Following on from my end of year review of our self-published numbers to date, it has been an interesting couple of days. To re-cap, the figures included our sales and free units downloaded for all of our games since we started self-publishing, including the numbers for our WiiWare games.
Yesterday Nintendo got in touch to ask us to remove the figures for the WiiWare titles from the blog. Apparently they don't allow developers to publish the sales numbers of their self-published titles.
As to why, I can’t really be sure – are they scared to reveal how their online services perform or do they just dislike developers being able to run effective businesses? It is a tricky one – and incredibly unfair and damaging to indie developers publishing on Nintendo stores.
I don’t believe Nintendo are necessary alone in this policy, but I believe they are by far the most draconian in enforcing it. I have seen many different reports from developers for games on XBLA, PSN, Steam and so on with details of sales figures, but never anything for a Nintendo store.
So why do I believe this is such a negative, damaging policy? I shall explain…
Business & Financial Planning
Every traditional game publisher out there considers carefully their release plan; they consult sales data to see which titles perform the best, which genres are popular, which platform offers the greatest returns, and so on. This data helps to build a release and development strategy. Without the data they would not be able to make a considered decision and would have to hope for the best with each and every title they release. Not really a sound way to run a business!
Access to Finance
Imagine going into a Bank, VC, Business Angel or some other source of finance and saying – we’re planning this game(s) for Nintendo’s download service and we need to raise finance to help with the costs. The first thing they would ask would be to see detailed sales projections and market research. What do you do? Look down at your feet and mumble apologetically that Nintendo don’t allow any numbers to be shared so you really have no idea how well it will perform, but you hope it’ll do really good? Do you have any hope of raising finance – no, of course you don’t.
Any decent studio owner wants to offer their employees a stable working environment; a job with prospects and opportunities for the future. Of course no-one can guarantee this, but without any form of realistic forecasting and planning the chances of offering job security are next to none.
Essentially Nintendo’s policy does its best to prevent often vulnerable indie studios from building and running stable businesses. It projects all of the risk back to the developer, stops them gaining access to funding to help grow their business and essentially makes self-publishing on Nintendo platforms a huge gamble.
And let’s not forget that Nintendo also don’t allow you to ever alter the price of your title, run any sort of promotion, offer demos or indeed use any of the other tools that publishers traditionally use to maximise sales and extend the longevity of revenue earned per title.
Sure – releasing any game is a risk, but the more sales & user data you can access the more carefully you can formulate a development strategy. If you don’t have access to any data at all, it is impossible to run a business with any degree of forward planning or forecasting. Try running that past a business advisor or mentor – they would shake their head and strongly advise against it.
So, to conclude - Nintendo’s policy actively makes life as difficult as possible for the smaller studios, putting jobs and livelihoods at risk. Without transparency of digital sales data developers are perpetually in the dark. How long are indie studios supposed to put up with this sort of thing - is it too much to ask to be treated with respect and allowed to run a business in a professional manner?
Perhaps Nintendo would care to justify the rationale behind this…