Global Game Industry News Blog

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Strike Out? Nintendo and WiiWare

Oh man. I wake up this morning, and for a moment I think to myself that I'm going to have to revise this paper I've just submitted, because Nintendo has managed to step up to the plate...

I was excited about the opportunity to proven wrong, that they might be able to lower their barriers to entry. Then Level Up had to go and dash my hopes against the rocks with the actual interview with Fils-Aime. "'First, the development tools and SDKs [software development kits] that enable developers to participate are already available,' he replied, referring to the standard tools that Nintendo sells to its licensees." Strike One.

DAMN IT. So the amusing thing is that to get in a position to buy these SDK's and development kits (later mentioned as "darn near free" - Strike Two) you are actually unlikely to get without a publishing company backing you. While it might be interesting and possible to hear that Nintendo will remove some of these restrictions, it doesn't sound like it. Basically it's an opportunity for established developers to bring games to Nintendo's electronic distribution stream. What the hell about that is "indy"? What they should have said is, "Established developers can create small teams with small budgets and big ideas to bring original games to the marketplace." That's not what they said though. They actually sounded magnanimous, much like Microsoft did with the release of XNA Express. Only Microsoft actually released it to the general public. Nintendo has not. Strike Three.

I honestly don't see how this is any different from what Sony has done already. This isn't big news, this is catch up. If Nintendo had opened up a little, that would be something. That would be big news. Now I get to hear about "user generated content" on the Wii for the next month. I just have to decide now if I argue or not.

*SIGH* That's what I get for having hopes this early in the morning.

"Independent developers armed with small budgets and big ideas will be able to get their original games into the marketplace to see if we can find the next smash hit," says Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime. "WiiWare brings new levels of creativity and value to the ever-growing population of Wii owners."

The possibilities for WiiWare are limited only by the imaginations of developers. WiiWare provides game creators a simple method by which they can get their games to the public. This approach, combined with the remarkable motion controls of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, will give birth to fresh takes on established genres, as well as original ideas that currently exist only in developers' minds. The reduced barriers to development provide developers the freedom to create and an inexpensive, clearly defined path to reach consumers who will ultimately determine which game will become the Next Big Thing.

Level Up: EXCLUSIVE: What is WiiWare? Level Up Gets the Scoop On Nintendo's Brand New Bag
A month or so before the March Game Developers Conference, Nintendo's PR agency approached us about a hush-hush new content initiative that the company had been cooking up, and wanted to know whether or not we'd be interested in being the first to get the lowdown. We were. But GDC came and went without any more information. From then on, we'd check in with Nintendo from time to time, but no new information was forthcoming, not even about when new information might be forthcoming. So we began to despair. But on Monday, the folks at Golin Harris PR reached out to us again to inform us that the time was now, that the offer was still on the table, and that Nintendo of America president Reginald Fils-Aime would be available to speak with us Tuesday afternoon. We spoke with him, and here's what we learned.

What's more interesting is that Nintendo isn't only seeking WiiWare from established publishers and developers like Ubisoft and Sega. At a Nintendo developer's conference earlier this week, the company informed attendees that it was seeking from indie developers as well. Shorter, original, more creative games from small teams with big ideas; these are the buzzwords that you'll be hearing from Nintendo when its Wednesday announcement goes wide. Fils-Aime told us that while Nintendo, as the retailer, would itself determine the appropriate pricing for each game on a per-title bases, the games themselves would not be vetted by Nintendo. Instead, Nintendo would only check the games for bugs and compatibility, with developers and publishers responsible for securing an E for Everyone, E10+ for Everyone 10 or older, T for Teen or M for Mature rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board--Adults Only titles like Manhunt 2 aren't welcome. Look for the first WiiWare titles from Nintendo and third-parties to become available next year.

Level Up: EXCLUSIVE: Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime Tells Level Up About His Big Plans For a Little WiiWare
"A couple of GDCs [Game Developers Conferences] ago, Mr. Iwata hinted at downloadable content; that we wanted to help young, promising developers overcome the limitations of small budgets and team sizes to bring their games to the Wii."

Would this mean a price cut for development kits, we inquired? Or would there be a new set of tools and libraries--easier to use, but less fully-featured--aimed at the indie and hobbyist game developer? No. "First, the development tools and SDKs [software development kits] that enable developers to participate are already available," he replied, referring to the standard tools that Nintendo sells to its licensees. "We enable the marketplace where consumers can buy these games using Wii Points. Developers and publishers bring their ideas for games and marketing to entertain and entice consumers." As for a price cut, Fils-Aime insisted that Wii dev kits are already plenty cheap. "All our SDKs and dev tools are already--I don't want to call them inexpensive--they're darn near free to developers. This is unlike our competitors, where you have to spend a lot of money building high-res assets to be competitive. So in that sense, there's almost no cost to developers; the tools are already available at rock-bottom prices. We're providing the venue and light of day for games that might not have gotten attention otherwise."

Fils-Aime also stressed that all WiiWare content, unlike that on the Virtual Console, would be brand new games. "WiiWare content is new content. It can come from Reggie's Videogame Garage or from EA." (Don't get your hopes up, fanboys; Fils-Aime has no plans to personally make any WiiWare games.) As for pricing, he reiterated that while Nintendo would make the final decision on the pricing of individual games, it would do so in consultation with the developer and/or publisher, with no predetermined limit on the high-end of pricing. In short, having conquered the kids, the Alpha Moms and the non-gamers, the Wii is now going after the brand new downloadable game market currently occupied by Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. The resulting fireworks should be interesting to watch. - Nintendo Set to Unveil new WiiWare Initiative
Nintendo is set to reveal details of its WiiWare downloadable games initiative later today, according to Newsweek games blog Level Up.

WiiWare titles will be available from the Wii Shop Channel in exchange for Wii Points, as Virtual Console games currently are. However, the WiiWare games will be original titles designed specifically for Wii

According to Newsweek Nintendo held a developers' conference earlier this week, where attendees were informed that games are sought from independent studios as well as established companies such as Ubisoft and SEGA.

Nintendo will decide how much each game should cost, but will not vet the games beyond checking for bugs and compatibility. It will be the responsibility of publishers to obtain age ratings for the games, and no Adults Only-rated titles will be allowed.

Joystiq - Nintendo takes wraps off of WiiWare
Nintendo is the latest on the indie console-development bandwagon with WiiWare, a "game-creation service that will allow developers large and small to create new downloadable video game content" that the company announced this morning.

The company is making it clear that they're looking for little guys to make games for the console, though it's currently unclear exactly how that will be done. Interestingly, Reggie Fils-Amie told N'Gai Croal of Newsweek that the games would be checked for bugs but not vetted by Nintendo.

User Comment #2 - I'm not quite sure how you can call this jumping on the User Generated Content bandwagon. There's no mention of hobbyists or home development, or anything akin to XNA (which many would argue isn't a pure example of UGC either). They may be courting the casual games market or encouraging development from small indie developers, but this is still very much focussed on professional development not end-users from my reading.

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