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One of the things we very rarely get any insight about is the certification and concept approval processes that allow games to appear on home consoles. This last seventh generation of gaming has been extremely harsh on concepts that break certain trends, but Nintendo is hoping to fix that with the Wii U following up on their partnership with Unity.
At this year's Unite Nordic 2013 presentation, Nintendo of America's head of software development and technical support group for developers, Clayton Hughes, talked at length about the ease of development for the Wii U as well as utilizing the web framework through Unity to design games easily and efficiently. The video was spotted by the good folks at Siliconera and offers some amazing insight into the actual design and development process.
Later on in the presentation, at around the 30 minute mark, Hughes talks about the concept approval and certification process. As noted by Hughes...
“In the EU and the US there is no concept approval for [a developer's] game. You can make what you please. You don't have to ask us 'Can I please make a platformer?' ...go ahead and do it.
“Price and release dates of applications can be independently set by [the developer]. [They] can choose when and where and how much. [They] can have sales and do everything [they] want, and profit distribution is industry standard. It's what you'd expect”.
Regarding that last bit, I imagine that he's referring to the typical 70/30 cut that most developers and distributors deal with when it comes to digital goods. Of course, Hughes doesn't go into any further detail than that, but we can gather that most of the other digital portals use 70/30 so it only makes sense to assume it'll be the same, but we won't know until a developer clarifies.
What's interesting, though, is that Nintendo wants to go out of their way to help Unity developers get their game up and running on the Wii U. They're willing to work with any indie devs to help push their content on to the system.
Here's where things get really juicy. Hughes goes on to talk about the NDA and policy referendums that dictate what substantiates a developer as a “developer”, as opposed to a digital garage warrior (you can check out a brief checklist of Nintendo's previous policies for authorized developer acceptance at this eHow website). Clayton explains to the developers in the room that...
“With the NDA process we used to require that you have an office, and we understand that people work from home and people work from an incubator or whatever. We've rescinded that requirement.
“Now the requirement is simply to keep a dev kit safe, however you can do that and prove it to us. You don't necessarily need an office.
“So if you've heard about certain requirements that you feel you don't meet, come talk to us. Let us know your concerns and we'll try to figure out what we can do to help you develop on our platform.”
Hughes also talks about dev kit costs but avoids talking about the actual cost per kit, as he mentions that Nintendo is willing to work things out after an NDA with the developer has been signed. For Sony, the PS4 dev kits run about $2,400 but according to Polygon, Sony is lending out as many dev kits as possible to indie devs... for free. Microsoft's alternative to this is enabling all XB1 consoles to be turned into debug units by reassigning their the console IDs, which should prove to be very helpful for indie devs who are tight on funds.
While Nintendo has opened up the door to developers and has mentioned that they're willing to work out prices and availability (potentially doing something similar to Sony with lending out dev kits for those short on money), we'll have to wait and see how which of the big three systems developers will favor more. Based on the strong support and showing from Sony, I'm thinking they'll be the lead when it comes to indie game releases and support, potentially with Wii U a mid-second.
It's certainly good to see Nintendo stepping up and out of their comfort zone to adapt and mold their policies to the new landscape of the video game design market. Let's just hope it's not too late and they can reel in enough indie support for a strong line-up of releases heading into 2014.