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The Real Story of Developing for Nintendo's Download Platforms
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The Real Story of Developing for Nintendo's Download Platforms

August 14, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Nintendo is typically the butt of the joke when it comes to digital storefronts and sales. Developers have routinely lambasted the company's services -- WiiWare, in particular, and DSiWare -- over the past couple of years.

Trent Oster, co-founder of Beamdog Studios, which ported MDK 2 to WiiWare, told Gamasutra earlier this year that Wii (and WiiWare) "isn't a good platform for developers." He also cited problems with how Nintendo handles payments, file size limitations and game certification.

Icon Games released numerous titles for WiiWare -- such as Stunt Cars, Family Games and Soccer Bashi -- and had even harsher words for the digital platform.

"... The WiiWare store is horribly inflexible; so if a title isn't selling you have no options to boost sales," head of development Richard Hill-Whittall wrote on the company's blog. "You can't change the price point, they don't run sales or promotions, you can't update the game once it is on sale unless there is a critical bug found, etc."

While not overly critical of WiiWare, Gordon Midwood, co-founder of one-man game company Different Cloth, which was responsible for Lilt Line, lamented the poor sales his game saw on the service and the console in general.

"It's a shame what happened to the Wii really, given its potential," Midwood told Gamasutra in March 2011.

Even developers with success on WiiWare and DSiWare, like Nicalis, publisher of Cave Story on both services, knew there were major weaknesses, especially for consumers.

"If we look back at WiiWare, that system was broken because it was trying to be fair and feature nothing," said Tyrone Rodriguez, president of Nicalis, in an interview with Destructoid earlier this year. "... In the WiiWare system, all games were created equal, but life's not fair and all games are not made equal. Some suck hard, particularly on WiiWare. However, that doesn't matter much in a system like the WiiWare shop because customers aren't being directed anywhere."

Gaijin Games' Bit.Trip Beat

And Alex Neuse, co-founder of Gaijin Games, which created the critical darling Bit.Trip franchise, points out major problems with WiiWare's user experience.

"With the Wii Shop Channel, I believe there are upward of 18 steps that I have to go through every single time I want to make a purchase," Neuse tells Gamasutra. "I know for a fact that this has discouraged sales. I can't even convince some of my personal friends or family members to buy our games via the WiiWare service because they don't want to deal with the headache of the process."

This is hardly the developer feedback or support Nintendo wants regarding its digital storefronts. The company, however, would not respond to questions or criticisms about WiiWare, DSiWare or eShop for this story, despite repeated requests.

Still, with all of the negative press and complaints, merely chalking up WiiWare and DSiWare as failures is wrong. Many companies thrived on the platforms and found major success. Some even made their living off Nintendo's digital storefronts.

And with improved discoverability, promotions and even game sales on the eShop, Nintendo has overhauled its digital strategy. But is this revamped focus enough to lure old and new developers for another go on 3DS and Wii U?

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Michael Pianta
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The handling of downloads was the worst thing about the Wii. I was amazed that consumers could not transfer downloads between machines somehow. the eShop is already an improvement though, and I hope they continue to improve with Wii-U.

K Gadd
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When a guy who made money selling virtual paper as a product for the DSi tells me that iOS customers don't care about buying and playing games, I'm inclined not to believe him. Props to them for their success nonetheless, but I wish they'd be a little more honest.

A much more plausible explanation is that customers with DSes are a captive audience, because if they want games their only choices are buying physical games or picking from the relatively small selection on the Nintendo store. It's only natural that if you put a typical Nnooo title up on iOS it'll get drowned out because there are literally hundreds of similar games all up on that marketplace already.

Tora Teig
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It is quite a grand thing developing both hardware, platform software and lots of games themselves. I'm not sure it is so wise, perhaps they should modernize? Microsoft and Sony do other things but games as well, they are not so vulnerable if their game platform "fails". Nintendo relies on it so much and the competition is only getting harder. Would hate to see them fail with WiiU :( Hope they find a way to stay in the game.

Jeremy Reaban
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Not so long ago, a WiiWare developer, Nordcurrent, had a plan of where they would buy people copies of one of their games that wasn't quite at the sales threshold, in order to get paid by Nintendo.

Still, I understand Nintendo's point of view. They built the console business back up after the crash. They don't want their devices flooded with awful games that don't sell.

Michael Pianta
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I wish Nintendo would excercise aggressive quality control, like they once did, but at retail the Wii is flooded with shovel ware.

Giro Maioriello
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@Michael Pianta

Shovel ware is the unfortunate side-effect of a successful platform.

The PS2 had loads more shovel ware than the Wii.