Not on the program

Maybe like me, you’re an indie game developer, and looking over at the imminent Nintendo Switch launch. A golden opportunity! If only Nintendo would let you onto their developer program, they’d have an extra indie game to help sell the new console. And you’d have a great chance to stake your claim to virgin territory on a new frontier of the ever more crowded video-games scene.

Fitting

Firstly, Nintendo have some good reasons for not just letting anyone on the program, at least prior to launch. Many of the Nintendo API’s and services are not going to have yet been finalised, or will have significant bugs in them. That means Nintendo have even fewer resources for dealing with a large number of 3rd party developers and the support issues they raise.

Furthermore, they need to be able to trust those developers who are on the program not to leak vital details of the Switch, thus damaging Nintendo’s ability to effectively control the marketing message around the console’s vital launch period.

Nintendo also need to ensure developers can actually finish the games to a high quality level in-time for the launch. Especially so since those titles that are released at or around launch will be under particular scrutiny.

As well, Nintendo need to ensure that they have both games which will appeal to their target markets and fit well with the marketing push being made around launch. And that also provide a broad enough range of experiences and genres to ensure the system’s game library has an appeal as an overall package.

Therefore, they are only going to pick developers they have a history of working alongside, who have a proven sales track record, and who are making games that fit with what they’re trying to achieve.

Mirage

However, it’s also worth bearing in mind that being a platform launch title is rarely the golden opportunity it at first seems. This is even more so for smaller and indie developers.

Clearly, the size of the market will be limited at first, as only so many consoles can be made and sold in the time immediately around launch. Moreover, the big budget titles released as (hopefully for Nintendo) system sellers at launch will dominate the conversation and the available free time of those who do have the system. Releasing on a Nintendo console in the same week as Mario-Kart or Zelda is not all that smart, especially given the (perceived or otherwise) notion that most hardcore Nintendo fans only care for Nintendo 1st party releases.

On top of that, the system itself will be being reviewed. These days that means not just the hardware specs, but the software services that modern consoles all have. Friends lists, achievements, social integration, etc. All that conspires to suck oxygen away from smaller titles.

Yes, the increased attention will land on all launch titles, but hoping that excited new console owners will go “ooh, I’m going to buy Zelda, Mario and… hmm.. maybe this other random indie game for $5 looks kinda cool?” It’s a very risky, one-dimensional marketing strategy.

Moreover, even if Nintendo were to have approached you last year (or earlier?), that’s not actually all that long to make and produce a quality, finished game. Chances are, that unless by chance, you happen to already be working on the right kind of game, at the right stage of development to hit the launch window, what appears to be a great opportunity is in fact a mirage.

Aftermath

For myself, even though I’ve made a number of games for Wii U, none of them have exactly set the world on fire. I was never going to have a Switch launch title. However, that doesn’t mean I’ve not thought about Switch development.

I figure that once Nintendo are ready to accept more developers onto their program (i.e. spring time / post-Switch launch), then I want to have a game ready to pitch to them, with a view to releasing in the traditionally quiet summer time.

And more importantly, have a game that solves a problem for Nintendo, or helps plug a gap in the console’s lineup.

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