The Nintendo Switch's success over the last year is due mostly to its award-winning first-party content (Breath of the Wild just won yet another game of the year award at GDC) and the influx of major third-party support. But even before the launch of its latest console, Nintendo has stealthily built up a library of intensely good indie content as well. This trend started with the eShop on Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, but Nintendo's Switch marks the company's entry as one of the frontrunners in indie game support.
At GDC this year, we got to play several of the titles that Nintendo is publishing on Switch under its Nindies umbrella--check the site later this week for a roundup of those and other great games at the show. But in the meantime, here's a quick conversation with Damon Baker, senior manager from Nintendo's publisher and developer relations team. In this chat, we talk about how the 3DS is still a priority, future eShop improvements, and how games end up on the eShop in the first place.
GameSpot: It feels like in a lot of ways that Switch has become the new "home" of indies. It's taken the mantle that I feel like was previously held by PlayStation; now so many indies are coming to Nintendo.
Damon Baker: Yeah. We feel really fortunate. We've got a nice home, and I think there are a few factors that are helping with that gravitation towards the platform. Making the dev tools easily available and accessible, the environment of certification, the marketing initiatives and promotions that we put behind it like the [Nindies video presentation], and other executions. Everything is lining up there.
Adding to that, with Nintendo Switch you have the flexibility of playing a game the way that you want to play it, on-the-go or at-home features and functionality; it is just this amazing playground of things to experiment with for the indie community. And they wear their passion on their sleeves, so it is very infectious, and it's easy to get behind that type of enthusiasm.
The 3DS has also been a great home to indies over the years. Is that still a priority, or has it shifted over to Switch?
The emphasis is definitely on Nintendo Switch these days. We still have an open dev environment for Nintendo 3DS, but there are limited marketing and promotional opportunities there.
3DS is still a priority from a hardware perspective and for packaged software, and we still have third-party support there across the board. But in terms of the indie community in general, it feels like it is a little bit easier to get that content up and running on a Nintendo Switch. Some of that has to do with the architecture of the hardware, developing for one screen versus two screens, and different controller inputs and control schemes. I think it has been an easier proposition for developers to gravitate towards Switch.
You've touched on this before, but the eShop is sometimes a little hard to navigate. You mentioned that there are improvements coming?
Absolutely. Full disclosure, the Nintendo eShop from the very beginning was meant to be a transactional destination and not a merchandising destination, but over the course of this last year we have been able to improve on that and so be able to have some areas to not only focus on new releases but on best sellers and sales and some of this low-hanging fruit.
But, as I mentioned, in the presentation, it is really a concerted effort to acknowledge the feedback that we've been hearing from the community and our responsibility is now to make sure that we are improving both on- and off-device processes so that we can encourage clean visibility and discoverability for the content that is relevant to each user.
Could you clarify transactional versus merchandising destination?
Yeah. Basically the eShop was built as a destination where you make your purchase, where you already know the game that you want to purchase. You go there, you click on it, and you pay for it. Rather than it being a place where you're perusing to find the latest and greatest things. That is evolving over time and part of it has to do with just evolving with the hardware and prioritizing some of those things along with the other system updates that are coming to fruition. But it is encouraging that the voices and the user feedback has been heard internally and steps are being taken to acknowledge that.
What is the approval process like for bringing indies on? I am sure it's not just an open gate where you'll take everybody.
It is not. It is actually a closed dev environment for Nintendo Switch. There is a review process; we encourage prospective and interested developers to submit a pitch--an overview of their game--but we also like to see background on them as a developer in terms of their experience and their amplitude for navigating a dev environment on consoles. So, once we look at all of that, then we review that and we either push the button or not.
Each region is responsible for its own development community. So, our counterparts at NOE are handling Europe and over at our head office at NCL are handling Japan and Asia.
How are sale prices decided? Do you leave that up to the developer or is that something that you guys control?
All pricing is controlled by the developer and the publisher. We don't have any say on that. Same with release date; if it's considered a huge priority and a huge impactable opportunity, then we might collaborate on, "Okay, this day would be great for us to work together on." In terms of pricing, we don't have any input on that.
In terms of promotions, though, we do collaborate with our partners if they are looking at putting some sort of pricing promotion together. There is an example earlier this year where a bunch of indie developers got together and created their own pricing promotion and they combined their efforts and did an AMA on Reddit. That was really cool to see that grass roots approach to a promotion, and then we amplified that through our channels as well. There are a lot of different approaches.
What is really encouraging though is that a lot of our partners are looking at what is resonating on the Nintendo eShop to help them determine the appropriate price for their content. The list that we put up earlier in terms of the top indies, the majority of those are premium-priced digital games. They are anywhere from like 20 to 30 bucks. Which is cool because it means that there is no real race to zero at this point, that it is really quality based and the Switch fan base is willing to invest towards having a premium experience.