Nintendo is kind of eating Microsoft and Sony’s lunch, when you think about it. I sat and watched the Nindies Showcase like most of you all did, and I was really excited when the demonstration opened up with Super Meat Boy Forever. It’s kind of the OG, when it comes to high-profile indies on consoles, you know? But when it was revealed to be a timed console exclusive for the Switch, I was floored. That’s huge! Super Meat Boy has been consistently a big deal ever since it was new. Every time it appeared on a new platform, even years down the line, people talked about it. That’s power. And it doesn’t stop there.
The Nindies Showcase for Summer 2017 kept going and kept using that magic word, “exclusive.” Nintendo must have spared no expense getting the likes of Kentucky Route Zero and Battle Chef Brigade, games with renown to spare, exclusive to the Switch in some form. These are exclusivity deals, the kinds you see on stage at E3 with their sneaky caveats and asterisks, but for indie games. Think about that; compare it to how things have been up until now. That is wild.
Indies really took off last gen on the Xbox Live Arcade and later PlayStation Network. The downloadable game boom amidst an economic recession really allowed these platforms and games to take off in a big way. And Nintendo caught a lot of flack with its goofy WiiWare system. Sure, some games like Final Fantasy IV: The After Years debuted there, but nobody really wanted to deal with it. But now Nintendo is blasting ahead. While the PlayStation Network deals with an increasing Steam-like reputation for poor quality control and Microsoft’s ID@Xbox thing mostly confused people, Nintendo is treating its indies like royalty. And frankly, it needs to.
Nintendo is understanding that it’s not just having software, it’s how you present it that makes it valuable in the eyes of gamers. There are too many choices now; if you don’t make a splash you won’t get noticed. As Microsoft learned, being too similar to the competition amounts to a firm second place if you botch your messaging. The Switch is doing so well because it stands out and because of how Nintendo presents its lineup. Each release feels like it matters, save for the little things like Neo Geo arcade ports that just sort of get dumped everywhere (but are quite good).
You won’t see Sony or Microsoft giving indie games the same kind of platform Nintendo is right now. There are bigger fish to fry, likely, in the minds of these companies. They get some attention on stage at events, but usually in the form of sizzle reels or pre-show content as we saw last year during Sony’s E3 2017 presentation. Lip service is nice for people already in the know, but Nintendo is out here treating indies almost like AAA releases.
This stuff matters. The downloadable boom happened because these games brought in steady money as stability in the AAA market meant delays and dissolving risk-taking. These smaller games could cater to various niche audiences, audiences totally willing to drop 20 bucks on a game and tell their friends about them. That adds up. As AAA games become harder and more expensive to make, that bottom line is kept alive and thriving with interesting, cheaper alternatives.
The Nindies program is clearly doing well for Nintendo. After the surprising first showcase ahead of the Switches launch, we are seeing many similar deals with bigger names involved. After all, Nintendo has managed to strike gold with this thing, even managing to have new IPs like ARMS sell over a million copies in less than three weeks. I’m not suggesting Nintendo is going to push anyone over with this stuff, but it’s yet again doing something fresh and exciting, and benefitting in a big way.