Nintendo: Indies Helped Power Switch's Success

Nintendo eyes hardcore gamers as it continues to woo familes and kids

Nintendo Switch is a powerhouse for digital downloaded games, more so than any Nintendo platform that has come before it. Much of that is thanks to robust indie game support and, most importantly, Nintendo recognizes that.

“A lot of the fact that we’ve grown the digital business so significantly with this platform compared to others was on the back of the strong indie titles,” Damon Baker, Nintendo of America’s senior manager for publisher and developer relations, told Glixel at GDC last week. “ It’s definitely getting recognized within the Nintendo organization. It’s encouraging to see that (knowledge) front of mind when talking to executives.”

The indie-fueled success of the Nintendo Switch and its download business has lead to a number of successes as well as some new challenges for the company.

Chief among the things Nintendo is now dealing with is the absolute flood of third-party games - a majority of which are indies - coming to the device.

“In July of last year we knew of about 150 titles from third-party coming out,” Baker said. “By the end of 2017, 320-some-odd games had come out on the Switch. It was a significant jump in terms of expectations. There is an even higher number (we know of ) for this year and we expect that to be surpassed as well.

“While we’re really fortunate with the reception, we know it’s our responsibility to recognize that there is a lot of content coming and that we need to find ways to improve discoverability.”

Baker said the company is looking at a number of different systems to try and do that, but he declined to talk specifics. He added that “natural improvements” to the eShop experience are already in the works and that they hope to add things like rankings and different “shelves” for different types of promotions or business models - like free-to-play - to the store. “There are a number of different things we can do there. It’s just a matter of implementing those things.”

Nintendo also can do more in terms of marketing and promotion of games, he said.

“We have enough content now that we don’t have to wait every six months to promote a new batch of indie titles,” he said. “We can increase the cadence of Nindies videos.”

Baker said that the company also recognizes that it needs to do a better job of following up on the games it announces with updated information for those waiting for those titles. “A lot of people want to know about the previous content we announced but that hasn’t come out yet,” he said. “I think we can do a better job of coming back with new information. There are games from the first Nindies showcase at GDC last year that still aren’t out.”

While Nintendo is awash in upcoming third-party and indie titles, the company still uses a closed development system. That means that Nintendo still has a hand in curating what can and can’t show up on the system.

“The curation was more out of necessity,” Baker said. “We were starting a platform from scratch and building out infrastructure and we wanted to make sure it was a positive experience for our developers. We also had things like shortages of dev kits and hardware in general to deal with. Critically, we had to have a plan in place to manage that.

Baker said what started with Nintendo curating individual titles, has now become more about curating partnerships with publishers and developers. “We’re entrusting those publishers and developers will have great experiences,” he said.

Eventually, he added, “we will open the doors to development.” But there is no ETA on when that might happen. “We’re still curating that content flow.”

One thing Nintendo is doing through curation is working to expand the sort of audience that might be attracted to the Switch.

“I think it’s very naturally that we will be expanding the audiences next year,” Baker said. “Nintendo is known for really having a strong proposition for the kids and family markets, but we’ve always had this gap in the middle for the core and active gamer market. With Nintendo Switch we’ve had a very strong demographic there. As we look at the future, we want to make sure there is content for everyone, regardless of if they want to play M-rated games or with automation cardboard construction projects.”

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