[Developer Musings] ‘A Flawed Paradise': Three devs weigh in on the good and bad of Nintendo’s eShops

Posted under 3DS eShop, Developer Musings, Wii U eShop
April 20, 2014 by (@NE_Brian)
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Brjann Sigurgeirsson – Image & Form

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Previous Works: Image & Form is most well known for SteamWorld Dig, but the studio also released Anthill for mobile and SteamWorld Defense Tower for DSiWare.

Upcoming Games: Image & Form is hard at work on the next “SteamWorld” game.

This may sound strange, but the Nintendo eShop is like El Dorado in more senses than one. There are nuggets everywhere, the (customer) people who hang out there are laidback, knowledgeable and friendly, and it hasn’t been invaded by greedy, cheapskate (developer) conquistadores who insist on trading glass beads for gold, making shallow games with a minimum of effort and yearning to race us to the bottom.

Sure, we weren’t the first ones on the scene. But other studios we’ve talked to that develop for the eShop feel the same: “Let’s hope the others don’t come here, let them slug it out on mobile or Steam. This is Paradise: most everything here is good, the gamers are REAL gamers who pay for quality, and when you shout out there’s an echo. I’m never leaving this place.” You can venture out, but you know you’ll be back. And on that steep hill in the middle of this city of gold stands the huge Nintendo totem. All ye other gods, never mind entering here; these people shan’t be swayed.

In October 2012 we decided to take SteamWorld Dig to the eShop, after having been successful on the App Store with our very clever trail-defense hit Anthill (buy it! now!) – but we simply didn’t have the nerves to bet the farm on the mobile-game lottery again. At that time we knew no one at Sony or Microsoft. We didn’t really know anyone at Nintendo either, but we HAD made a Nintendo game before, and thought we could do it again. Now, this is about 18 months ago – the Stone Age, in gaming chronology. Things were very different back then: the jury was still out on the 3DS, and no one could tell for sure if it was going to be a hit, or if it had already failed.

But we’d been betting on the right horse: Last spring, Animal Crossing: New Leaf turned out to be a system seller, and paved the way for us. Suddenly the 3DS was a great device, also in terms of units sold. By the time we released SteamWorld Dig in August 2013, sales of Animal Crossing had started to slow down, which opened up for us. SteamWorld Dig became the game that dethroned the kaiser; within a couple of weeks we were #1 in Europe, North America and Australia. And just as suddenly, we were one of the most interesting developers in the world. All thanks to Nintendo, the eShop and the remarkable community.

I think that the Western eShops are marvels, but it could be that we are in exceptionally sweet spot. NOE and NOA listen to us and discuss things with us. They make us feel important, which is very nice – and new. Western gaming media are also very kind, and pick up on very many of the things we say.

The Japanese eShop and media exposure in Japan is a different matter. Sales are relatively low, and our publisher explained that Japanese media don’t like to cover games that are only available via digital download. For example, venerable Famitsu does not review games that are not distributed physically (again according to our publisher). And lastly, NCL are not as keen on doing sales and promotions for single games. We have managed to push through one sale there, and sales went up more than hundredfold every day for the duration. That sounds great, but actually says just as much about the day-to-day sales than the marvellous performance of a sale. ;)

Then again, SteamWorld Dig is a Western game, which adds to the barrier. Japanese games cater to Japanese gamers, and Western gamers prefer Western games. Nobody needs to get bashed for it, but in general the markets and tastes are simply very, very different from each other.

I hope that Nintendo stays the same – it may not be visible to everyone, but they are great at “handling” us indies – we want to be loved, and we feel that they love us. A lot.

Continue on for thoughts from Two Tribes…

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Around the Web

  • LordDisco

    Awesome featurette, Brian! Lots of great insight, as well as professional compliments and criticisms towards the eShop. I found myself glued to this post and read every word. Great stuff!

  • ecoutercavalier

    I feel bad for Two Tribes. Their games just don’t appeal to me, despite how competent they seem. Their take on the eShop is one of the most interesting.

    And I’d always love to hear more from shin’en, although it’s always hard to tell how truthful these guys are being about their experience. I think Indie developers carry a lot of drama with them.

    • D2K

      Yeah I picked that up too. Especially the comment about the command prompt on the dev kit.

    • CommonSense

      Shin en? Aka the Pc demo group called Abyss? Been around on the bleeding edge of graphics creation technology oh, 20 plus years? Yeah, theyre on the level guy.

  • RCMADIAX

    I got to love Two Tribes for their honesty. I can definitely relate to most of what they consider “cons”.

  • cusman

    Nintendo problem is they don’t look at competing services before they come up with their solutions. They are like that stubborn person that must learn only from their own mistakes if at all and never from the cumulative wisdom of others.

    This willful ignorance of the world around them allows them to “create” as a crutch/excuse for not being on par with other solution providers in the field. I applaud Two Tribes for working with Nintendo and at least giving Nintendo that wider perspective that its own developers would never have, on how things like the eShop could be better.

    • ecoutercavalier

      I think they definitely look at the competition when implementing services. They just make choices about what to use based on their own personal needs, rather than what someone else might want.

      • cusman

        It is actually well documented that they don’t. By their own admission on their philosophy that they don’t want others ideas to influence their own critical/creative thinking and also from 3rd party impressions working with Nintendo and finding that Nintendo is very unaware of how XBL or PSN work for enabling online services.

        • ecoutercavalier

          “By their own admission on their philosophy that they don’t want others ideas to influence”

          I would say that too, but there is no denying that they look to competition for ideas. Just look at the nfc tech in the gamepad, given what we know about the approach they recieved from activision. Or even the disc format they finally implemented with the Gamecube.

          They don’t hold back as a result of ignorance. Implementation is based on their own personal interest in the technology, as well as the financial benefits of implementation. Only the gaming press is dumb enough to think that Nintendo simply doesn’t see the things around them.

  • Rowdy

    Brian, thank you for posting this Developer Musings feature! It was really interesting to see the pros and cons that these three wonderful indie developers/publishers had to say. I am glad to see several positives mentioned about the eShop :) I also hope that Nintendo listens to the constructive criticism that these developers present, as it will make the eShop better for both developers and consumers :)

  • SecretX

    really like the articles. nintendo should fix some of that, they should read this :P

  • stealth20k

    Is this really representative of the whole?

    I think generally they do a good job

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