Why Indies are Switching Focus from Xbox Live & PSN to the Nintendo eShop

Jason Coles
Games Indie Games
Games Indie Games Nintendo

Gaming on PC is a glorious experience, isn’t it? Offering us hyper-realistic graphics, a strange sense of (somewhat undeserved) superiority, and a plethora of weird indie games that feed the hipster inside all of us. Whatever way you spin it, it’s hard to hate on the sheer power — and vast library –of the PC . Whether you like to dip into the unending torment of a good rogue-like, the surgical precision of a hardcore platformer, or the laid-back relaxation offered by the best life sims, there’s no doubt that Steam has the indies that you’re looking for. Hell, it probably has forty different versions of whatever floats your boat.

But now though, Nintendo’s triumphant return to portable gaming has given players a compelling new way to play indies — on the go. While Steam was the first to establish itself as the go-to for quriky and creative indie games, it’s no surprise that over time,  many of the best games around have found themselves marooned on the lonely and expensive isle of PC gaming. Yet over the last decade, more and more of these hidden gems have been making their way out into the wilderness of the PlayStation and Xbox store.

Now though, against all odds, Nintendo’s curious-looking hybrid console is slowly pushing Sony and Microsoft aside — and the eshop is becoming the second best place to play indies.

Switching it up

Nintendo Switch in dock with grip

When the Switch launched in March 2017, it came as a complete shock to the rest of the industry. Following cautiously on the heels of the catastrophic failure that was the Wii U, Nintendo seemed to have finally got it right. With millions of Switches suddenly flying off the shelves and few third-party publishers to compete with, indie developers everywhere looked towards Nintendo as a guiding light, a warm and welcoming place that they could fit into well and where their games could gain some real traction.

Suddenly developers were given the ability to sit alongside the Breath Of The Wild on the eshop, and find a new gap in the market as a portable gaming contender. These experiences that were once restricted to PC monitors in dark rooms could now suddenly break free of these restraints and fill all the time people once lost traveling on trains, buses and planes. In other words, the Switch has given indies a shiny new portable presence.

Curious to hear from indies themselves, we thought we’d ask  Nigel Lowrie, the co-founder of Devolver, Rodrigo Monteiro, the technical director of Chucklefish, and Anthony Giovannetti, one of the founders of Mega Crit, the team behind Slay the Spire — why they were doubling down on Switch.

Chucklefish: Nintendo has been very supportive, and the Nintendo Switch itself is a joy to work with! [Nintendo] have certainly done a good job at making the platform more accessible to small developers.

Devolver: Nintendo has been really fantastic and are more active than they have ever been in seeking and promoting indies and unique, niche games – not just the big games from known developers.

Mega crit: They have been great so far, but keep in mind we are working with Humble as our publisher for going to console and they do most of the interfacing with Nintendo.

So despite their long-standing reputation as a dismissive console partner, it turns out Nintendo has been a pretty helpful platform ally for indies so far. For an indie team, having good cooperation is incredibly important because there isn’t always the time to devote to a complicated thing like this. Needless to say, that’s an important part of this, but what else do the developers and publishers see in the Switch?

Chucklefish: The Switch offers an excellent hybrid between a portable and home console, which works extremely well for the kinds of games that we make. In addition, we believe that our games appeal to the Nintendo audience, having been inspired by 16-bit era classics, while giving them a modern makeover. We’re really excited to be bringing Wargroove to the Switch and hope the Nintendo audience enjoys giving it a go!

Developer Dodgeroll tweet that 'Enter The Gungeon' on Switch had far exceeded expectations.

Devolver: The Nintendo Switch has some incredible momentum and combines the best of traditional console play and simply being able to slide into bed and keep playing. Folks seem to be looking at Switch first for new releases because of that versatility and even grab their favourite games they’ve bought before on other platforms for the same reasons. Plus, everyone has love for Nintendo systems past, present, and future so a good amount of the excitement is from developers just seeing their game on a Nintendo system. Overall, we’ve been pretty satisfied with sales on Nintendo Switch and most sales have fallen in line with how games performed on other platforms with some exceptions. Enter the Gungeon did exceptionally well and The Messenger performed way stronger than we expected on Nintendo Switch versus PC which has usually led indie game sales.

Mega crit: It’s a wider audience. We expect to reach many new players and have had tons of already existing players reach out requesting a Switch port. Slay the Spire is the kind of game that was designed with touch interfaces in mind, so the gameplay and feel will work great on the Switch. The ability to play Slay the Spire on the go is something in high demand from our player base, and the Switch makes perfect sense for that!

Unlimited freedom

Nintendo Switch Skyrim
There's something soothing about retreating to a virtual land and losing yourself in it. Now, Switch owners can find solace in Skyrim wherever they are.

Clearly, the freedom that the Switch offers is a big selling point for both gamers and the game designers.  You can’t sit next to someone and play a PC with ease, but with the Switch you can sit there and try and fend off an alien invasion while they watch whatever series they are speeding through on Netflix. When an indie game sells better on a console than on a PC you know that something strange is happening.

The fact thatthe console is under-powered comparatively seems to be largely irrelevant, after all with games like DOOM and Skyrim in its repertoire it’s clear that it can run most games fine. This may be why along with the expected pixel-style indie games we are slowly seeing games like Dark Souls Remastered, Cities: Skylines and even Civilisation VI making their way over to Nintendo’s hybrid. More importantly for indies, its clear that the appetite of the gamers here is voracious, varied, and possibly without end.

This leads to what ends up feeling like a handheld Steam box, a portable version of all your favourite games that you shouldn’t be able to take with you. It defies logic that you can have the selection you can from this little bit of technology, let alone the quality of it. So many games find new lives here that every indie developer with a drop of business sense at least looks into it.

More than an indie device

The Legend Of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild.

Of course, there are plenty of first-party games from Nintendo like Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2, but the indie scene far outweighs the AAA on the console. In fact, the third party support for it is incredible, a far cry from the dark days of the Wii U. It really does feel like a fully fleshed out library instead of just Ninty throwing soon-to-be-ported games into the void.

Taking your Steam library on the go would have been completely inconceivable even knowing that the Switch was coming, so the fact that you can pick up so many of these incredible, inventive, inspiring little games with you is amazing. It is a weird time to be a fan of gaming but it really is a good one when you can take The Binding of Isaac on the go with you to expose the world to the horror that is Mom’s heart.

When you add in the games that let you co-op you end up with something that fits some of these games better than Steam ever could; the console literally comes with two controllers. Being able to easily fight your way through something like Wizard of Legend without having to buy a second controller isn’t something to be taken for granted. It is very easy to see why so many games do so well here, and why the shop is beginning to resemble some of the best parts of the Steam store page.

If what has happened so far is a sign of things to come then the selection will just keep growing. The volume will increase, not all of it will be good, but there will be so many fantastic titles available that it will be hard to choose what to go for next. The Switch will resemble Steam more and more, and it is a fantastic thing. The more access everyone has to these wonderful experiences the better, after all, choice is always a good thing when it comes to figuring out what to play. Even if it is a little crippling sometimes.

Jason Coles
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