I love reading articles like this because they give me hope for the future of the games industry. The democratization of the game development process is good for everyone: it means more games, more choice, and thus more art. I think that Penny Arcade's Jerry Holkins said it best in the following quote from his news post on June 1, 2012 (even though he was technically responding to the issue of offensive content in some games, I think that his point is much more widely applicable).
The answer is always more art; the corollary to that is the answer is never less art. If you start to think that less art is the answer, start over. That’s not the side you want to be on. The problem isn’t that people create or enjoy offensive work. The problem is that so many people believe that culture is something other people create, the sole domain of some anonymized other, so they never put their hat in the ring. That even with a computer in your pocket connected to an instantaneous global network, no-one can hear you. When you believe that, really believe it, the devil dances in hell.
With that said, I was really impressed to see that Nintendo is trying to become a much more viable platform for independent game developers. According to the Penny Arcade Report, I'm not the only one to be pleased with Nintendo's new policies.
One developer I spoke with said this change in policy may have come a little late for Nintendo, but it's still a step in the right direction. Being able to control your own pricing, pick your release date, and the affordability of dev kits (Nintendo described the cost as the same as a high-end PC) are all moves that make Nintendo consoles much more attractive to developers.
In fact, I'm going to list what I found to be the biggest takeaways from the Gamasutra interview for anyone who may be interested in developing games for a Nintendo platform (particularly the Wii U). Unless stated otherwise, emphasis in all quotes is mine.
By the way, don't forget that you can follow Dan Adelman on Twitter if you enjoyed his interview and would like to continue getting the latest information on Wii U development.
1. It's easy to become a licensed Nintendo developer
We really have only a few requirements to sign up as a licensed developer with Nintendo. The most notable ones are that you have to have some experience making games, you have to be able to keep any confidential materials like dev kits secure and you have to form a company. None of these should be prohibitive to any indie developer.
You can apply to become a licensed Nintendo developer at WarioWorld.com.
2. Developers no longer need a separate physical office
So that second requirement – the ability to keep confidential materials secure – was originally defined in terms of an office that was separate from the home. Back when that rule was created, that seemed to be an appropriate way of defining things.
As you point out, more and more people are working from home, and we recognize that developers are forming virtual teams around the world. I know we've shied away from talking about these things publicly in the past, so I'm glad that I can officially confirm that the office requirement is a thing of the past.
3. Developers no longer need an address in another country to release a game there
Anyone from any country can make their games available on the eShop within the NOA and NOE region – i.e., pretty much everywhere outside of Japan.
Japan seems to be the exception to the rule: it sounds like you still need to have a physical Japanese address to release games in Japan.
4. Developers can now set their own prices
Developers set their own pricing for their Wii U and Nintendo 3DS content. As one example, Little Inferno launched at $14.99. They did a sale for $9.99, and it went so well, they decided to make that price change permanent. It's completely in their control.
5. Developers can now update games easily
Updating games is also fairly straightforward. If [developers] find an issue they need to fix, they can. In terms of other Nintendo eShop functionality, there's a dedicated team working through a roadmap of new features. We'll be able to announce those as they get closer to release.
I don't know what this means in specific terms; perhaps you don't need to pay any patch fees?
6. Development kits are affordable
Dev kits are actually not all that expensive. They're about the price of a high-end PC. Nothing that should be a showstopper for anyone.
7. Wii U developers get a copy of Unity Pro 4
We recently announced that we're providing Unity Pro 4 for Wii U to licensed developers at no added cost. So if a developer is currently working on a game in Unity and has a Wii U dev kit, it should be super easy to bring that game over to the Wii U console – and not just do a straight port but also take advantage of any features of the console they want, like motion controls, Miiverse or of course the second-screen GamePad controller. Or vice versa – making a game for Wii U and then going to other platforms should also be seamless.
This not only makes it easier and faster to develop games for Nintendo consoles, but it also gives developers the opportunity to release those games on other platforms, as well. Nintendo didn't have to do this, so I think it's a very nice gesture of goodwill to the game development community.
This—like Unity—makes it easier not only to develop games for the Wii U but also to port those games to other platforms (such as web browsers!).
9. Developers are now paid from their first unit sold
Let me give you a sense of the thought process behind the [6000 unit] threshold in the first place. Even as far back as the early WiiWare days, we allowed developers to forgo the need to hire an intermediary publisher to get their content on our system. We didn't believe that Nintendo should screen game concepts. That should be up to the developer who's making the investment. Instead, we wanted to have a mechanism that would encourage developers to self-police their own game quality.
The threshold was thought to be a convenient way to go about it. Unfortunately, some great games that just didn't find an audience wound up being penalized. So for all systems after WiiWare – DSiWare, Nintendo 3DS eShop, and Wii U eShop, we decided to get rid of the thresholds altogether. Developers receive revenue from unit 1.
It's nice to hear that developers no longer need to sell 6000 copies of a game to get paid.
10. Nintendo has responsive developer support
A lot of our processes were originally created in an environment where there was a set number of large publishers who had employees on staff whose sole job was to interface with the different console platforms. Those people had to learn how we were organized and know who to call for what issue. That obviously doesn't work for smaller developers.
As a result, we've narrowed everything down to a single point of contact – one alias that developers can write to for any issue. There's a core team at Nintendo who then tracks down the information and follows up. We have an internal goal of getting every question a response within 24 hours. And if we can't get an answer in 24 hours, we at least will let them know when we expect to be able to get them what they need.
I think that a 24-hour turnaround on questions is quite admirable, though I must admit that I don't know what the standard is for other companies. In any case, it's great to have a single point of contact for all issues to minimize confusion.