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Dan Adelman – Nintendo of Japan makes final decisions, Reggie thoughts, indie limitations and suggestions for Nintendo

Posted on December 18, 2014 by (@NE_Brian) in 3DS eShop, DSiWare, General Nintendo, News, Wii Shop Channel, Wii U eShop

NintendOn has conducted a new interview with Dan Adelman, Nintendo of America’s former boss on all things indie. The discussion tackled topics such as how Nintendo’s Japanese division makes final decisions, suggestions for the company’s indie program going forward, and more.

Read on below for a few excerpts from the interview. You’ll find the full talk here.

On whether Adelman has spoken with Reggie on topics like region-locking…

I’ve had many meetings with Reggie about topics like this. Unfortunately, there are limits around what Nintendo of America, as a subsidiary, can impact. Reggie and others at Nintendo of America may provide a list of changes they’d like to make, but all of the actual changes would need to be made in Japan. Nintendo Japan is very open to feedback, but ultimately that’s where the final decisions get made.

Adelman’s thoughts on Reggie as president and his approach with third-party devs/indies…

It’s no secret that the Wii U install base isn’t doing as well as everyone would like. I don’t think it’d be fair to lay that all at Reggie’s feet. It’d be one thing if the console was doing well in Japan and Europe but not the Americas, but that’s not what’s happening. As President of NOA, Reggie ultimately oversees American third party developers, publishers, and indies, but there are groups under him that work much more directly with them. Reggie relies a lot on the people who focus on that on a daily basis.

On whether Adelman had the opportunity to work however he wanted despite some conceptual boundaries…

There were some limitations, of course. I didn’t have a big budget that I could use to guarantee sales for developers who bring their games to Nintendo platforms for example. There were also worldwide policy decisions that were handed down by Japan that I couldn’t really change. As an example, in the WiiWare days, we had a policy that said that games needed to reach a minimum sales number in order to qualify for rev share. It became very apparent very early on that that was a bad idea, but ultimately it stayed. Another example is how DSiWare games had to be one of 3 prices: $2, $5, or $8+. It was built into the UI of the DSi, so there was no changing that. There are lots of other examples, but I think you get the idea.

But in terms of which developers I wanted to talk to, how I wanted to talk to them, what I wanted to achieve with the digital distribution business, I had very little oversight. I basically did what I wanted, which was really great. I think a lot of people thought of digital distribution as an experiment for the future, so not many people actually paid attention to it during the WiiWare and DSiWare years. Once the 3DS and Wii U launched, it was much more apparent that this was going to be a bigger part of the overall business, so a lot more people suddenly got involved.

On what Adelman would suggest for Nintendo to improve its indie strategy…

There are a few things that I think all of the platforms can do better. As more and more of the business goes digital, transparency about sales potential is absolutely key. I urge all 4 major platforms – Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony, and Valve – to share aggregated sales information so that developers can make informed decisions about how to allocate their resources. They obviously can’t share specifics about any individual titles, but it would be great to know what the unit sales and revenues are at the different percentile levels. What would it mean if my game were in the top 85% of revenue generators? How much money is that? It would be even better if they could break it down by genre, but even just lumping all indie titles together would be super helpful. Indie game sales tend to follow a hockey stick shape: the top 5-10% sell super well, but sales drop off very quickly for everyone else. I’m not sure how many developers realize this.

It would also be great to share demographic information about traffic on the digital storefronts. How many people buy games? How many people visit the shop? How old are they? Is it a few people buying all the games, or a lot of people each only buying 1-2 games? The more information that developers have, the better chance they have at making a decent enough living that they can make a career out of independent game development.

So that’s for all platforms. For Nintendo in particular, I think one of the things that always sets the company apart is the unique attributes of the hardware. Back in the Wii days it was motion controllers. With Wii U, it’s the GamePad. I’d love to see Nintendo take a more active role in helping developers make games that fulfill the potential of the GamePad. Maybe by providing incentives for games that truly focus on new game mechanics using a 2nd screen. Maybe by hosting game jams to get developers playing around with new ideas. I think two years in people are still trying to understand the value of the GamePad. Nintendo 1st party games have done a reasonable job in showcasing it, but if you really want to see some great experimentation with new ideas, I think it’s important that Nintendo absorb some of the financial risk associated with supporting just one platform.

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