Going into the Wii U life cycle, Nintendo was set on improving relations with third-party publishers after years of negligence in favor of first-party content.. The Wii U launched with an impressive line-up of games from publishers like Ubisoft, Activision, and Electronic Arts in support of its typically strong first-party offerings. Unfortunately, the support of these publishers has largely petered out and the Wii U has fallen into the all-too-familiar trap of being a console that many use to only play games published by Nintendo.
This attitude permeates every part of the Nintendo fan culture, from the release calendar to the games that Wii U owners are most excited about. Though this has just become an accepted attitude to take toward Nintendo consoles, one area defies this environment: the eShop.
The eShop plasters images of Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong all over your two screens, but Nintendo’s independent-gaming section also gets its share of promotion. These indie games are often far from exclusive, but Nintendo has made it a point to emphasize the importance of independent developers.
Damon Baker, Nintendo’s senior marketing manager of publisher and developer relations, has taken on the task of ensuring that independent-development partners are well represented on Nintendo platforms. While Baker acknowledges the notion that many fans don’t buy Nintendo consoles to play non-Nintendo games, he sees the area as more of an opportunity than anything else. “It is true that we’ve got a really loyal and passionate fan base for Nintendo-developed content, but it also drives them to go to the eShop to check out what’s new – to see if there’s new DLC for some of those first-party games or new releases, and while they’re there, they’re seeing this independent content being highlighted right next to Mario and right next to Zelda and right next to all our major franchises,” he says. “So we do a pretty good job of keeping it in the same light.”
Baker says that another advantage Nintendo has in dealing with independent developers is that they can realize their visions in new ways thanks to its hardware’s distinct capabilities. “You look at our hardware, it’s unique, it’s different, and it allows for different experiences,” he says. “It allows for developers to utilize the features and functionality in a unique way where they can use the touchscreen, they can use a second screen, they can use 3D and they can use that to realize their vision differently than they can on any other platform. We have the same mentality from a first-party perspective as well.”
Those unique control schemes that the Wii U can deliver are exemplified by games like Kerbal Space Program, which was announced this week as having exclusive controls in the Wii U version. In situations such as this, Baker says that it’s not a set process for determining what titles can deliver new exclusive features. While there are times that developers approach Nintendo with ideas for how to capitalize on the different hardware, Baker says that Nintendo also takes part in the brainstorming.
“Sometimes we’ll be proactive in reaching out to different developers and publishers to say, ‘Hey, this is a great idea. What do you think about utilizing it on our platforms? It would be perfect to use a second screen, or it would be awesome with a touchscreen to be able to manipulate these characters or movements,’” he says.
On the next page, Baker talks about Nintendo’s nostalgia factor and why the company typically avoids having independent games as exclusive titles.