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When Satoru Iwata took to the stage at the 2011 Game Developers Conference for a keynote speech celebrating a quarter-century of gaming, few expected that he would deliver a stinging attack on smartphone games.
"Mobile handset makers... have no motivation to release high-quality software," said Iwata. "Their goal is to gather as much software as possible, because quantity is how they profit.So we are looking at two different sides of the industry. What we produce is value, and we should protect that value."
Months later, during an interview with the Game Trailers website, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime claimed that "cheap, disposable smartphone games are one of the biggest problems facing the games industry today. I actually think that one of the biggest risks... is these inexpensive games that are candidly disposable from a consumer standpoint."
Strong words, but could Nintendo's top brass end up eating them? After all, last year saw Nintendo make its first ever operating loss, with stocks falling to their lowest value in five years (see page 6 for more on that). Investors voiced their displeasure and, with Apple's devices gaining a foothold in the mobile gaming market, they urged Iwata to consider developing for smartphones instead.
So when website The Daily suggested that Nintendo planned to implement an app store on Wii U, what might previously have been dismissed as a load of old cobblers suddenly seemed to make a strange kind of sense. Granted, the site's insistence that its story came from "a person familiar with the matter" sounded a touch suspicious, but it was a rumour that was impossible to completely dismiss.
Would an iOS-style 'app store' be a useful addition to Wii U? We asked Nathan Vella, president of Capybara Games, creators of the excellent Might & Magic: Clash Of Heroes, for his thoughts. Vella has some experience with the App Store, having released puzzler Critter Crunch and abstract musical adventure Superbrothers: Sword And Sworcery EP on iOS, and unsurprisingly he thinks it would be a worthwhile endeavour for Nintendo. "Since the Wii U is based on a fairly original interface, I think an 'app store' approach would be very useful," he says. "It could also foster the type of creativity and exploration that new devices need, without relying on Nintendo's first-party studios to do it."
Tommy Refenes from Team Meat, creator of too-big-for-WiiWare platformer Super Meat Boy, agrees, though suggests any such endeavour should be carefully monitored. "If Nintendo could provide a way that anyone could create a game on their hardware I think that would be amazing. The problem is there would need to be some sort of quality control and administration of the titles to be sold on a Nintendo app store. With this sort of administration you can avoid the tons of shovelware, clones and general low-quality games that we see on the iTunes App Store now. Imagine if you didn't have to sift through tons of garbage to get to the good quality games. That's what Nintendo should aim for."
The idea of a comparatively controlled environment for game releases rather than Apple's anything-goes approach is one which finds favour with Simon Flesser of Simogo. The Swedish team has seen success on the App Store with the whimsical Bumpy Road and quirky rhythm-actioner Beat Sneak Bandit, and Flesser suggests that an app store would attract smaller developers like his two-man team.
"A lot of what is interesting in gaming today is made by very small independent teams, and Apple have successfully - whether intentionally or not - attracted developers of our size to their service." Yet again, however, the issue of shovelware raises its head. "I think the stronger monitoring and selection of content that Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have on their digital download services today are not necessarily only a bad thing," says Flesser. "The lowest points on those services are way higher than the lowest points of the mobile app stores."