Why have the Nintendo Downloads sucked so hard lately?
A long time ago, about four months ago to be exact, I used to look forward reading Nintendo's weekly download releases each Monday morning. While Virtual Console was on life support even then, WiiWare and DSiWare churned out a steady stream of quality titles. Hell, I even organized two features on the good games on both services.
Now I'd be remiss to not point out that there is also a lot of crap on Nintendo's download platforms, but there would usually be at least one interesting or knock-out title each week between the two platforms a week. To me, that was enough.
Now, nearly two-and-a-half years since Nintendo started releasing new, original games on WiiWare, there are rarely any apparently redeeming games on the platform. It seems to have only gotten worse over the summer. By looking over the release list, it looks like there are about one or two intriguing games a month on WiiWare that didn't turn out to be utter crap. DSiWare is faring even worse. Hell, the DSiWare Wikipedia page is in total disrepair, which is a sign to me that not many people care about it.
Whenever I look over the press release each week, I usually just think of how funny the Nintendo release segment on Giant Bomb will be. Luckily, those guys have swooped in and made the Enjoy Your Massages, Deer Captors, and endless onslaught of myNotebook titles funny to hear about. I'd also like to think that the Newscast crew does an admirable job at informing you about these games and how apparently awful they are or might be. You can probably even tell the faint hint of depression at how pitiful the output has been.
Now there could be a number of factors for this, ranging anywhere from an accidental lull in releases to economic troubles of developers. In my opinion, one prevailing theory is becoming clearer. Nintendo does no favors for developers on either platform. There's a high barrier of entry and it's difficult to make money off of the titles due to the structure of the service.
There's also the public relations standpoint. As you might know from reading our site and following the games industry in general, public relations professionals are a big part of how games get covered, and for any PR reps working for these fledgling developers, it's a chore to get reviewable copies to the media, which is usually a surefire way to get some form of coverage.
"Unfortunately Nintendo doesn't help independent developers like us to give a privileged access of our game to the international press. I wish Nintendo would make more effort for DSi developers," said one anonymous European developer. "We are happy with our game and we enjoyed creating it, but we are not very enthusiastic about developing more DSiWare games in the future."
From what I understand, this is not an isolated incident. Plenty of developers, even ones who still make games for the platform (Bit.Trip developer Gaijin Games' Alex Neuse recently commented about how he's disheartened that the WiiWare demo service hasn't returned since it helped out sales of Bit.Trip Beat so much), have major issues with it. If WiiWare or DSiWare games are even successful at all, which I guess a few have to be, it seems to be an uphill battle.
You even have games such as Super Meat Boy jumping from WiiWare to other platforms. In this case, Xbox Live Arcade. While a WiiWare version is still coming, it will lack features and come out long after the XBLA version. Part of the reason why things like that are happening is because Microsoft seems to actually advertise its downloadable offerings. Outside of the occasional larger company releasing a known commodity (Capcom and the two Mega Man games), or Nintendo championing a little indie title (Cave Story, And Yet It Moves) or a Nintendo-published one (Fluidity), there isn't any large-scale advertising or knowledge for these games, even if you ignore the fact that most people only know about the games the day they come out.
There's also the structured price points that make iPhone ports sometimes five times the original price. You have the rigid space limit that will force some developers to skip WiiWare. There's the glut of Sudoku and solitaire games. Of course, you can always point to the lack of consistent Virtual Console releases as part of the reason the download platform has suffered as well.
The bottom line is that I miss looking forward to the weekly downloads each week. I really wish that interesting games would be released for these platforms on a consistent basis so that way when cool games come out, I don't immediately doubt their potential because of how terrible everything else looks.