Download Wars: How Nintendo can take on the Big Boys

If it wants its eShop to flourish, Nintendo must finally 'do online' right, says David Houghton

This article originally appeared in Nintendo Gamer magazine.

Between the seething Lovecraftian horror of DS and Wii's friend code system, the non-event of WiiWare, and the relative dearth of online gaming support for the Wii itself, "Nintendo can't do online" has long been a favoured phrase of Ninty's detractors.

That has to change with Wii U. With Nintendo's new machine set to dance on the grave of its predecessor to a tune that must appeal to core and casual gamer alike, a half-hearted dad-at-a-wedding shimmy just will not do. We already know that (praise the freshly conditioned beard of Zeus himself!) we'll be getting a proper online profile system this time, akin to Xbox Live Gamertags and PSN IDs, but what of digital game delivery?


Nintendo has been making rather a hoo-ha out of having as many full-sized games available for download as possible, and has (according to good old anonymous internet sources) been offering third-party developers "insane incentives" to publish their games online. If true, then that's a definite sign that Nintendo is getting serious this time. But it needs more than just a strong line-up of early content. The Wii U eShop needs to be appealing to both customer and developer alike as a long-term service, in ways above and beyond what its long-established rivals can do.

We've seen Nintendo fail in this area before with WiiWare. Despite early promise, in the end the service seemed to please neither developer nor gamer, and deflated rather rapidly. As Jools Watsham, director of Renegade Kid, developer of 3DS hit Mutant Mudds, states: "A lot of WiiWare's issues seemed to come from the interface and accessibility of the WiiWare shop. It was difficult to wrestle with on both counts."


With an uninviting interface putting off potential shoppers, and poor game promotion from Nintendo putting off potential developers, WiiWare stands as a perfect blueprint for the opposite of what Wii U needs to do. It's all very well getting big third-party support, but an early flourish means nothing if that content isn't commercially successful enough to bring those third parties back for another go.

Thus, interface and promotion are going to be key. The most successful and desirable download services on Other Formats combine clear, easy-to- use layouts with a plethora of marketing tools for game makers. As Watsham says: "I think the online distribution on the PC is probably the strongest. But, next to that, XBLA seems to be doing very well. However, it can be very difficult for an independent developer to get their game into a coveted XBLA slot, leaving only the [indie game graveyard] XBLIG route instead, which is not as desirable."

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