Microsoft has Xbox Live; Sony has the PlayStation Network. Nintendo technically has WiiWare, but their download service hasn't enjoyed the same breadth of offerings or popularity as other digital download services. And yet, the country is full of homes where Wii hardware can be found. So what gives?
WiiWare distribution, it seems, just isn't worth a developer's time.
Trent Oster is a game development veteran, formerly of BioWare and lately of digital distribution service Beamdog. Beamdog's internal studio Overhaul Games released a port of MDK2 to WiiWare last year, and, according to Oster, it was an experience not worth repeating... ever.
Gamasutra reports that Oster isn't the first developer to claim that Nintendo's policies prevent developers from receiving revenue from Wii distribution of their games:
Oster ... claims developers must sell 6,000 units of a WiiWare game before receiving a payment from Nintendo: "We'd love to see some money back on the title, as it is the best version of MDK2 on any console, but we've yet to see anything."
Gamasutra previously spoke with developers who acknowledged that a minimum sales requirement exists, and one small studio even doubted it would ever receive a payment for its WiiWare game. UK-based indie Different Cloth also admitted that its disappointing WiiWare sales for Lilt Line prevented it from earning any money from the port.
Oster also called out the 40mb file size limit on WiiWare games as prohibitively low. Even accounting for file compression and installation, the limit seems small. (For comparison, currently on my PC Machinarium takes 345mb and highly aged SimSity 2000 takes 104mb; mobile apps tend to take between 3mb and 10mb of storage on my phone.) The certification process for the game also took nine months, although Oster acknowledges that some of the delay was due to the small size and heavy workload of the team on his end.
If Nintendo truly hopes to see the Wii U succeed after its launch late this year, easy digital distribution will have to be a part of the package. Smaller-budget games, experimental games, ports and updates of old games, and indie games all thrive through digital download services on other platforms — Xbox, PlayStation, and PC — that are easy for both developers and consumers to use. If Nintendo's business practices truly are too challenging for game developers to bother with, then game developers won't bother developing for the platform. And a console with no games to play on it really doesn't serve much purpose for anyone at all.