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While the indie publishing policies of Xbox and PlayStation capture a lot of attention in the press and social media, the state of Nintendo’s do-it-yourself scene is a relative blip on the game industry radar. 

But the truth is that Nintendo, just like its console rivals, is becoming increasingly friendly to small, independent developers. Tools and initiatives like Nintendo Web Framework, Unity engine support, eShop distribution and self-publishing mean more opportunities for developers that have limited resources.

Over email, we contacted around 20 Wii U eShop indie developers, most of which were featured in the Nintendo Direct webcast for the UK (Nintendo of America’s webcast did not highlight such a wide array of eShop indies, for some reason).

The most interesting answers are provided, in their words, in the roundtable on the following pages. But first, here are the quick takeaways from our Q&As:

On Wii U’s lagging sales

Wii U is selling poorly. eShop developers ranged from not concerned at all, to very concerned about the growth of the installed base. Many noted, however, that there is a blue ocean upside – there’s less noise on the eShop, so it’s theoretically easier to stand out right now. Others noted that their teams are small, and a Unity port requires little effort, so they might as well try to expand their audience, despite the relatively meager audience. Everyone said they're hoping Nintendo can turn the sales situation around.

On how Nintendo can help them sell more games

Many eShop developers said the Wii U’s digital storefront needs to be streamlined, and offer better discovery of games. They also said Nintendo needs to do what it can to sell more Wii U systems in order to expand the potential customer base, and that might boil down to better communicating to the mass market what the system has to offer. A couple developers added that Nintendo needs to be more transparent about digital sales on eShop (one studio is bringing its game to eShop mainly to find out how much games typically sell on the storefront).

On working with Nintendo

While some developers were hesitant to recommend to other developers bringing their game to eShop because of software sales uncertainty, all developers we spoke with were happy with their experience in working with Nintendo. The company has apparently been generous with loaner development kits and general developer support. According to developers we spoke with, Nintendo has been responsive to the needs of the free-to-play business model as well.

Read on for select replies from our pool of eShop developers.

Nintendo Direct UK for August

The Wii U, unfortunately, has been selling badly by any measure (the console only sold 160,000 units last quarter, worldwide). Why spend time making a game for it, when the audience is so limited?

Joel Nyström, CEO, founder, Ludosity AB, Ittle Dew

Having seen some numbers from other developers that are on the eShop, we're still fully convinced that putting our game on the Wii U will be profitable. But the biggest component in that equation is definitely the very low cost, as opposed to guaranteed huge sales. We're using Unity and it should be relatively easy to port our game the Wii U.

I also have a feeling that the Wii U will pick up in sales. Or maybe that's just hope I'm feeling. [smiles]

Emeric Thoa, head of creative content, The Game Bakers, Squids Odyssey

Well, first we believe that Nintendo can still improve the console's appeal with a stronger lineup. Second, I strongly believe that indies have to adapt their strategy to what they are. We are a small team, and we don't need to sell millions to be profitable and make the next game. But we need to reach our players. We think that Squids is a good match in terms of audience with Nintendo's consoles.

Squids Odyssey

Steffen Kabbelgaard Grønning, CEO, BetaDwarf, Forced

We developed Forced in Unity, which makes the porting much easier. And since Wii U has the Pro Controller with dual sticks we might be looking at a porting period of two to three weeks. If that's the case, it is basically viable business for us if we sell 5000-plus units.

Rhodri Broadbent, director, Dakko Dakko Ltd., Scram Kitty

The reasons why a project might or might not fit on a particular system (for us at Dakko Dakko at least) are more related to the game design and feel, and who the game is for, than to the platform's current sales figures. We believe in the concept of Wii U and are happy to be supporting it with our new game.

…When I started Dakko Dakko I decided that we'd always put our games where we felt they fit best, and that way they would become the games we wanted to make and would hopefully strike a chord with players. 

As a side note, I'd also say that looking at Wii U sales over a period during which Nintendo had taken a conscious choice to hold back their software to ensure its quality (and paused their marketing as a result) doesn't really reflect the system's potential in the market. Effectively, sales in the first half of 2013 were sacrificed for the good of their game quality. Which (though frustrating) was a respectable and brave decision for the long-run.

Adrian Goersch, managing director, Black Forest Games, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams

The main reason for going to the Wii U eShop is that we want to learn what the sales really are on this platform. Unfortunately, none of the digital download majors (Steam, PSN, XBLA, eShop) are providing sales data to developers, or anyone else. That is like flying an X-Wing through the Death Star’s corridors without The Force. So, we have to find out ourselves.

So far we have an idea what it means to be top five on Steam, PSN, XBLA. Let’s see what it means for eShop. For our next game, we will make our decisions based on the lessons we learned. And there are some hard lessons we’ve learned.


As a Wii U developer, are you concerned by the console's slow sales? Why or why not?

Steffen Kabbelgaard Grønning, CEO, BetaDwarf, Forced

We are concerned yes, it has a direct impact on our potential sales, so it obviously has an impact on us. Michael Pachter recently estimated that Wii U would sell 6 million units the first year, being bumped up by titles like Pikmin 3. Additionally bigger first-party titles are coming out as well in the coming months, so that might also help.

But overall, our main focus is PC distribution via Steam, but since Nintendo has for now been extremely easy to work with, it's hard to find a reason not to port.  

Byron Atkinson-Jones, founder, Xiotex Studios, So Hungry

I’m concerned for Nintendo. I’d hate to see them pull out of the console market. Having said that, Nintendo have never really put themselves in the console race. They’ve had their own plan and stuck to it, and that’s one of the things I really admire about them. While Sony and Microsoft went head-to-head in a technical war, Nintendo stayed true to their core audience and iterated on the hardware to deliver the games that their loyal audience loves.

As a developer, obviously the larger the audience the better chance of game sales, but I’m a very small developer and I don’t have a team to support, so the current Wii U install base is more than enough for me.

Peter Thierolf, creative director, Keen Games, TNT Racers: Nitro Machines Edition

We definitely are. The sales figures right now are eye watering and it doesn't prompt developing for Wii U. At the same time, there are still not too many digital games for Wii U out there for the not-too-big-but-still-existing group of owners -- so there might be an opportunity to sell good games to a bigger fraction of the user base. Our most important metric is not hardware sales, but sales on the digital store -- something we really have much too little information about outside of asking fellow developers about their figures.

Kevin Cerdà, game designer, writer, Beautifun Games, Nihilumbra

Logically, when you release your game on certain platform, you want it to expose it to the largest possible audience. However, we are not really concerned.

Nintendo is a huge company and we are sure that Wii U sales will increase sooner or later. There are some upcoming console-seller games, like Bayonetta 2 or the new Smash Bros. that will definitely boost the number of Wii Us in the market. We will release our game before this happens but, even if it takes a long time to increase this number, Nihilumbra will still be available. We are not a triple-A company, we don't necessarily need a fast revenue.

Rhodri Broadbent, director, Dakko Dakko Ltd., Scram Kitty

No. I am a firm believer in the importance of good games and that it only takes one game to start a platform's ascent -- a Halo, a Monster Hunter, a Brain Age or a Wii Sports -- and Nintendo has a knack for finding such titles.

Not only that but sharing a platform with creative games like The Wonderful 101, Bayonetta 2, and Super Mario 3D World means we are definitely going for the right audience. This system is building a great library of games for gaming enthusiasts, and by the middle of next year I believe Wii U will have comprehensively proved its worth.

Scram Kitty

Peter W. Meldahl, CEO, Rain Games, Teslagrad

Teslagrad is not a Wii U exclusive. That, combined with the low cost of creating a Wii U version, makes us less concerned about sales. Of course, we are hoping for a big success and we believe that the console sales will go up, but for us at least, it is fortunately not a life or death situation.

Jennifer Schneidereit, game creator, cofounder, Nyamnyam, Tengami

I am not overly concerned by this, to be honest. Tengami is not exclusive to the Wii U, which means we are not only relying on just the Wii U sales to support our work. 

On top of that I think the Wii U sales will get stronger around year-three of its life cycle, and that many people will adopt it as a second console.

Both Sony and Microsoft are focusing primarily on controller-based games, which is where the Wii U can give a good counter balance with its motion and touch controls.


What else can Nintendo do to support developers, and help increase software sales?

Joel Nyström, CEO, founder, Ludosity AB, Ittle Dew

As for increasing sales, the eShop and the entire Wii U's user interface is pretty bad and discourages use in many ways. There are way too many unnecessary steps in everything you want to do, be it buy a game or post on the Miiverse. And between each step, the loading times are just horrible. For me, this is the biggest disappointment really. I was hoping for something fresher. Sony is going for "immediacy" with the PlayStation 4, and Nintendo should really follow suit there. Nintendo doesn’t seem to realize that it’s much more important that these things are just right.

Emeric Thoa, head of creative content, The Game BakersSquids Odyssey

They need to keep smoothing things around for small teams. They did a lot in that direction recently, but they can still improve things to make the process more flexible for really small studios. Very small teams can produce great content today, and Nintendo is all about content, so they just need to work on removing any barrier that would prevent great content to be on their platforms. Also, if they can find a new way to help people discover games that match their tastes, they'll be no. 1 in no time.

Steffen Kabbelgaard Grønning, CEO, BetaDwarf, Forced

Indies are usually economically pressed, and so are we. My partner and I recently loaned $200,000 at personal risk, to pay for our 10 person team the next few months before release. Hence if Nintendo would help pay for the port in favor of a few months of console exclusivity, I would find that helpful. Additionally marketing and featuring our game would indeed also be helpful, and I'm frankly counting on that.

Forced

Rhodri Broadbent, director, Dakko Dakko Ltd., Scram Kitty

We get pretty decent support and exposure as it is. Loaned kits, supportive contacts, and we were lucky enough to be able to demo our game on Nintendo's booth at E3. We weren't put away in an “indie” section, either -- we were there alongside Bayonetta 2, Game & Wario and The Wonderful 101.So as for direct support, we're very well looked after. 

Indirectly though, I think it would help all publishers on Wii U if there was stronger mass-market communication of Wii U's varied range of capabilities, and not such a heavy focus on the GamePad. I really like the GamePad, and it was a fundamental reason why we chose Wii U for Scram Kitty, but as a consumer I also really like (and understand) the Wii Remote, and indeed the Classic Controller, and I believe Wii U's potential appeal is much broader than simply the advantages of the GamePad.

Byron Atkinson-Jones, founder, Xiotex Studios, So Hungry

Marketing. The support from Nintendo has been amazing so far in terms of getting me on to the registered developer program and getting me dev kits, but once the game is built and it’s out there on the eShop, Wii U owners still have to be able to find out about it somehow.

The biggest issue for indie developers on any platform these days is discovery. We can make the games a lot more easily using tools like Unity, but getting them in front of people when they’re finished remains just as hard as it always was. That’s a hurdle that still has to be vaulted over on Wii U, so it will be interesting to see just what Nintendo can do to help with that. Promoting us in the Nintendo Direct webcast this week was amazing, so I’m hoping that once the game is released we’ll continue to get support like that.

Peter Thierolf, creative director, Keen Games, TNT Racers: Nitro Machines Edition

In the first place, we would like to see actual sales figures from the digital store, something that we just don't have right now. Nintendo did release information about the top few titles including digital, but that is just not enough to base business decisions on.

As an early adopter of the Wii U, I really like the platform. Nintendo did many things right that no one else did so far -- yet it seems tough to make people see the unique advantages of the platform. Outside of releasing system seller titles or a price-cut, I can't see what Nintendo could do to bring in sales and -- following that -- more third party titles.

Christophe Siccardi, programmer, Henchmen Studio, Monkey Pirates

I won’t detail everything, but they made everything easy: Communications, prices, legal requirements etc. … For example, you might have heard about Unity licenses for Wii U, or kit loans. So in fact, Nintendo has already done everything in order to support developers.

Jeroen Roding, PR officer, ISOTX, March of War

Well I must say they are really helping and developing pretty rapidly to our needs. For example, for a free-to-play title [like March of War], a “review period” on getting new features live in the game is pretty restricting, especially when we need to deploy last-minute hotfixes. We have discussed this problem with our contacts at Nintendo and they are now looking into improving this process by already allowing content to go live straight away, and reducing the review period.

Jennifer Schneidereit, game creator, cofounder, Nyamnyam, Tengami

Our experience working with Nintendo has been fantastic so far, [but] more so than giving more support to us, I think they should focus on explaining to the world what the Wii U is.

There still seems to be a lot of uncertainty and confusion among consumers as to what the Wii U is and why they would want one. How does the Wii U differ from a Wii, and why should they upgrade?


Would you recommend that other developers create games for Wii U?

Rhodri Broadbent, director, Dakko Dakko Ltd., Scram Kitty

Without hesitation. It's great fun making a Wii U game. The system is plenty powerful, has a veritable toybox of controller options to play with, and unique features like Miiverse, making it a very creative platform to develop on. If you're the sort of developer who enjoys experimentation, it's an especially good fit. 

Joel Nyström, CEO, founder, Ludosity AB, Ittle Dew

I can't recommend publishing on the Wii U until I see our sales figures with my own eyes, but there is nothing in the “logistics” of things that should stop any small indie shop. I think even a driven solo developer could pull it off, really.

Ittle Dew

Emeric Thoa, lead of creative content, The Game Bakers, Squids Odyssey

I would recommend other developers to make strong choices. Everyone knows that Nintendo has a unique way of making consoles, of making games, and of selling them. If you think your game matches Nintendo's philosophy, don't go somewhere else just because there might be more potential buyers. Make games for a precise audience and reach it. 

Byron Atkinson-Jones, founder, Xiotex Studios, So Hungry

Yes, without a doubt. The time has never been more perfect for getting games on as many platforms as possible. There has also never been a time when indie developers have been so welcome on the major consoles in this way. It would be a crime to pass up that opportunity.

The way to minimize the risk to a development team is to be smart in the building of your game. If you are creating a bespoke engine, then maybe not. But using Unity, which is available for everything now, is just a smart move, and it means that I can release So Hungry on Wii U, Vita, PS3, PS4 Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux, iPhone and iPad, and porting for each of those is not going to be a lengthy and expensive process - so why not?

Peter Thierolf, creative director, Keen Games, TNT Racers: Nitro Machines Edition

Well, that is a tough one. It is relatively easy to develop for Wii U, and not too expensive. But I would suggest looking at actual sales figures and doing proper projections before jumping onto the platform, especially if that includes system-exclusive titles.

However, I personally hold my thumbs that sales figures turn around, and Wii U turns into a viable platform for third-party releases.

Peter W. Meldahl, CEO, Rain Games, Teslagrad

Yes. And if you use Unity: Absolutely.