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Nintendo's Download Services: What Needs to Change

24th December 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

With WiiWare declining and there being a lot less to look forward to, I've been giving thought to how things have progressed over the last little while to reach its current state. In my process, I keep coming back to the same question: What is Nintendo doing about the situation? And in looking at their business model this generation, there have been some lingering thoughts that I feel I need to speak my mind about -- especially with respect to their downloadable services.

While Nintendo continues to take positive steps forward that shape their business for the better, I still get this feeling that they're living in the past with some of the decisions they've made and their seeming shoulder-shrug attitude towards making improvements to clear faults. I've seen a growing number of negative comments towards Nintendo's methods of handling their online systems, and some of these actually echo sentiments I've kept to myself up until now. No matter how much Nintendo thinks their business model is the real deal, they're losing business. And it's not even over things they can't control, either. Considering that the circumstances that are producing the aforementioned feelings are completely preventable, I have to ask why Nintendo is being so stubborn to fully embrace the very ones they're trying to appeal to, as well as the developers they're trying to support.

Take their pricing strategy as an example. Not too long ago, Reggie
made a comment about how some of the titles that are put out onto mobile platforms are "overpriced at one or two dollars". But what I find interesting is that Nintendo has allowed stuff on their service that fall under the same category (Flashlight, anyone?). This is largely because they're so rigidly sticking to their pricing strategy of trying to evaluate cost in each title for themselves that they don't fully consider the impact this might have on the consumer. And of course, they're not going to turn away a developer who comes to them with an application that has already done exceptionally well on another platform, for fear of incurring displeasure from multiple ends. So I'm not sure how they can get away with something like that without being perceived as hypocritical.

I do recall one moment when Nintendo released their tight grip on this aspect of their online structure. It was that time when SEGA got them to temporarily reduce the cost on their classic Genesis titles in line with their anniversary celebration. If every other platform was offering these games at a reduced price, how would it look on Nintendo if they still offered it at the same price? Plus, as much as Nintendo thinks they'd be dignifying the developer's efforts by holding to that set price, it ultimately could cause them to shrink back from supporting their download services in the future. It was only a $3 discount, but this was a pivotal moment in the entire time that the Wii Shop has been in operation. Never before had they offered any sort of price cut -- not even on their own titles! And sadly, this never took place again.

What I'd like to know is this: Why is it so hard to allow sales on games? This isn't even about consistency anymore. They're losing business and it's as clear as day that it needs to change. When all other platforms -- Steam, XBLA and PSN -- are offering (better) promotional options and limited-time offers to customers, Nintendo just comes across as being set in their ways and unwilling to open up to the very ones they're catering to. With this in mind, I can definitely say that unless Nintendo makes positive changes with the Wii U's online presence, those complaints are going to increase in force. Yes, Nintendo likes to be different, but in this instance, I can't help but feel like they're just doing it purely for the purpose of brand differentiation, and not because there's some underlying benefit that comes from stubbornly holding to such a model. At least, not a tangible one anyway.

Another subject I'd like to bring up is the fact that developers aren't allowed to release patches on their games (though it has happened on rare occasions). Adding in content is one thing, and I did understand Nintendo's viewpoint from the very beginning that everything should be complete prior to the launch date (resembling how it works in the retail space). But at the very least, they should allow third-party developers some leniency with glitches that were originally missed by multiple QA teams (the developer's and even Nintendo's) but later discovered by paying customers. I mean, you can't expect everyone to make an absolutely perfect game, free of any sort of technical infirmities. It's bound to happen. And I can only imagine how it must feel to not have that safety net in place for times when programming errors arise.

As commendable as it was for Nintendo to finally allow demos on the Wii Shop, I don't feel that that's good enough either. And furthermore, a handful of free goodies simply cannot make up for the hundreds of titles currently available that have gone unnoticed by the mass market. More promotion needs to be done on their part; beyond the Nintendo Channel, the weekly Nintendo Week episodes, their website, and the slips of paper they include inside cases for first-party games.

I think this year especially, Nintendo has started to realize the importance of social media in ensuring their brand resonates in the minds of interested persons. Just over a week ago, I saw how many were creating chains of conversation on Twitter revolving around the new eShop title,
Pushmo. And through the sharing of custom puzzles via QR Codes, Nintendo has allowed their customers to promote these exclusive titles in their circles. So there's definitely some positive outreach going on there. But I still say they need to push things further.

Ever since WiiWare was first instituted, both Reggie and Iwata have made a number of comments to the effect of "We're allocating more time and budget to WiiWare promotions". But the proof is in the pudding, isn't it? While I wouldn't say it's all
just talk, much more action is needed. It's nice that they speak out in interviews from time to time on what's been doing well on their services, but relating to that subject, there's something that has been popping up again and again that I have to question. Many times when they speak positively about the great strides that have been put forth by other developers, they're very quick to mention 2D Boy, developers of World of Goo. Have you noticed this yourself?

I liked the game and all, but it seems like with Nintendo it's always "
World of Goo" this and "World of Goo" that. Last time I checked, there were over 300 other WiiWare games on the service, with at least 30 of them being deserving of more attention. Does Nintendo even realize that they're limiting themselves by always pointing to the same examples? Then again, I only just caught on to this recently, so I wouldn't be surprised if Nintendo's focus on the bigger picture caused them to miss that point. But it's no wonder why so many have this impression that WiiWare is filled with crappy releases. Nintendo just hasn't stepped up to the plate with enough positive talk to counteract all the misconceptions.

When the bulk of developers are left to fend for themselves on the marketing front, it's incredibly discouraging to see that Nintendo's efforts in this area of their business are less than respectable. It's like they have a relationship that's meant to be kept secret or something with how infrequently Nintendo publicizes their appreciation for third-party efforts on WiiWare. And when you consider how some titles get very little coverage, it's a shame that nearly all praise is expected to come through gaming press. All things considered,
I really applaud the teams that have stuck it out despite all this.

I really hope Nintendo learns from all that's happened with WiiWare, as they have a real shot at redeeming themselves right out of the gate with the Wii U. If they're not going to budge for the consumers, I should hope they'd at least listen to the clients they're doing business with. Hopefully these promises about an improved online approach with the new console will lead Nintendo to being viewed more positively by indie developers as a whole, and will also cause downloadable titles to thrive as they should on their new service. That is my earnest hope as a Nintendo supporter.

Feature by KnucklesSonic8