To hear the small and independent publishers talk about the Wii U, it does not matter that the console has only managed to shift a couple hundred thousand units in the last quarter; it’s still a big opportunity.
In fact, it works to their benefit that the likes of EA and Ubisoft are scaling back their interest in the platform.
“Nintendo have always had a very loyal fanbase of core gamers and thankfully they’re gamers who love indie games,” Phil Gaskell, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Ripstone, said. Ripstone is bringing a couple of its games to the Wii U, and Nintendo’s support for Ripstone in return was clear to see – both Knytt Underground and Pure Chess were featured on a recent Nintendo Direct show; valuable marketing exposure indeed.
“When large corporate publishers start to pull out of consoles I see that as an opportunity for smaller, more nimble publishers to take over and offer gamers who are clearly hungry for games some interesting and fun experiences,” Gaskell said.
For small publishers, it is less of a risk if a console is underperforming. The dollars that Ripstone needs to invest to get these games working on the Wii U are a fraction of what EA or Ubisoft would need to spend, and this means that Ripstone can take greater risks, as simple economic means that it doesn’t need to sell as many copies.
Ripstone is also a publisher that is familiar with what needs to be done to turn a profit on an underperforming console. As one of the most active supporters of Sony’s PlayStation Vita, Ripstone has indeed been very successful on the platform. The secret, Gaskell says, is to genuinely support these niche platforms, and give the owners of the consoles a reason to want to support you in return.
“I think it’s important that publishers pledge their support for these devices by making great games and helping to give gamers a tangible reason to buy the platform, instead of waiting for the platform to sell,” he said. “Otherwise it all becomes a fait accompli.”
In other words, by being seen as a leader on the platform when the install base is low, a publisher positions itself well to profit on the goodwill that that console’s community extends to them in return as the console’s numbers start picking up. It’s very grassroots marketing, but social media has made word of mouth a powerful tool for an independent publisher to be seen as one of the best supporters of a cult-favourite console.
This desire to support good consoles despite low hardware sales has led Ripstone to the Wii U, though Gaskell has no concerns that Nintendo will turn the console around. “I think Nintendo has amply demonstrated its ability to sales around on its devices in the past,” he said.
“I don’t think for a minute that the people at Nintendo are in any way concerned over the current position of the Wii U, and neither are we.” The faith that Ripstone has in the console is clear – Gaskell claims that as a small publisher the company can’t support everything, and so supporting the Wii U is a very strategic decision.
|Nic Watt (left)
Nic Watt, Creative Director of Australian-based Nnooo, previously an independent developer but now a company that has developed its own publishing business that will launch with Cubemen 2 on the Wii U, is likewise convinced that the Wii U has a positive future ahead of it, and that it’s important for independent publishers to take a long-term view when dealing with Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft or any other console manufacturer.
“We’re looking for long-term relationships with Nintendo and Sony and we can’t just jump in and out of platforms depending on how they’re selling at any particular time,” Watt said. “We have had to set our flag down and say ‘we are supporting these two companies,’ and that will stand us in good stead over the long term, as it will those developers whose games we’re publishing.”
Nnooo’s support of Nintendo started back when the company launched its first digital download platform. The WiiWare download store launched with Pop – Nnooo’s first game. Because Nnooo has been such an active supporter of Nintendo in the years since, the company now finds itself in a position where it can engage with Nintendo on innovative ideas that are firsts for the Japanese giant, placing it in a position as a leading partner to the Wii U.
Cubemen 2 features both player-generated content and cross-platform multiplayer, allowing Wii U players to compete with people on the PC or iOS version of the game. This would simply not have been possible if Nintendo and Nnooo did not have the solid relationship, Watt said.
“It’s a lot of money to spend the time marketing to Sony and Nintendo, which is what you have to do as a developer,” Watt said. “Because we’ve put that effort in, Nintendo has responded. For the first time ever Nintendo was in our office last year; some of the people came down from Europe for a meeting. You don’t get that kind of attention until you’ve been working with Nintendo for quite a few years.”
Like Ripstone’s Gaskell, Watt has no concerns whatsoever for the future of the Wii U, which is precisely why it signed up to publish indie games on the console.
“Consoles are Nintendo’s lifeblood. It has to make this console successful and it’s got some amazing games coming out this year,” Watt said.