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The Wii U's Growing Appeal With Indie Developers Could Be the Good News It Needs

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If Nintendo makes itself the preferred source for independent studios, it could carve out its own niche.

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As stated in an earlier article, the biggest obstacle the Wii U (PINK:NTDOY) will most likely have to overcome is pulling in more game developers to attract consumers to its system. Considering the Wii U accounted for a miserable .7% of Call of Duty: Black Ops II sales last year (when the game was the year's best-selling title), and only 5% of total console penetration, it seems likely that its appeal with triple-A developers probably won't improve outside its stable of launch titles.

However, Nintendo fans may still have a reason to be optimistic about the new console because it has apparently found an unlikely ally in independent game developers. In the past few days, representatives from studios such as Gaijin Games, Zen Studios, and Broken Rules have made positive comments about the Wii U and stated their intentions to develop more games for the new system.

The support comes as quite a surprise, if only because of the Wii's poor reputation among small-time developers. According to GameIndustry.biz, the original Wii's WiiWare system had myriad shortcomings, including tiny file size limits, a fading buyer base, restrictive pricing policies, and minimum sales thresholds. These issues, coupled with Nintendo's uninspired efforts to promote titles, made it impossible for the Wii to find success with indie studios.

Perhaps learning from experience, Nintendo appears to have removed many of its previous restrictions and loosened its policies in the Wii U's eShop this time around, much to the delight of developers. In GameIndustry's article, Martin Pichlmair of Broken Rules pointed out that "literally, everything was easier this time around," and that size restrictions are no longer an issue for indies. In addition, Mel Kirk VP of Marketing and Relations of Zen Studios, stated that developing Zen Pinball 2 for the Wii U "has been an extremely positive experience." He thinks that "the doors are wide open for other small studios to bring games to the Wii U."

If indie developers flock to the Wii U, it could mean very good news for Nintendo. Not only would such support help the company carve out its own niche again, but it would put the company on the forefront of a burgeoning genre and help it contend with unexpected competitors. As stated, Nintendo's pursuit of casual gamers puts the Wii U up against Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Nexus, more so than Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox and Sony's (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation consoles.
At the moment, Apple's app store works great for the company and consumers because quality titles always get pushed to the top. For developers, however, this system makes it harder to get noticed. As such, less successful developers might flock to the Wii U's eShop to help them gain awareness.

The Wii U's tablet-like controller would put game designers in familiar territory, while the higher specs and game engines could allow them to do things that would be impossible on an iOS or Android device.

One drawback to the Wii U is that developers will have to purchase dev-kits to create games for its system, while iOS and Android devices are kits on their own. Also, new contenders to the console market -- such as Valve's Steam Box, the Ouya, and the newly announced GameStick -- could limit Nintendo's possible future in this market. In the near future, indie developers are going to have plenty of platforms that will be willing to support their games, so it will take a concerted effort for Nintendo to make itself the preferred publisher.

Still, if Nintendo is able to meet these challenges and successfully market itself to independent developers, it might be able to get the developer support its console needs, while also putting it at the forefront of brand new intellectual properties.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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