Nintendo Logic #1: “Nindies”

I’m a huge Nintendo fan. As someone who grew up with Nintendo throughout my life, particularly their handhelds, I’ve become attached to the sublime perfection of the Mario series, catching ’em all in Pokemon and the musical legacy of The Legend of Zelda. But once in a while, the Japanese juggernaut will make a move so bewilderingly odd, so utterly stupid, that I want to tear my hair out, buy a plane ticket straight to Kyoto, storm up to Nintendo HQ and scream directly in Satoru Iwata’s face: “WHYYYYY!”. All because Nintendo seems to be struggling with a phenomenon I can only describe as “Nintendo Logic”, a crippling syndrome that makes even the smartest guys in the industry make the dumbest mistakes. It makes it much worse when some of the attempts to fix these mistakes ends up pissing off half their user base. So I’m starting a new series on these daft choices, starting with indie Nintendo developers. Nintendo_Logo

The Big N, the behemoth of gaming that is Nintendo.

With the rise of indie development, everyone’s hopping on the indie bandwagon left, right and centre. And of course it makes sense for such an influential pillar of gaming to take a similar stance on indie games – by lending support to indies, Nintendo ensures a stream of 3rd party support, something it has lacked in recent times, all while helping the ‘little guy’ and thus further helping its friendly image. Hence ‘Nindies’ were born; Nintendo offers Wii U developer kits to budding indies of any team size and any level of experience, and they’ll hold the hands of developers to make sure the use of Wii U and 3DS features is the best it can be for each project. Games such as Guacamelee!, Might Switch Force and SteamWorld Dig are right now available on the Humble Nindie Bundle, for example (and don’t worry, I’ll get onto that shortly). However, there are problems with the Nindie program.

As the majority of consumers of Nintendo products aren’t indie developers, they’re gleefully unaware of the cost of a Nintendo development kit. An Xbox One development kit is, well, the Xbox One itself, so around £300-400-ish. Some reports suggest that Sony is ‘lending’ people PS4 development kits, although they may cost in the low thousands instead. Then how much is a Wii U development kit? Every source I’ve found says “anywhere between $2500 and $10000”, but most cite $2500 as being the absolute bottom dollar – the price of the absolute bare-bones development kit. This means a kit with full debugging tools and 24-hour support is probably orders of magnitude more expensive, all for a copy of Unity tailored to the Wii U hardware. I’ll have to remind you that Unity 5 Personal Edition is completely free.

What does this mean for indie developers with no money, like myself? Well, tough luck. There is no known program out there that helps people like me, the little guy. As the Wii U is such a unique piece of kit with unbounded potential – I have so many ideas for that GamePad – I’ve applied (twice) through Nintendo’s own Wii U developer application form with the hope of some support from Nintendo on the cost and to weigh up my options, but I’ve heard nothing back apart from the complimentary “yeah we got your application” email. No call, no other emails, nothing. So, Nintendo are helping indies… how? The sheer lack of communication here is not only frustrating, but confusing – for me, I have so many ideas I want to try out, so many ideas that might catch Nintendo’s attention, but I’ve so far I’ve yet to hear back from them.

Wii_UThe Wii U, a console impossible to develop for.

In the Nindie push, the Japanese developer has very recently decided to make the unprecedented move of introducing the Humble Nindie Bundle, which will run until the 9th of June. For those of you unaware of the Humble model, it comprises of a bundle of games, usually under some theme such as ‘indie bundles’ or a particular publisher, that can be purchased by the user for any amount they wish. Usually, some games in each bundle have a minimum spend. This bundle is the first bundle to feature both handheld and console games, and is the first by the major three console makers, marking a brave step forward for both Nintendo of America and Humble Bundle themselves. However, the bundle is region-locked. Yep, only American gamers – those from North, Central and South America (except Brazil, Martinique and Guadeloupe for some reason, and you need an Ambassador eShop everywhere except the USA, Canada and Mexico) are able to redeem codes from the bundle.

This is just plain wrong. The problem arises from the fact that Nintendo consoles are region-locked (which is a huge problem in its own right). This bundle also represents the first such offering by Humble Bundle that is region-locked. It wouldn’t cost Nintendo or the individual games’ developers any more to distribute European/Australian keys in addition to American keys. In fact, it would probably gain sales in addition to helping charity; the causes helped by the bundle are losing out due to lost European sales. This wouldn’t be quite so bad it it weren’t for two gaffes on Humble Bundle’s part: they sent an email to everyone on their mailing list proudly announcing the bundle, but failed to mention it was region-locked. Even worse, the website had no indication it was region-locked at first, so some non-eligible people bought the bundle, only to be disappointed when they couldn’t redeem the codes. Then, Humble quickly wrote up a blog post ‘explaining’ why the bundle is region-locked, which upon closer inspection, explains exactly nothing and leaves us Europeans and Australians pissed off with two companies we want so much to think only good thoughts about. Even worse, it’s completely contradictory.

Guacamelee

Guacamelee, which I *almost* got to play.

The Nindie program has so much potential. For starters, if I were in charge of the program, I’d give a lot more power to developers. I understand Nintendo want to protect their hardware and their reputation from shoddy, half-baked games – spend 5 minutes in the ‘Indie Game Developers‘ Facebook group and you’ll see the kind of spam Nintendo are afraid of amongst genuine talent – but this shouldn’t stifle genuine creativity. They’re losing ground to their competitors, while the Wii U and GamePad combination is one of the most indie-friendly pieces of hardware I’ve seen. There’s so much potential for the types of high-risk ventures exclusive to this hardware that AAA developers, including Nintendo themselves at times, are afraid of trying out. Exactly the same is true of the Nintendo 3DS. I really want Nintendo to get their shit together with this one, because I so want to make games with their hardware.

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