When mobile developer Gameloft learned Nintendo would launch the DSi next month, the company knew it wanted to be one of the first to take advantage of the handheld’s new digital distribution platform.
Gameloft developers got their hands on the SDK in January, and the company hopes to be ready to roll out two launch titles just next month – ‘tween girl-focused American Popstar, and sports title Real Soccer 2009. Gamasutra spoke to Gameloft worldwide publishing senior VP Gonzague De Vallois at the 2009 Game Developers Conference to find out what it’s been like to be one of the first out of the gate on the revamped platform.
It’s not the company’s first go with the DS. “The core of our business has always been mobile, but we’ve been releasing DS titles for about three years,” De Vallois explains. “We have 10-12 boxed titles, so we’re already familiar with the Nintendo environment.”
The company has also released games on Wii Ware, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and the PSP store, and De Vallois talked about why it was so important to support DSi early on. “Digital is our core business,” he says, citing a lack of the same level of “muscle” on the boxed retail side. “Second, our strategy is always to be early on the platforms and find out what works, what doesn’t work and who the audience is.”
“We were very early on WiiWare, with 6 titles total – that really helped us learn about the platform, so it’s part of our strategy to be very early on platform launches. There’s been a bit of a rush to be live on time on the DSi,” he adds. “We are doing everything to be there when it launches.”
De Vallois says familiarity with the existing DS SDK helped make the process a little bit smoother. “It’s very close,” he says. “There are a couple of differences, of course – the screen resolution is a bit bigger, and the processing power is a bit faster. You have the camera and the microphone that we’re using in the games to add some cool features.”
With these similarities, says De Vallois, the biggest challenge has been the four-month time crunch to get the games gold in time for the launch. It’s always a risk to take on a deadline – “but we are ready to take the risk, because we are confident in Nintendo’s ability to be successful on this,” he explains.
“Plus, the launch of the digital distribution aspect of DSi is a global trend -- all platforms are going to this type of digital distribution, so overall it’s not too risky.”
De Vallois talked a bit about what it’s like as a developer to work with Nintendo on the new platform. He expects the company to handle the lion’s share of the marketing support on the digital store, crucial for Gameloft’s youth-targeted titles.
“The key for us is they promote the fact that there is digital content to be downloaded,” explains De Vallois. “We don’t know all the plans, but that’s really part of the console, so we have to work with Nintendo to make sure that our titles are visible to the end users. The young users are very much into the digital world – even if they are casual, they all have PCs, so [visibility]… is not that much of an issue.”
Although he couldn’t disclose price points, De Vallois also noted the content is “affordable compared to retail,” and exists at varying price points. “The key then is how Nintendo will manage the store, and we’ll see that when it goes live,” he says.
And Nintendo doesn’t impose many limitations at all on DSi developers, De Vallois says. “It’s pretty open – they are just giving us guidelines on the key features of the platform that they would like us to leverage on the game.” Nintendo encourages the use of the microphone and camera, for example, but does not mandate it.
And the size constraints are workable – the range is up to 16 MB, according to De Vallois. “But we have much less space than on retail DS, which is 32, 64 or 128 MB, or iPhone where it’s 50-100 MB.”
Given that the iPhone offers a digital platform, camera, microphone and touch features just like the DSi, we asked De Vallois if he sees room for both devices in the gaming market. “Yes,” he says. “I think the iPhone is a phone first, and the DSi is more of an entertainment platform. I think there’s room for the two – they are targeting the masses, so there are millions of customers. The different devices have different price points, too – iPhone [users] subscribe to a certain price plan, so it’s not in everybody’s reach.”
And Nintendo’s brand identity is an added value on its platforms that the iPhone can’t offer, he adds. “Nintendo’s brands, characters et cetera have their audience, and they will only be accessible on the DSi.”
No matter what the platform, De Vallois believes that the prevailing trend for all games this year into next will be a migration en masse to digital distribution. “I think digital is the big thing,” he says, when asked for 2009-10 predictions.
“I think there’s a global trend in the game business to go digital. The applications can be smaller on the handheld consoles, so they will be moving to digital, too," he concludes. "Adding the network capacity will help with more multiplayer stuff, and the 3.0 SDK from Apple is bringing more interactivity features in the platform – I’m sure that’s a global trend, too."