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Becoming a Nintendo Switch indie dev will be tough early on
March 2, 2017 | By Kris Graft




Game developers who want to get their games on the soon-to-launch Nintendo Switch should be prepared for a strict submission process, at least here in the console’s early days.

Damon Baker, head of partner management at Nintendo of America and self-professed indie dev advocate told Gamasutra that “selectivity” is the key word right now in terms of partnerships with smaller devs, which is his area of focus.                                              

“The bigger difference between the launch of Wii U and the launch of Switch is that we realized with the Wii U, it was more of a quantity over quality mentality,” he said. “It was more about ‘let’s get as much content out there as possible.’”

He recalled that Nintendo had said it’d bring 50 titles out in the Wii U’s first three months, but the actual number ended up being 32 titles at launch with hardly any follow-up.

That drought of Wii U titles was also related to the fact that developers didn’t quite “get” what Wii U was supposed to be.

“We also had a bunch of experimentation going on with the [Wii U] hardware,” he said. “There were a ton of really cool features with Wii U, but no one really knew which one they were supposed to latch onto, or which one they’re supposed to sink their teeth into.”

 
"There were a ton of really cool features with Wii U, but no one really knew which won they were supposed to latch onto."

“In the end, the defining feature was off-TV mode,” he said about Wii U’s ability to play games on the tablet controller.

With the Switch, Baker plans a carefully curated indie developer lineup that will provide a constant stream of games. It's an interesting strategy, one that was similarly used at the start of PlayStation 4's life, when indie games helped fill a gap left by big-budget titles.

At a Nintendo indies (aptly-dubbed “Nindies”) event at Game Developers Conference, the company showed off over a dozen games, all seeming high-quality and on their way to final polishing. Steamworld Dig 2 from Image & Form was on hand, along with Mr. Shifty from Team Shifty, Shakedown Hawaii from Vblank, and Pocket Rumble from Cardboard Robot games among other titles. (There were a lot of nice chunky pixels in the room.)

With the Switch, Nintendo wanted to make sure that the messaging for the console was crystal clear within Nintendo itself, with developer and publishing partners, and with consumers. Baker said the announcement videos over the past few months have been successful in communicating that the Switch is about flexibility in playing games, no matter where you might be – at home or away from home.

“Having a corporate understanding of what it is that defines the system – what is the niche – is what it’s all about,” he said. “I think this time around we had a much better understanding of what we’re trying to achieve with the Switch vs. Wii U.”

“First and foremost that this is a console experience that you take on the go,” he said. “[Also] we’ve got multiplayer baked into the box and are really emphasizing the fun of multiplayer experiences, the fun of playing games with other people. And there’s the portability – the fact that you can take this on the go. Just with those elements, even without having to explain the system itself, we can explain those pillars being important to us.”

Baker said those pillars for Switch games are also shared with first-party titles. By establishing those pillars early on, Nintendo was able to communicate what Switch was all about, even before early Switch devs had any hardware.

“We were able to give them a running start,” he said. Currently, Baker and his team is evaluating which games would be a good fit for Switch.

“Right now we are being very selective about who we’re letting into the development environment, and through our portal,” he said. “Whereas with the Wii U and 3DS, we opened that up to everybody. I think our mentality was to cast that big net, [but] you’d never know when the next great piece of content was coming, or where it was gonna come from, or where it was going to permeate.

“This time around, we’re going to be a lot more conservative,” Baker said. “We don’t want to open up the floodgates quite yet.”

 
"This time around, we’re going to be a lot more conservative. We don’t want to open up the floodgates quite yet."

Baker realizes there’s a lot of interest among developers, but suggested that Nintendo is generally more interested in games that haven’t been on other consoles yet, here in the early stages of Switch.

“We want to honor our fans by making sure we’ve got original content, that we’re forward-looking rather than backwards,” he said. “That’s not to say that there aren’t ports or other great content that have come out in the past couple or few years that wouldn’t work perfect on Switch. It’s just not a priority for right now.”

That said, there are still Switch games that have been on or announced for PC, and some that were just recently on other consoles such as Stardew Valley by ConcernedApe.

Part of Nintendo’s Switch indie strategy is to partner with smaller, high-quality publishers. Baker said Nintendo is working with smaller independent publishers like Chucklefish, Team17, and Devolver Digital as the company gets more bang for its buck in terms of developer relationships.

In other words, Nintendo can work closely with an individual publisher, evaluate the publisher’s multi-game portfolio – which has already been vetted – and partner with multiple developers if their games make sense for Switch.

“We’ve got limited resources on our side as well,” said Baker, explaining that tack. “I wish we had a team of a hundred account managers that could give every single developer and publisher the attention they deserve, but we’re lean and mean as we always have been at Nintendo.”

Even with all the talk about selectiveness, Baker stressed that Nintendo is still open to pitches, as always. “I don’t know if people have noticed as much, but we definitely have been attending all the developer conferences, all of the trade shows,” he said. “We’ve been proactive in establishing relationships with developers and publishers across the board.

“It hasn’t happened overnight. It’s taken the last few years to focus efforts there. And now we’re starting to see some of those relationships turn into actual products. We’ll continue to drive those relationships as well, but we’re certainly open to more content or opportunities.

“We’re just telling publishers and developers to reach out to us if they haven’t heard from us already. And if they’ve got a pitch for the perfect content for Nintendo Switch, we definitely want to hear about it,” said Baker.



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