By now, you’ve probably heard the news about how Axiom Verge is being held back from releasing on Switch by Nintendo itself. There’s no super-specific reason as to why, but what we know so far is that Nintendo just seems to be doing it deliberately. There’s probably some deeper meaning to all of this, but that’s just speculation a this point. Nevertheless, the situation is very strange.
The majority of what we’ve been hearing from devs so far is that Nintendo has been very supportive of these smaller games on Switch, and it has made not just the development process, but even the publishing process a whole lot easier than it was in the past on Wii U and 3DS. That’s why it really does come off as super deliberate that Axiom Verge is being held back. I personally don’t care for the game, but it’s this situation that inspired me to write this article.
Nintendo seems to be trying to improve itself, but there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. The Switch has been selling great so far, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of the woods yet. Its install base is still tiny when compared to its competitors, and not to mention there’s still Nintendo’s entire reputation to worry about. Outside of the major fans, there’s still a sense of distrust towards Nintendo; simply because nobody’s sure what decisions it’s going to make in the future.
The company has a history of doing things without much care for what anyone else thinks. The choice of storage media on the N64 and Gamecube, the Wii and Wii U’s limitations, the list goes on. But the main problem that Nintendo has had is how it handles communications with developers themselves. Things have been rocky ever since the days of the NES and SNES where Nintendo had very strict policies in place. Devs have been reluctant to work with the company ever since, especially after its market share began to take a tumble starting with the N64. As mentioned already, Nintendo has been making some good moves with the Switch, but more needs to be done.
Nintendo has been making a lot of good decisions with the Switch,
but there’s still room for improvement when it comes to developer relationships.
The company attempted to begin catering to the indie scene with the Wiiware service, but that came with very restrictive policies for devs in addition to the system’s own limitations. This was a start, but it’s arguable that things didn’t really kick off until the eShop came to fruition on 3DS and Wii U. There are a number of amazing indie titles that have been released across both systems, but there’s also a good amount of shovelware that found its way onto the digital storefront. Nintendo had a team that was dedicated to approving titles for release, but the bar of entry was set so low that basically anything had a chance of getting on. Remember Meme Run? If you don’t, good, but it’s the perfect example of just how easy it was for anyone with a devkit (which wasn’t hard to obtain) to get their game out to the Nintendo userbase.
Many fans complained about having to sift through dozens of bad games just to find the truly ones. Nintendo made note of this and completely changed its attitude with the Switch eShop. While the development environment has been made a lot more simpler and enjoyable, it’s only being allowed access to a select few at this point. As we can see in the case of Axiom Verge, not everyone is getting a chance to work with the Switch. It seems like Nintendo is trying to create a storefront that consist primarily of quality titles; that’s obviously not a bad thing, but it’s the way that it’s going about doing this which is the problem.
Axiom Verge has gotten good reviews across the board, so it should qualify as being a quality game. That’s what I mean about the poor communication, Nintendo seems to be picking and choosing as it pleases when it comes to who can come into the Switch realm and who can’t. It’s natural that the company wants to give its new system a solid foundation, but being restrictive is not the way to go about that. Dan Adelman, who gave some comments about Axiom Verge, is the former head of Nintendo’s developer relations. Basically, he was the ‘Indie Guy’ for Nintendo. Although he helped a lot of great games get onto the Big N’s platforms, his outspoken nature created some tension between himself and others within the company. As a result, he departed from Nintendo back in 2014, but has continued working with indie devs directly. Basically, he felt that Nintendo was just being too strict and needed to relax more.
Adelman is responsible for some pretty popular indie games hitting Nintendo’s platforms, but he felt the company has been too strict.
When you look at other digital storefronts like Steam, it’s easy to see why Nintendo is trying to gauge the content that gets onto its platform. Steam is one of the largest in the whole industry, but for every great game, there seems to be about 20 terrible ones on the same page. It’s good for developers to have freedom, but some most certainly do abuse that privilege. With that said, Nintendo needs to try and find a balance between picking the right teams to give Switch access to, and weeding out the lazier ones.
What makes this situation so interesting is the fact that Nintendo still has the smallest market out of all the platform holders. That doesn’t mean that indie devs can’t be successful here, as many Wii U and 3DS titles sold very well. But, it just makes things more complicated for these smaller studios: do they try and appeal to Nintendo’s format or do they just avoid them like most third-party companies? That’s the decision that indies are left with, and it’s certainly one that Nintendo needs to take into account when handling business with these studios. If the eShop is going to truly thrive, there needs to be a real level of balance established: a fair entry passage for developers, and a quality storefront for consumers. That’s a whole lot easier said than done, but definitely not impossible.