The Next Pokemon GO Could Be Created by You
Recently, Nintendo has done the unexpected, coming down from its lofty perch and dropping a wonderful gift right at the feet of the everyman. And no, surprisingly, we're not talking about Pokemon GO. We're talking about the developer portal.
As gaming companies go, Nintendo has always marched to the beat of its own drum. Its well-deserved reputation for innovation and an almost slavish devotion to quality did much to save the gaming industry from the 1983 gaming collapse; the NES revitalized public interest in consoles, and the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality helped consumers avoid the cheap, low-budget games that were flooding the market.
While Microsoft and Sony tend to go for gritty first-person shooters, Nintendo remains what would probably best be described as "quirky," preferring games with bright colors, cartoonish characters, and very, very few bugs.
Intellectual properties like Mario, Pokemon and The Legend of Zelda have given Nintendo a strong defense against encroachment from its console competitors, but ironically, it would be the desktop computer crowd that changed the game on the Japanese powerhouse. In 2002, the game developer Valve announced the launch of a new distribution platform called Steam.
Originally thought to just be a more effective way of getting game updates to Valve's clientele, the Steam platform quickly became much more than that. In 2005 Valve opened up their Steam Store to third-party developers, and suddenly even smaller game studios had a method to distribute their games with a minimum of overhead. For the first time in two decades, independent developers could hope to compete against the triple-A gaming companies.
Since then, indie game developers have exploded, and the growth of indie titles continues to reach unprecedented heights. From Mojang's Minecraft to Hello Games' No Man's Sky (Due for release Aug. 9th), clever indie games continue to take the market by storm, potentially luring players away from Consoles and toward PC.
Both Sony and Microsoft have realized the danger and opportunity in the flourishing indie market. Sony in particular has a reputation among Indie developers for being very easy and pleasant to work with, and as a result will be the only of the three major consoles to support the much anticipated No Man's Sky. Usually the industry leader, Nintendo has lagged behind its competitors in this respect, perhaps not wanting to sully its reputation for quality by allowing poorly-made indie games on its platform.
Finally, though, somebody at Nintendo has had a change of heart and jumped aboard the self-publishing bandwagon. Waving the white flag, Nintendo's new developer portal is built along the same "come one, come all" principles that Xbox and Sony have been striving for. From the site: "No development experience? No problem! We're here to help you regardless of your level of experience in game development."
So, enough with the history lesson and on to the burning question; what do I need to know/have/do if I want to develop games for Nintendo platforms? Here's the list:
Create Your Account
Once upon a time, applying to be a Nintendo developer was a long and arduous process requiring a lot of paperwork. Nintendo has cleaned-up and simplified the process. Creating an account takes only a few minutes, requires filling out a single-page form, and is completely online.
Prepare for Nintendo Development
Once you sign in to your new account, you'll be faced with a non-disclosure and Terms of Service. Sign off on those to gain access to Nintendo's resources.
Create Your Game
Just create it, bro. No, in all seriousness, this is the hard part, and Nintendo has three main recommended tools for would-be developers.
As a game developer you should already be familiar with Unity, even if you don't use it yourself. Unity is a powerful, polished, free development engine that can be used for everything from platformers to first-person shooters.
NINTENDO WEB FRAMEWORK (NWF)
NINTENDO DEV INTERFACE
The Dev Interface is a way to quickly setup and customize whichever development environment you decide on using. It can help you find the correct documentation or SDK's for the platform you're intending to develop for, and can even download firmware updates for some environments. If you're new to Nintendo development, this would be a great starting point!
Then there's the elephant in the room: the dev kit. Rather than a virtual environment, Nintendo's dev kit is a physical machine that will need to be purchased if you plan on distributing your product in the Nintendo store. Sounds pretty straightforward, but the equipment is neither small nor cheap. It will look something like this:
[NOTE: This is an older model, not the model for wii U]
and while the NDA has kept any exact numbers pretty hazy, you can expect to pay somewhere in the ballpark of $3,000 for this guy.
That said, it's a necessary piece of equipment if you want to sell your game in the Nintendo store, and there literally isn't a better debugging tool.
Prepare to Sell Your Game
As your game nears completion you'll want to make sure you're ready to launch as soon as it's finished. This means getting an age rating, signing a publishing contract, and submitting your game to Nintendo review.
Be sure to go over the terms and conditions carefully, as Nintendo is a bit strict. For instance, the popular indie roguelike The Binding of Isaac was barred from release due to strong religious imagery. Your game doesn't need to be squeaky clean (Bayonetta 2 was recently released on the Wii U, after all), but be sure you're aware of Nintendo's restrictions even before beginning development, if possible.
Submit Your PR Materials
With everything else prepared, submit any trailers, screengrabs, and promotional art to Nintendo, who will add everything to your game's page.
Sell Your Game
Your relationship with your game will not end upon making it available in the eShop. Nintendo makes sure you have the tools necessary for downloadable content, patches, and price promotions. And that's about all there is to it! Admittedly, it's still a lot of work, but it's a lot less than it used to be.
When push comes to shove, the future of Nintendo is uncertain. The gaming giant had largely avoided mobile games until Niantic approached them asking permission, with the result eventually being a sharp increase in the number of people wandering into the street while looking at their phones.
It may be that, eventually, the console goes the way of the Dodo and the mobile game is crowned supreme - but with Nintendo's NX console right around the corner, it doesn't look like that's going to happen for a while. Still, if you're an indie developer or even want to be an indie developer for Nintendo platforms, there will never be a better time to start than now.