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SAN FRANCISCO — Nintendo says that it is committed to flexibility and experimentation when it comes to the digital marketplace.
The company announced seven new digital games for its Wii U and 3DS consoles on its eShop digital store in a press conference at the 2015 Game Developers Conference yesterday. Internally developed titles like Mario vs. Donkey Kong Tipping Stars join new independently developed works as well as special Nintendo versions of popular indie hits, such as Never Alone and Don’t Starve, showing that it is a player in the thriving independent games space.
The company was once considered a hidebound operation, but it is now actively experimenting with business models, platform support, and distribution types, and Nintendo says that it is fully open to future shifts in the games business.
Unity 5.0 ready
The Unity support and license benefit in particular attracted developers to Nintendo’s efforts. This early backing was strong enough that the company was able to showcase several pieces of content developed in Unity at last year’s conference.
Unity’s popularity continues to grow. The engine’s newest version, Unity 5, became available during the 2015 Game Developers Conference. Baker revealed that Nintendo has been working with Unity Technologies for some time now, and that support for the Wii U is just around the corner for its official licensed developers.
“Now we’re coming into this GDC with Unity just being this entire beast of a company,” says Baker. “I’m really proud that we’ve got a long-standing relationship with them and good communication. We’ve been able to prepare ourselves where we can hit the ground running.
“Nobody else had made any formal announcements about Unity support on consoles yet. Who knows — that could change in the next 24 hours. We’re just really proud to be there and part of the conversation and just be another tool for our developers to use.”
Baker says that the motivation for working with Unity was less about giving Nintendo an advantage and more about serving its developers.
“It’s less for us personally than it is for our development partners. They all want to be looking at consistency across the board. If they’re developing in Unity, everyone was to be utilizing the same tools,” Baker said. “And we’ve been big proponents that if you’re going to be developing in Unity even if its multiplatform it should be coming to Wii U as well.“
It won’t be too long before Nintendo developers will see support for Unity 5.0 on Wii U.
“I wish I could say an exact date because we have one in mind. But I can say that it is very, very soon and that means that all those people who have already gotten the jump on developing for 5.0 can realize that to Wii U as well. ”
Nintendo embraces indies
This week’s newly announced eShop games are only the start. Nintendo teased that many more releases along these lines are in the works for the near future. Various digital titles noted include popular indies such as Octodad and Race the Sun, now retooled for Nintendo’s systems. Baker says that this welcoming of indies comes from Nintendo’s desire to have a little bit of something for everyone out there. Opening its eShop to these developers makes building a diverse library easier.
“I think our goal has always been to make sure that tour systems have something for everyone,” Baker said. “There’s content that the first party teams are really, really good at developing. And there’s stuff that they haven’t taken a stab at before that people really love. It could be shooters, it could be sports games, all these other genres — and that’s where the licensing department comes in. We make that a complete offering so that there is something for everyone.
“We’re really proud and impressed with the level of content and creativity coming from the digital side of our business and those independent developers. It’s infectious to be around. We just love working with those guys and want to help them realize success as much as possible.”
Nintendo is happy to showcase popular indie games on their platforms to get in on the growing segment. And the fact that many of these games are getting exclusive feature sets in the porting process is a nice extra for the company.
“There are titles that people instantly recognize that we’re going to be able to show off in a more complete fashion and really, really soon here,” Baker says. “I think why we’re promoting them is because we see a level of quality associated with them and we see a level of excitement with the developers that really want to get behind it. And while we might not be talking about it specifically, we’re seeing unique features and functionality that are implemented into all of these titles that re going to make them either extremely unique or the definite versions of those franchises.”
The eShop is more than just a store
Nintendo doesn’t view their digital storefront as an eventual replacement for packaged games. Baker says that the eShop is more of an open, flexible platform for the company to help other developers succeed.
“That’s why we have changed some of the things we’ve done over the last couple of years, because we are finding it really extremely important to make sure that these guys are able to utilize their best practice experience,” he said. “If it’s being able to do a cross-buy type of promotion or being able to do other things like that — they can actually execute on that on our platforms and we will be able to support it across the board.”
The company is showing a willingness to try new things to be more open to the needs of developers. But Baker says that Nintendo is constantly working to keep up with the changes in the games industry to do so.
“We came out with these systems quite a few years ago and we did have to play a little bit of catchup because the digital industry is just constantly evolving,” he says. “You never know what people are going to be coming up with in terms of, you know, free-to-play models or conditional types of sales or different mechanics that they’re incorporating. So we’re constantly on the biz-dev side of our company constantly having to cater to these trends or these models and make sure that our internal processes are able to accommodate them. But it’s all just to create as much flexibility as possible for all of our partners.’
Baker said that Nintendo is doing all of this so it can better react to the changes in the game industry.
“You never know what’s going to be the next big thing. The more flexibility you have it means that the more our partners are able to take risks or at least have calculated risks so that they know that this is what they’re going to be able to come to the table with. It’s a really exciting time to be working on digital stuff.”