from your existing stable of developers on board?

DA: Absolutely. I like to think we've built up a relationship of trust with a lot of the developers on our system, so they know they can say whatever's on their mind. And not just when they have an issue that needs to be resolved, either. We try to take a proactive stance with developers and solicit feedback from time to time. How can our development tools be better? What kind of functionality do you want to see in the eShop? How can we improve our processes to make life easier? I kind of see a big part of my role as representing the indie community inside Nintendo to make sure that we can make our systems as friendly as possible.

How are you on responsiveness? Nintendo has a reputation for having a lot of corporate overhead -- how do you get indies the things they need quickly?

DA: A lot of our processes were originally created in an environment where there was a set number of large publishers who had employees on staff whose sole job was to interface with the different console platforms. Those people had to learn how we were organized and know who to call for what issue. That obviously doesn't work for smaller developers.

As a result, we've narrowed everything down to a single point of contact -- one alias that developers can write to for any issue. There's a core team at Nintendo who then tracks down the information and follows up. We have an internal goal of getting every question a response within 24 hours. And if we can't get an answer in 24 hours, we at least will let them know when we expect to be able to get them what they need.

What kind of editorial staff do you have working on the eShop (both platforms), to make sure good games get featured prominently? I've noticed changes there, but can you outline how that works to some extent?

DA: We really try to make sure that we're not setting Nintendo up as the arbiter of what is a good game. That's for the market to decide. We try to give visibility to every new game when they launch. The nice thing about the Nintendo eShop is that we have a lot of flexibility on this point. We can make adjustments without much lead time. Beyond that, we look to things like user ratings, review scores, and in the case of Wii U, Miiverse activity to see how people are responding to certain games.

That said, there are a few times when we do take a little editorial license. Sometimes there's a game that we recognize is a great game for a niche audience or is trying something so new that people may not get it right away. In those cases, even if a game doesn't have big numbers right away, we want to make sure that we give it time to find its audience.

To me, one of the best things about the indie scene is its willingness to try out new ideas and take risks. If someone is attempting something that has never been tried before, I want to do everything I can to support that. Little Inferno is a great example of that -- a game about buying things and burning them! When Kyle Gabler from Tomorrow Corporation told me about the idea a few years ago, my response was that I loved the fact that I could not imagine what that game would turn into. As an industry, we need more of that!

And let's not forget about Unkle Dill, the dancing pickle in Runner 2. So very, very awesome.

Any stats or comment on what portion of your audience has downloaded an independently-developed game from the eShop, on both platforms?

DA: I can't give out any specific numbers, but developers seem to be pretty happy with the sales numbers they're seeing for their games.

Nintendo platforms are unique. If a game is going to feature very Nintendo-specific functionality (e.g. 3DS dual-screen play, GamePad play on Wii U) will you consider working more closely with a developer on their vision?

DA: It's great when developers see the features of our platform and decide to build around those as pillars for their game. Mutant Mudds by Renegade Kid did this brilliantly. In many respects, it was a traditional 2D platformer, but it was designed around the 3D functionality of the Nintendo 3DS. It was one of the first games that used depth of view as a game mechanic.

Fractured Soul by Endgame Studios is another great example. That whole game was designed around the dual-screen functionality of Nintendo 3DS. One of the core mechanics is to switch back and forth between the two screens, keeping an eye on both at the same time.

That said, it's really important that developers see these platforms features as opening up new design options for them. They should never feel obligated to tack on a feature if it doesn't make sense. It's completely up to the designer to figure out what's best for the game. Because making great games is what it's all about.

For Gamasutra's full GDC 2013 event coverage this week, check out the official GDC 2013 event page.


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Comments


Kris Steele
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No office required is a big improvement. Developing for Nintendo is no longer an unrealistic thing to do.

Neil Jones
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Nintendo needs more press like this I didn't even know there was an indie option on the Wii U

Aaron Steed
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"It's actually pretty easy to become a licensed developer."

Working for a company that has actually tried this and been constantly ignored, I would say this is a flat out lie.

I imagine they might be more responsive/receptive now, but when WiiWare was launched we tried and tried and were simply ignored.

Leroy Sylva
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That was then. This is now.

Bob Johnson
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I don't think his statement is retroactive so I wouldn't say its a flat out lie.

Jeferson Soler
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@ Aaron Steed - And to add to what Bob said, based on the interview, it seems like that Dan is "indirectly" admitting that there were problems with the original regulations when the WiiWare first launched. You yourself said that your company was ignored when the WiiWare was launched, but that should no longer be a problem when it comes to doing a game for the eShop from either 3DS or Wii U.

Dan Adelman
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Thanks for the feedback. I'd encourage you to try again. Please contact me directly if you don't hear back in a couple weeks. If you don't meet the requirements, that's one thing, but a dev application shouldn't fall into the abyss.

Emelie Laggar
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Hi Mr. Adelman!
I hope you're still reading these comments, because I have something important I want to discuss.

We're a newly started team with 1,5 years of game development experience. We are going into full production in a month or so, and It's our dream to be able to work as a Wii U developer.
We have filled in the Developer Questionnaire, but has not got an answer yet.
We hope to hear from you, and if we should rather contact you directly than trying to sign the form again.

Thank you!

Jamie Lowes
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I'd love to get Chopper Mike on 3DS. 3D would add a ton to the game! :D

Dan Adelman
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Please shoot me an e-mail post GDC. Happy to help.

Dan Adelman
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@Aaron - Sorry for this. Was it the office requirement? If so, please try again. Either way, please let me know if you run into roadblocks.

@Jamie - Happy to help!

Javier Cabrera
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Thank you Steve Jobs. You changed things. (Someone had to say it)

Ahmad Jadallah
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Dear Mr.Adelman,

The response we got recently regarding being registered is:
"we are not able to authorize companies located outside of EU countries. It will take some time to change this, specially for Saudi Arabia"

We are located in Saudi Arabia, we are a company with a registered office and already are registered developers for PS3 and PS Vita. Why is it that such a rule is in place?

Dan Adelman
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Not sure, but I'll check.

Adam Bishop
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"Updating games is also fairly straightforward. If they find an issue they need to fix, they can."

Does this mean that there's no expensive re-certification process for providing bug fixes like there is on XBLA?

Mike Murray
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Patches are supposed to be free to distribute.

Dan Adelman
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Sorry that I can't give specifics without an NDA, but yeah, it's mostly painless.

Jeff Postma
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Perfect timing for this article. I just received a rejection letter from Nintendo on the 21st. Guess it just means I need to make more and better quality games first instead of go out and buy an office. That is what I was most worried about was the office request.

Chris Dixon
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How exactly do you get in touch with Nintendo about submitting a game?

Jeff Postma
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@Chris I contacted them through customer support and they sent me the link to fill out the application to become a certified developer. I think it was http://www.warioworld.com/ and there is a link there.

Jeff Postma
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Looks like the link is now placed in the article also.

Craig Timpany
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Good interview. I had a lot of the same questions in mind. It's a shame Adelman wasn't more forthcoming with specifics.

Dan Adelman
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There are some specifics I can't discuss without an NDA. Happy to answer anything else. Please let me know what specifics were lacking.

Justin Sawchuk
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Are they going to allow tom dick, harry, or sally to create there own game.

Dan Adelman
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There are requirements for game development experience.

Zack Wood
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Cool! Surprised and happy to hear that they're opening things up to indie developers.

Georges Paz
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We would like to get "Forgotten Memories" into the Wii U (digital distribution). It's a survival horror game, currently in developement on my company (Psychoz Interactive). I've already applied for the Nintendo License. Hopefully we will get a positive answer soon.

Charles Elliott
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What is Nintendo's definition of "game development experience"? I'm in a game development program in University and I've always been interested in developing for a Nintendo platform. I dabble in making small games in my spare time, aside from games I've been required to make for class, but I've never released anything. I'd be interested to know, or at least get an idea, of what the minimum requirement would be.

Chris Dixon
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I too would like to know this. Also, if you have previously published games that you think would fit well on Nintendo's platforms, would they let you retroactively publish those games on their service?

lucak Santos
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Is it possible for a sandbox game like minecraft with random generated terrain and also with 3d models and placeable models in 3d be possible to be programed for wii u?
Btw here is a link with some pictures of the game I'm talking about, I'm not really in to programing so I don't know about that.

Cordero W
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You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that if you want to get on Nintendo's console, you need to have the game development experience and the equal quality to do it. This is a good bar of standard because it keeps the amateurs out. Otherwise, you get Xblig 2.0. At the same time, the experienced developers are either not developing for Nintendo or are on other platforms, mostly mobile, so it creates an interesting drought for Nintendo at the moment. I hope they don't open up anymore to indies, unless those indies have proven themselves and put in the investment. It's blunt, but it's reality.

Lars Doucet
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Would love to talk to Mr. Adelman but I can't find his email address anywhere on the internet :)

Excellent move for Nintendo!

Christian Nutt
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He's on Twitter as @Dan_Adelman and I find quite responsive there...

Lex Allen
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Minimum dev requirements...

When I first read this, I was too skeptical to comment, but after I saw that, it confirmed what I suspected from the beginning.

Maybe XBLIG had a lot of crap, but at least you knew you could get on as long as your game worked.

If a platform is not open, indies are just going to flee to the friendly ones that are. There are so many choices right now.

Nintendo is either going to open to indies, or it isn't. Until then, I don't really see how this is significant news.

David Holmin
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Just opening the floodgates would ruin the eShop. Browsing XBLIG and even AppStore is pretty depressing.

Alex Althauser
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I don't like the fact that you have had to have made games in the past. What about those of us weirdos who trash almost everything we make because its not good enough for ourselves? We have plenty of experience, but nothing to show for it. I think that if you have a solid game to release, you shouldn't be disqualified based on a technicality. Isn't that the whole point of welcoming indie dev teams?

I'm real excited about this deal with unity, and i grew up playing Nintendo. I'd like nothing more than to be able to publish my game for the Wii u.

Paul Broadhurst
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There have been major delays releasing some eShop titles in multiple territories. For example it took several months for Trine 2 Wii-U to be released on the Australian store and Mighty Switch Force HD still is not available. The developers themselves believed that these titles would be released earlier but they seemed to have little control over that. Is there any particular reason that causes these delays across regions?

Trine 2 was originally submitted late for classification in Aus but that was cleared up months before it was eventually released.

Joerg Winterstein
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I'm sorry to dig out this article, but I am (unsuccessfully) trying to contact Dan Adelman.
We applied as nintendo-devs two months ago, and I did not hear anything yet.

Mr. Adelman, if you read this, please feel free to contact me at info[at]winterworks.de

Thanks,
Jörg


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