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Interview: Reggie Fils-Aime On Garage Devs And The Value Of Software
Interview: Reggie Fils-Aime On Garage Devs And The Value Of Software
March 18, 2011 | By Chris Morris




When Nintendo's global president Satoru Iwata rocked this year's Game Developers Conference with his controversial comments about developers of social and mobile games, there were a lot of questions. Was the company showing fear? Was it being too rigid in its thinking? Was Iwata actually right on the money?

A few people, though, were asking a more practical question: If the company felt this new breed of garage developers (like Rovio in its early days or Tiny Wings developer Andreas Illiger) were undervaluing their games, why not establish an opportunity for them to sell to the Nintendo audience at higher prices?

But Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime says that's not in the cards – near-term or long-term.

"I would separate out the true independent developer vs. the hobbyist," says Fils-Aime. "We are absolutely reaching out to the independent developer."

"Where we've drawn the line is we are not looking to do business today with the garage developer. In our view, that’s not a business we want to pursue."

Many of the developers making the sorts of games referred to in the keynote, he says, are similar to amateur musicians who hold down other jobs. That's a different class than people who make their living creating games.

"Look at the music industry," he says. "There are certainly highly talented people who work other jobs and have a passion to be in the music industry. They work at it. There are reality TV shows that revolve around this concept. … I love it when there's a game that's found that captures people's imagination, just like that … singer toiling in a factory."

Fils-Aime echoed many of the thoughts given at the Nintendo keynote, though noted that Iwata's comments were not aimed at a specific company. The risk the industry is taking with low-priced and free software, he says, is it's quickly training the consumer that there is no value in games.

"When we talk about the value of software, it could be a great $1 piece of content or a $50 piece of content," he says. "The point is: Does it maintain its value over time or is it such disposable content that the value quickly goes to zero? … We want consumers to see value in the software, whatever that appropriate value is. And we want to see that value maintained over time."

On the 3DS, which launches March 27, Fils-Aime says the company has learned from the Wii launch, which saw demand far outstrip supply, resulting in significant retail shortages. This time, he says, Nintendo is determined to avoid those constant sell-outs.

"Our goal is not to have that situation," says Fils-Aime. "Our goal is to be able to meet the needs of every consumer beginning with Day One of the launch."

Gaming elements aside, the 3DS will also be a showcase vehicle for upcoming 3D films for Hollywood studios. Fils-Aime won't detail which studios the company is working with presently, but notes the deals work well for both parties.

"It truly is a win-win-win," he says. "It's a win for the studio, because they get to promote their movies in 3D. You can’t do that with any other marketing medium other than previewing in the theater itself. It's a win for Nintendo because we believe the share-ability is tremendous and its shows off immediately what the device can do with a one- or two-minute trailer. And it's a win for the publishing community [since it] drives the installed base."

Nintendo, of course, will be providing its own non-gaming content to the 3DS as well starting in May, with a channel it will manage filled with items such as 3D music videos and comedy clips.

"We haven’t decided the frequency [of updates]," says Fils-Aime, "but I would describe it as very frequent. In Japan, they’re providing daily updates. Japan is in partnership with two television studios that are each creating daily 3D content that’s being made available to consumers." (Editor's note: This discussion took place before the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami. It's unclear if those daily updates are taking place currently.)

As for the Wii, Fils-Aime downplayed rumors that the company may expedite its next generation machine due to flagging sales – and dropped a possible hint that price cuts could be in the near future for the system.

"The Wii has a long life in front of it," he says. "We're still sitting at $199. There are a variety of marketing tools at our disposal."


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Comments


Leon T
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After bringing the home console market back from the crash it is no wonder that Nintendo does not embrace garage gaming. While the Wii, like all leading systems, is flooded with shovelware the software will not break your system. There are many phone apps that will cause crashes and errors until they are uninstalled or the phone is reset. That is the risk you take when you let anyone put software on your device. The reward is that could you can get hits as well. Of course there are hits on the closed system side too so why even take the risk.



Since some of the hit digital software will be get ported to hand helds and consoles anyway so there really is no reason to. If your game is a hit you can put on any system you choose.



On another note Nintendo did not go out of their way to stop people from offering those free browser based games on the Wii. Some were a little fun. If the 3DS has a much better browser than the DS that could continue. That is as close as you will get when it comes to Nintendo supporting garage gaming. Your only other option is to convice them that you are a company in order to buy a dev kit.

Sterling Reames
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Ah yes! Throw away games irk me so much! I mean, you've got all kinds of amazing experiences on the Wii. There's Beer Pong, practically any crappy tv gameshow you could ever want, incredible licensed IPs like Balls of Fury and Alvin and the Chipmunks, and more generic party games than you can shake a handful of crisp $20 bills at!



I mean, the Wii's library is chalk full of these amazing $30-$50 experiences. Just go to your nearest Gamestop and walk over to the Wii section, close your eyes and pick up what is sure to be one winning experience.

E Zachary Knight
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"It truly is a win-win-win," he says. "It's a win for the studio, because they get to promote their movies in 3D. You can’t do that with any other marketing medium other than previewing in the theater itself. It's a win for Nintendo because we believe the share-ability is tremendous and its shows off immediately what the device can do with a one- or two-minute trailer. And it's a win for the publishing community [since it] drives the installed base."



That's odd. When he said "win" three times, I was sure that the consumer was going to be represented by one of them. How wrong I was.

Arturo Mata
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"Where we've drawn the line is we are not looking to do business today with the garage developer. In our view, that’s not a business we want to pursue."



Isn't that exactly what DSiWare is? The difference here being that Apple's service worked, but Nintendo's didn't. Both have their fair share of great and not so great games, but what really scares Nintendo is that Apple somehow managed to pull off something Nintendo wasn't capable of, and that's successfully making profit off of throw away experiences through third-party developers.

Robert Boyd
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Nintendo - "You're a small indie developer? We don't want you. Go make games for Microsoft, Sony, and Apple."

Roberto Dillon
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And we will... If there's one thing this current generation is clearly showing is that indie developers, both professionals in small studios or hobbyists from their own garages, are a meaningful part of the industry able not only to innovate but also to drive change by opening new directions for others to follow.

In any industry leaders fall when they can't recognize change and adapt to it, remaining stuck to old fashioned strategies and believes. I'm getting worried for Nintendo... and I'm actually a bit surprised by this closed stance for a company that made "disruptive development" its motto and always tried to innovate. To truly innovate you have to take risks and only indies can risk nowadays on the software side: if we expect bigger studios to "innovate", most likely we will get half baked ideas that go nowhere, in other words the $40 shovelware which is so common on the Wii :(

Eric Schwarz
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That picture of Reggie will stay with me to my grave.



I think what Reggie is trying to say is that Nintendo has no interest in investing time and resources into amateurs because it's too risky a proposition. I think that this makes a lot of sense from a certain point of view: sure, you can make a game, but its chances of even modest success may be extremely small; will Nintendo's investment on all the support, distribution and infrastructure be wasted when they realise nobody is buying those "garage" titles? I don't think this is the right attitude to take, and I think Xbox LIVE, PSN and Steam have been around long enough now to demonstrate that being open to "garage devs" isn't a bad thing, but Nintendo simply may not be convinced it's worth their time and money when they're already industry leaders.



Of course, there's something very, very obvious here as well: generally, most publishers don't have a portable system where indie and garage developers can distribute their games at a low cost. Nintendo does, and they have absolutely no interest in effectively trying to compete with themselves by offering up low-cost titles across both the Wii and the DS/3DS. Is it the best idea in the long run? I'm not sure"buy our handheld as well" is the best way to sell more games, but again, from Nintendo's conservative business perspective, it makes sense.

M C
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There is literally 1000x more crap in the App store than on the Wii section at Gamestop, so don't try to kid yourselves otherwise. The DSi and Wiiware game libraries are also much less mediocre than their retail counterparts. Plus as great as Cut the Rope and Angry Birds are, they don't really hold a candle to Mario Galaxy, Zelda, and all the other great games on the Nintendo platforms.

Carlo Delallana
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This is getting ridiculous. I don't know why Nintendo is making this an issue at all.



There is a power shift happening in the business where developers feel more empowered and have more choices for the distribution of their content. But what is more disturbing to me are the people who rally behind the marketing/pr crap that Nintendo is pushing.



I recognize that great ideas and games can come from anywhere. That there is no difference between a "Garage Developer" and an "Independent Developer" because a similar passion drives us to create games on our own terms. Not all of them are great but once in a while you get Tiny Wings. A beautiful and thoughtful effort by a lone "garage developer". A game that keeps me up at night because I want to help this bird fulfill its dream of flight.



Don't fall for the PR, we are smarter than this. Behind the colorful words is a large corporation that is protecting its business interest.



I grew up Nintendo, their games made me want to be a designer. But if I had to choose, I would rather stand with the indies than become another Nintendo echo chamber.

Jonathan Gilmore
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Well said, thank you.

Leon T
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There is a difference between a "Garage Developer" and an "Independent Developer". The Garage Developer creates a game and puts it out in the market for others to play. The Independent Developer creates a game and puts it out to make money and/or start a career. The passion that drives you is not the same as your end goal.



The only console maker I know of that gives any support to garage developers is MS with XNA. Windows is totally open too of course. Your other choices are smart phone, browser, and flash. I'm not aware of any way that Sony or Nintendo offers support to garage developers. I think they both offer something in Japan for students but that is about it.

Carlo Delallana
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Sony tried a while back with Net Yarouze (PSX days). The access to hardware and the cost of a dev kit was restrictive.

Leonardo Ferreira
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This is funny... Nintendo does not seems to agree with any change or new trend in the industry that it wasn´t the company itself that started.

R. Hunter Gough
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I understand the desire to keep $1 games from bringing down the value of $50 games, but Microsoft's been doing that just fine for 2 1/2 years by keeping a few key features out of Xbox Indie Games. I have yet to see anyone complain about Halo Reach's $60 price tag just because Weapon of Choice is $1.



"The Wii has a long life in front of it," he says. "We're still sitting at $199. There are a variety of marketing tools at our disposal."



meanwhile:



http://www.techradar.com/news/gaming/consoles/ea-dismisses-the-wi
i-as-a-legacy-console--936097



and yeah, that "win-win-win" quote where none of those wins are the customer is really damning.

A W
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I think Nintendo's interest is in game profit and seeing their partners who make games profit on their hardware (Sony's PS and Microsoft's XBOX division would fall near line with that type of profit philosophy.) I think Apple's interest is in profit and seeing their hardware profit. I don't think they really care about an app maker making any profit on their hardware, but they provide the opportunity to if they so choose.

Carlo Delallana
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I don't agree with this at all and the evidence is on the iTunes store (desktop and on device). Apple prominently displays "New and Noteworthy" apps like Tiny Wings on the main page of the app store and even on the games section. If they didn't care they wouldn't bother elevating content to this prominent audience-capturing spot.

A W
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If I wasn't mistaken the elevation system is only there to promote new content, or popular content. Is it Apple taking care of a base of developers for profit reasons? I would say no on this just because the iGeneration of Hardware they produce really doesn't survive much on its app stores connection with the consumer. A cool app for free is money in Apple's pocket where as a cool game for Nintendo (Sony / Microsoft) is money in the pocket of both the hardware manufactures and developers pockets because you have a set price that determines the value of a product.



I'm not saying Apple is evil or anything. It makes good bussiness sense for how they operate. But given the success of any app for free (be it a game or otherwise) what is to stop Apple from going on ahead and pushing their product of competition for the same free price.



I think Nintendo realizes that Apple's iTunes plays a game of price much like they did with the music industry which will lead to Apple' standard of setting a price for games severely under the value it cost to make one. I think they are just calling them out to see if they will officially respond to the comments. It's defiantly a targeted statement that will most likely be repeated again at the next developers conference or E3.

Duong Nguyen
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Nintendo's fighting a losing battle. It's the inevitable tide of technology. The democratization of software development means anyone can make software now anywhere in the world and sale on the global market. This will inevitable drive down prices for common commodity software like games and utilities, as seen in the app store. However specialized software will still retain their value, perhaps that is where high end games have to go to maintain their value?



It's funny that Nintendo's would demonize this trend when they were the largest benificary of the same trend from a hardware standpoint so many years ago. The advent of cheap consumer electronics ushered in an age of cheap game consoles..

Todd Kinsley
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What I find interesting in this line of thinking is the question of who determines the difference between an independent game developer, and a garage game developer? Those lines can be very blurry these days. There are certainly some decently large, complex games made from people's bedrooms these days. Some of those developers are full-time, some are not. Some full-time developers hire freelancers to work on parts of their games. Some of those freelancers are full-timers, some are not. Some developers do not support themselves solely off of the games they create from their bedrooms at night, but they are full-time employees of AAA game developers during the day. Are they considered "amateurs"?? What about the person with 15 years of AAA experience who quits to make games out of his/her bedroom? Is that person an amateur?



Games get made in a huge variety of ways these days, and I think Nintendo (or anyone else) is going to have a difficult time determining if that fax they received came from the fax machine on the 30th floor of Mega Ultra AAA Games Incorporated, or from the fax machine next to Johnny Developer's bed.

Roberto Dillon
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> the question of who determines the difference between an independent game developer, and a garage game developer?



Simple: whether you have the money to pay for the full, official SDK or not ;)



> Some developers do not support themselves solely off of the games their create from their bedrooms at night, but they are full-time employees of AAA game developers during the day.



I'm afraid this won't happen: most AAA companies have very strict contracts/policies where they basically own the IP rights of everything their employees do, maybe even on what they dream at night... :P

Tim Rogers
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my thoughts:



http://www.actionbutton.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/nintenb
alls.png

Tim Rogers
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oh, hey, if you liked this, we also made a Make Your Own:

http://www.actionbutton.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/balls.p
ng

Aaron Truehitt
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Well, you guys know Nintendo. They like to be to odd balls and not go with the flow no matter how good it is.

Robert Boyd
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My team has released 2 games, both of which currently have an average rating of 83% on Gamerankings. Both games have sold decently. However, we can't make stuff for Nintendo consoles or portables because we're a garage dev - we don't have an office because we all work from home from various locations around the world. It wouldn't be very hard for Nintendo to talk us into making a cool 3DS RPG, but they don't want us, so we'll take our games elsewhere.

DanielThomas MacInnes
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Somebody seriously needs to bring Reggie to the closest retailer so he can see the towering, stinking pile of third-rate shovelware that's on the Nintendo Wii. Yes, Nintendo's own games are of a (mostly) high quality, but there's soooo much dreck from third party publishers, and people like Reggie are directly responsible for that.



It's interesting to see how Nintendo was riding the "low end" in 2006 with the DS and Wii and games like Wii Sports and Wii Play. Now they're pushing the technological high-end with the 3DS, while Apple has the low-end all to itself. And those ipod/iphone/ipad games are getting to be DAMNED GOOD. And they sell for a dollar?



When I was a kid, you could play cutting-edge video games for a quarter. I don't see what this fear of a $.99 ipod game is all about. Retail prices for console video games today are outrageous, and sooner or later, the people are going to rebel, just as they had with CDs.

Arno Buruma
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Nintendo always puzzles me. They have power. They see where the industry is at, yet they keep pining for the time when they were king and the popular gaming console out there was the NES. With their release of the 3ds, they're doing everything short of sending a man to the moon to protect the system from piracy. However, if they keep going as how they have been so far, that system will be hacked as much as their previous handhelds. If Nintendo wants to stay ahead of the game - I'll let them in on something: iOS devices aren't meant for gaming, however Apple is making piles of money selling games on the systems. Hmm. So if you have a portable console whose primary purpose is gaming and you would rather people give money to you than Apple, hmm, what if you were to make your entire library for NES and SNES games available on the 3ds (the screen now FINALLY supports vertical resolution) and sell each for a dollar. Oh my god that's genious right!?



Think about it? How many people bought R4 cards to play old titles or to have a portable version of Earthbound or Secret of Mana. Tons. Other people bought the flash carts to play ds titles as well. But anyway, a flashcart costs about $50 to $100 considering brands and shipping costs/availability. If NES and SNES titles at the very least were available for $1 each. I'm sure that a lot of people would rather spend $50 to $100 on 50 to 100 titles and be happier than all heck (plus the titles would be legitimately owned, than to go through the trouble of getting a flash cart, hacking firmware, downloading and configuring buggy emulators.



So there you have it, that's just one of many suggestions that really could help Nintendo be king again. And it's a totally free suggestion from me. If I was Fills Aim, that's one of the things I would do.



Also, on the note of indie. Why not release an SDK and do the same thing like Apple does. Then people can release games for free or sell them AND YOU CAN FILTER OUT THE CRAP or whatever you don't see long lasting. A bonus of this is that you cut out more piracy this way as you give HOMEBREW developers and actual shot at making software on your hardware. If you haven't learned from the past, there has been a lot of homebrew made for previous consoles, including actual games. Nintendo devs, large companies aren't the only ones who can make good games as you can see. It's not just the Apple app store that has seen some incredible titles and well made games. Look at the thriving indie community out there. The amount of talent out there is astounding and yet remains largely UNTAPPED by companies such as Nintendo. If you make cutting edge handheld consoles... how's about unleash it's full potential rather than lock it up and be so damned draconian about it.

R G
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You bring up an interesting point. I wish they would sell their older games like that...especially considering that most of us have the older games, and even more the emulators to play them :P.

Adam Moore
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I appreciate Reggie's honesty. Straight out of the updated developer application:



"To become an Authorized Developer for Wii, Nintendo DS/DSi, or Nintendo 3DS:



[...]



Nintendo looks for companies that are established game developers, or individuals with game industry experience. Authorization will be based upon your relevant game industry experience.



We require that companies are working from a secure business location. A secure business location has security systems for the building. The office space is secured from other offices in the same building. The office space is not shared with any other company. Sub-leases will need to be reviewed. The office space is not located within a personal residence."


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