WiiWare, the indie developer’s dream

WiiWareIf you build it, the indie developers will come.

Nintendo’s betting on it, and today there’s some big news coming out of Redmond (or is that San Fran/NYC now?): WiiWare is officially an indie developers dream. “Small shops with big ideas” — that’s the spin from Regggie and company, and I’m pretty confident that with the Wii’s present success, we’re going to see a slew of new one-hit wonders flooding the Wii Shop Channel sometime soon.

This is not your daddy’s Nintendo anymore, kids.

On Wednesday morning, Nintendo will officially announce to the general public its plans for WiiWare, downloadable games for the wildly popular Wii videogame console. Unlike the vintage games already being offered for legacy systems (i.e. Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx 16) through the Virtual Console, these games will be built specifically for the Wii and sold via the Wii Shop Channel for Wii Points currency, much like the Xbox 360- and Playstation 3-specific games being sold on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network.

What’s more interesting is that Nintendo isn’t only seeking WiiWare from established publishers and developers like Ubisoft and Sega. At a Nintendo developer’s conference earlier this week, the company informed attendees that it was seeking from indie developers as well. Shorter, original, more creative games from small teams with big ideas; these are the buzzwords that you’ll be hearing from Nintendo when its Wednesday announcement goes wide

This is not your dad’s Nintendo. This isn’t even my Nintendo anymore. It’s a whole new beast. Pricing is set by Nintendo, sure, but that’s it. Reggie Fils-Aime gave an exclusive scoop to Newsweek’s gaming savant N’Gai Croal yesterday, and let me tell you one thing–it’s going to be a free for all. Developers don’t get to set the price, as I said, but aside from that they get free reign.

Fils-Aime told us that while Nintendo, as the retailer, would itself determine the appropriate pricing for each game on a per-title bases, the games themselves would not be vetted by Nintendo. Instead, Nintendo would only check the games for bugs and compatibility, with developers and publishers responsible for securing an E for Everyone, E10+ for Everyone 10 or older, T for Teen or M for Mature rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board–Adults Only titles like Manhunt 2 aren’t welcome.

But there’s a catch (isn’t there always these days?). You have to wait until 2008 to see any games. Bummer.


Is this like what already exists with the Xbox Live Arcade? Yes and no. Yes, it’s yet another download service, albeit one that’s a year late the party. But in 2008, who’s going to have the bigger audience? Will it be the Xbox 360, with its leveled off growth rate and (my opinion alert) maxed out 20 million person installed base? Or will it be the Wii, whose numbers at this point are all but unknowable. And by unknown I mean we have no idea how BIG the installed base will get. And another thing that Arcade does not have: a 40 million strong DS fan installed base. You think Pokemon Revolution is where the DS-to-Wii interactivity stops? Millions of dollars are guaranteed to the developer or team that can make a killer app that involves both the Wii and the DS (and online functionality, perhaps?).

How about a low key scavenger hunt using DS’s and Wii’s spread across a neighborhood? How about a real time Carmen San Diego? The cops woudln’t allow it, but how about a Wii/DS Assassin that uses the ad hoc nature of the DS and Wii for “kills”?

These are just off the wall ideas, but the point is I’m thinking about them. I’m thinking of new ways of gaming and having fun. Some ideas will fail, but the ones that succeed will do so in spades. And a few indie developers out there — hell, maybe it’s you — are going to make bank off of it.

[Thanks, McKee, N’Gai and Nintendo’s PR firm!]