With the new 3DS and the possibility of a Wii successor either next year or the year after, it’s probably a good time to let third parties know that they haven’t been up to snuff on Nintendo’s platforms lately other than the DS.
The following is a ten step guide to finding success on Nintendo consoles. Success seems to be elusive as third parties struggle to succeed and feel that they have tried everything (obviously not everything, like make mostly high-quality games from launch) and still find that the Wii and sometimes the DS audience are reluctant to purchase their products. So what follows is a handy set of guidelines that will help you on your way to financial or at least critical success on Nintendo’s platforms.
Step One: Be inspired by Nintendo.
Nintendo makes a wide variety of games, from platformers to racing games, shooting games to adventure games, RPGs, etc. There are plenty of games to draw inspiration from and learn what makes the uber-loyal Nintendo fan tick. But don’t go overboard on this because…
Step Two: DO NOT RIP OFF NINTENDO.
Sure you’re inspired by Nintendo, but releasing Resident Evil Kart or Final Fantasy Sports is obviously trying to put one over on the userbase and you’ll be in pain. Video game customers can be fooled, but they aren’t idiots, and will pick Mario Kart over NASCAR Kart or MySims Kart any day of the week. Have a legitimate plan for your entrant that doesn’t involve slapping “Kart” or “Fit” on the cover and hoping you’ll trick people.
Step Three: Be prepared to fail.
Not every game is a major success, even if you have all your ducks in a row. Just ask Nintendo. They have had a lot of games fail in their day, even some that were adored by critics and had a large marketing campaign. Examples include ExciteBots, Elite Beat Agents, and Geist. Being jealous of Nintendo’s successes without recognizing their failures is sour grapes based on an idea that everybody who owns a Wii or a DS is a raving Nintendo fanboy.
Step Four: Earn the right to innovate or try new IPs.
Trying a new IP without setting a foothold as a good developer in familiar territory will lead to pain. You must earn the right to try something new by satisfying core wants. Examples of this include making a fighting game based on a popular action-adventure series without actually putting that series onto the platform first, as seen with Castlevania Judgment. Or, conversely, an adventure game based on a popular fighting game without having an entry of the fighting game on the series first, as with SoulCalibur Legends.
Step Five: Reputation Matters.
If you get known to the userbase at launch for making a bunch of tripe, nobody is going to care how many times you’ve said you’ve turned over a new leaf. Ubisoft felt this pain when they made a fantastic game in the form of Red Steel 2, but it ultimately saw failure due to the poor reception of the first at the Wii’s launch. Any third party who has pledged to “get serious” about Wii development has had to fight uphill against encumbrances of their own making, and almost all will blame Nintendo as if they held a gun to their heads and forced them to make awful games.
Step Six: Market like you mean it.
Market your product to the market you want as if you actually intend for your product to succeed. Self-sabotage like an all-Twitter campaign or a “day after Christmas” launch leaves your potential customers uninformed and fans befuddled as to your intentions.
Step Seven: There is no “one size fits all” solution. Do not ‘demograph’ the userbase.
Whatever game you think all of the userbase owns, less than 30% actually do. Attempting to paint the entire userbase with a broad brush leads to struggles. Making the thirtieth Wii Sports or Wii Fit clone isn’t going to make you suddenly a success.
Step Eight: Big Teams at launch make the way for Little Teams throughout.
Shigeru Miyamoto once said that third parties often times struggle to make headway onto Nintendo consoles because they routinely put their third or fourth string developer teams on their Nintendo games while Nintendo always has their first and second string teams make the big titles. Obviously it would be an attack on variety to only demand the first string efforts forever, but the second and third stringers can learn from the efforts of the first string efforts at the outset. Handing development responsibility for an entire platform to fresh recruits and poorly funded development teams is too much for them to handle, and they seldom strike gold, especially if they are competing 100% of the time against Nintendo’s Best. For an example of this in action, compare the excitement over the 3DS’s third party launch efforts against the meager third party offerings of the Wii’s launch. Konami bringing Metal Gear and Capcom bringing Resident Evil is certainly more exciting than Konami bringing Elebits and Capcom bringing jack squat. Even if Elebits is a good game, it can only be helped by having been made by an established developer with a good reputation instead of being a small team’s one-off lab experiment.
Step Nine: Stop making excuses.
Nintendo does not make excuses for their failures, even when they get the spurs put to them by the major gaming press and their fans. Blaming the userbase, blaming Nintendo, or blaming the recession is a great way to get Nintendo owners to buy more Nintendo games and less of yours. Hardcore Nintendo fans are made, not born.
Step Ten: Be yourselves.
Even if you follow none of the other steps in this guide, following this will at least earn sympathy should you find failure. Trying to mold yourself into what you think the “monolithic userbase” wants almost always fails. Be yourself, and not a crappy imitation of Nintendo. People who enjoy Mario might also enjoy Resident Evil. Be true to yourself, and not to your marketing and demographic departments, and you will find critical success. Make the games you want to make, or the games that you have been inspired to make, and stop trying to be somebody you are not.