The drumbeat of negativity towards the Wii U is relentless. Every day games media posts stories about low sales, dev kits collecting dust, engines not working on the platform, whether or not the system is already dead, Nintendo is tone deaf, et cetera. All of this is enough for any indie game developer to shrug and get back to work on his or her barely-funded iOS game. But while it’s clear the Wii U is never going to reach the stratospheric sales of Wii – and it’s off to a slower start than the Gamecube – we think there are still viable opportunities here for indie developers in the near future. Here are the reasons why:
Sales of the Wii U will pick up. There is only one game driving Wii U sales right now, New Super Mario Bros U, and while the game is as fun as you’d expect, it’s not exactly an innovative step forward for the franchise. Big games like Pikmin 3 are coming, and it will drive sales more than the armchair doomsayers think.
There’s almost no competition. While the universe of Wii U players is barely a blip compared to the universe of smartphone and tablet players (or even PC gamers), there are few games available in the eShop. If great developers like Renegade Kid can do it on the 3DS eShop now, maybe others can on the Wii U in the near future? A bigger market share in a tiny market may be better than miniscule market share in a massive market.
Day one digital releases and the Virtual Console will get Wii U players used to downloading games. Unquestionably sales of the Wii U have primarily come from Nintendo fanboys, and Nintendo’s first party titles completely dominate (other than perhaps ZombieU, no Wii U exclusive original IP has sold meaningful numbers). Nintendo’s systems have had notoriously poor engagement on the digital side, but the company never seemed to care. Now they do – and $165m in digital sales last quarter was surprisingly high. First party games and classic Nintendo games are driving this change in behavior.
No need to put all your eggs in one basket. Unity is coming to Wii U game development, and Nintendo wants existing smartphone hits on the platform. Soon devs will have the ability to create a Wii U exclusive – one that Nintendo may be eager to promote in a way that Apple won’t – and then it can be quickly ported to iOS, Android, and PC. This lower risk in terms of where to put resources.
The notion that 3rd party games don’t sell on Nintendo platforms is outdated. Everyone knows the only company that made money on the Gamecube was Nintendo. But the Wii spawned hits from all over the place. And while only 1st party games are selling in good numbers on the Wii U now, the 3rd party options are mainly ports. Fresh games with natively developed controls for Wii U may resonate – remember Carnival Games?
It’s free to put up updates and DLC on the Wii U eShop. No expensive hoops to jump through. Enough said!
Will the Wii U be a great platform for AAA exclusives from 3rd party publishers? Probably not – high dev costs combined with a relatively small installed base probably breaks the business model. But Nintendo isn’t going away anytime soon, with $13b in the bank and no debt. Great games, price drops, and aggressive marketing are coming in 2013. Here’s hoping indies can capitalize on this.