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Nintendo’s strategy for indies on Switch: More new games

No more two-year-old titles arriving to Nintendo last

Celeste, one of the indies coming to the NIntendo Switch this year.
Matt Makes Games
Chelsea Stark (she/her), executive editor, has been covering video games for more than a decade.

Many Nintendo employees have made a point to state how much the company has learned from the Wii U’s missteps when launching the Switch, and that includes the company’s relationship with indie games. That incorporates more titles that don’t appear other places, especially games that haven’t already been on other consoles for years.

Members of Nintendo’s third-party publishing team spoke about this at length during demos at the Game Developers Conference, which focused heavily on the 64 independent games confirmed for the Nintendo Switch. Those games — including favorites likes Stardew Valley and Overcooked, and new titles like Wargroove and Runner3 — are part of a concerted effort to fill up the Switch’s content library with more than first-party games.

“We’re not launching with 32 titles day one; we learned that lesson from Wii U,” said Damon Baker, head of partner management for Nintendo’s publisher and developer relations team. He said Nintendo wanted to make sure the games released connected with the audience, but also met certain standards.

Instead of that flood, new indie titles will be hitting the Nintendo Switch’s eShop every week, Baker said. The titles confirmed Tuesday had a slew of release windows, from spring and summer to a more vague “2017.” While it seems counter-intuitive to stagger releases instead of having a full slate for launch day, Baker said being selective was key to Nintendo’s decision making.

According to Kirk Scott, Nintendo’s head of indie relations, the company let three defining traits guide its selection of indie titles for Switch: “great IP, plays together, plays great anywhere.” But there are also things they aren’t looking for, namely, games that have been out a long time on other platforms that’d be finally making their Nintendo debut. Instead, Nintendo is looking for titles that may be making a console debut on Nintendo Switch, or bring a new feature to the platform, though that won’t exclude titles that already exist on PC.

“We look at something on Steam, and we see it as complementary,” Scott said. “We think people that own that game and play it on Steam may also want to buy it on a console they can take with them or easily play with their friends.”

Baker said there are just traits Nintendo is looking for that it knows will both please fans and represent the hardware. Snipperclips, for instance, was an indie title that Nintendo picked out as a stand-out interpretation of the hardware and decided to publish itself.

And while developers were encouraged to ensure games could work in all three modes — tablet, handheld and docked — and to include some additional Joy-Con functionality, neither was a requirement for the platform.

“With the Wii U, we went out of our way to push all the bells and whistles before we realized which of those bells and whistles would stick,” Baker said, meaning console features like the second screen — barely used beyond first-party titles.

Baker said it was also key to find titles that would appeal to fans of the brand and its games, even if they weren’t necessary first-party games.

“Fans want things that feel nostalgic, even if they are new experiences,” he said, highlighting Chucklefish’s Wargroove as a clear example of that: a game that felt to many watching the trailer like a second coming of Advance Wars.

The first titles in the “Nindies” program include launch games like Fast RMX, as well as releases slated for March like 2D fighter Pocket Rumble and Blaster Master Zero. You can view a full list of titles here.