SAN FRANCISCO--Nintendo stole some of Microsoft's much-vaunted Community Games thunder earlier today when it unveiled that the WiiWare channel would launch in North America on May 12, promising a wave of new titles developed by both indie and major developers available for download by Wii owners.
For consumers, the WiiWare channel will simply mean more games, but for developers, the launch of WiiWare dev tools will make it easier for them to create new games for Nintendo's popular console. It seems developers of all shapes and sizes have already taken up the challenge, with Nintendo of America project development senior officer Tom Prata telling GameSpot that more than 100 projects were already in the pipeline. While Prata would not be drawn on how many of those would be available on WiiWare's launch day, he did promise "a good breadth of titles that will cover a number of different genres."
Prata says Nintendo is also open to any and all ideas, and has placed few restrictions on the type of content they're looking to upload onto the WiiWare channel. GameSpot caught up with Prata at the Game Developers Conference to glean some details on exactly what developers wanting to use WiiWare can expect from the toolset.
GameSpot: You've announced WiiWare will launch in North America on May 12. What are your plans for a global rollout?
Tom Prata: We're really here today to talk about the North American launch, Japan will be discussing what they plan to do and Europe will be discussing their plans. We just felt that this is the largest game development conference, it's a great place for all the entities to come, so we thought it was the best place to discuss what North American plans are like. And of course, content creators will be working in Japan and in Europe and Australia, so even though we're only announcing the date for North America, content creators from around the world will be able to participate in our launch and the subsequent rollout of the content.
GameSpot: What will the WiiWare channel be like from a consumer point of view?
TP: Effectively it will be a very user-friendly experience, like all the channels with Wii. You'll use your Wii Remote to connect to the channel applications, you'll find the product that you're interested in downloading, use Wii points to buy it, and that will download just like a Virtual Console game to the consumer's system.
As for game developers, we're giving the opportunity for the game developer to decide what content they want to make. We're really excited by the possibility of what the Wii controller can mean to the game designer, and then what it means to the consumer.
GS: What are your plans for the actual launch day? How many games will be available?
TP: We haven't gone specifically into the launch plans. We need a little bit more time to work with the content creators. There are about 100 projects that are under development which are coming to the North American market, and we're going to spend time with them [the developers] to find out what their schedule is because, once again, we're not requiring a particular type of product. It's their decision to make that, and it's also their decision to make based on the development schedule. So we're going to work collaboratively to work out what the development time is.
Likely what we'll do is launch with a good breadth of titles that will cover a number of different genres, and perhaps some unprecedented game experiences using the Wii Remote. And what we'll do is consistently release new content, like we do with Virtual Console.
GS: How about cost? How much will a WiiWare game cost?
TP: We are still working as it relates to different pricing. We do anticipate that consumers will be able to download content for a variety of different prices, similar to what you can experience with Virtual Console.
GS: From a developer point of view, are you open to all types of game ideas?
TP: Effectively we are. I think if we go to content creators and say please make a game in this particular genre, it kind of defeats the purpose. One of the goals with WiiWare is to give content creators the chance to make the content they like. And we really don't want to pigeonhole them--what we'd like to really see is content that is for everybody, and also things that people haven't experienced before.
If we go back a number of years, a game like Brain Age--we couldn't possibly imagine what type of genre that game fits into, yet it can be so meaningful to people. It's really open for content creators to decide what to make.
GS: So you're only looking for games? How about nongame applications for the Wii?
TP: The content should be entertaining and add value to consumers. Whether it's defined as a game or an application, I'm not so sure.
GS: Will content be region-specific on WiiWare?
TP: Yes. The content creators themselves will be responsible for making the game. And then let's say it's a European developer and they want to localise for the North American market. They basically will need to work with Nintendo of America as it relates to that, and then go through the quality-checking process to make it available on the market. And vice versa with American developers wanting to go into Europe.
GS: Do you think WiiWare will appeal more to large publishers or indie developers?
TP: Eighty percent of the games we're seeing are coming from entities which haven't published on Nintendo platforms before. That said, there are still major publishers that are participating. As you can see from the press announcement, Square Enix is bringing Final Fantasy, so it's really open to any development community. The bulk of the content in the early stages will probably come from more independent-type companies.
GS: OK, so what's the process for a developer to start using WiiWare?
TP: So if you have an idea, you can build it. The key component is you'll want to notify our development support group and fill out a simple project sheet to make us aware of the game. It's a very special thing, with just basic information about the content itself, and then you're free to go off and make the game. We do a quick check of the content to make sure there are no red flags, but once again we're not judging the content--that's really for the consumer to decide.
So you go off and make it as you would any other type of Wii application. We use that project sheet for scheduling purposes. Then the developer delivers a candidate to Nintendo for the QC process. Once it passes our lot check or QC process, then we will work with the developer to determine when it will be made available on the Wii channel.
GS: So basically Nintendo will have final say on what gets on the WiiWare channel?
TP: To some extent yes. But we're not in a position that we're judging the idea. We want the developer to come up with the idea. So we have only made a few restrictions--not content restrictions, but we're not supporting an in-game advertising model, and we're not supporting the developer retrieval of consumer data.
GS: What about content that's violent or overtly sexual?
TP: Again, we're not putting those types of restrictions on. The developer will be required to secure the appropriate rating from the ESRB, and we will abide by the ESRB's rating policy.
GS: Who owns the IP?
TP: The content creator.
GS: How is the pricing decided?
TP: We haven't gone into details as it relates to pricing. The only thing we've discussed is there won't be one price--there will be a variety of pricing. And it's not based on the number of gameplay hours or the volume of gameplay--we don't like to think about content and value as relating to price.
GS: Will you set any limitations on size of the final game download?
TP: We really want people to be focusing on the game content itself and not concerned with filling up some massive storage device. The issue is that the more requirements we put on developers, the more difficult it is for them. We really want this space to be about the game, and not about other types of products. With that said, Virtual Console has more than 200 games available, and some of the most-loved games are fairly compact in data size. So there's a tremendous number of things people can do in terms of gameplay and entertainment and not be so concerned about making large experiences.
GS: Tom Prata, thanks for your time.