With each passing generation of consoles, the criticism against Nintendo’s lackluster third-party support has only strengthened. While the Switch has seen Nintendo attempt to make strides in the realm of triple-A publishers with games from giants like Ubisoft, Bethesda, and even Rockstar, the company is also focusing its efforts on independent developers to expand the library of its most recent console.

This feature originally appeared in issue 295 of Game Informer.

Falling Behind

The Wii U was notorious for its lack of third-party titles. Near the end of its lifecycle, players were provided with a barren wasteland, where months passed between major new releases. Due to poor sales, a difficult-to-develop-for infrastructure, and a form factor many viewed as a half-measure, the Wii U was not viewed as a destination platform by triple-A publishers or independent developers.

In the past couple of years, Nintendo has made it a mission to try and change that perception of its hardware. In early 2016, Damon Baker stepped in as head of partner management for the publisher and developer-relations department after nearly 10 years of working in licensing and marketing. Ever since, Baker has pushed to improve relationships with third-party publishers at Nintendo.

Baker says that while it may seem counterintuitive, the third-party department never had a dedicated account-management team and instead relied on connections the team members brought in with developers through the relationships they’ve established. “For the last two years, I’ve been asked to head up this initiative, at least here in North America, to reach out to different publishers, from triple-A publishers all the way to independent developers, and evangelize what [Switch] is all about,” Baker says.

If all goes well with the initiative, the hope is that Nintendo can attract more third-party talent than ever before. The Switch could break the cycle of this traditionally weak area for Nintendo, especially if it becomes a destination platform for indies. Nintendo thinks it has the right formula for success with Switch, and the developer hype surrounding the platform backs up that confidence.

Making The Switch

Though Baker openly admits the Switch being a shiny, new platform is a good way to attract developers, he claims the way the team operates now isn’t too different from how it did near the Wii U’s final days. Late in the Wii U cycle, we saw some new approaches to court more third parties, with tactics like providing Wii U owners the ability to download several indie game demos and try them out at home during E3 2015. However, with poor sales and an unfriendly framework, it was too little to save the sinking Wii U ship.

While it’s too early to tell if the Switch will ultimately be different, the platform seems like it’s on the right path. Instead of attributing any kind of radical new approaches, Baker feels that the Switch is a much friendlier platform to developers. He acknowledges that while Switch has a lot of hype surrounding it since launch, several additional reasons are to thank for the influx of third-party developers – particularly indie developers – flocking to the Switch.

“Developers could certainly go to any of our competitors and have a much larger install base to work with,” Baker says. “The reason why they’re really interested in working with us is because of some of the features and functionality [of Switch], but it’s also because we’ve created a framework that is much easier for these developers to bring their content over.”

The fact that the Switch is a home console with portable capabilities is attractive to many developers, including indie publisher Adult Swim Games, which brought Trinket Studios’ Battle Chef Brigade to Switch in 2017. “Indie games can generally be consumed in smaller chunks than triple-A games,” associate product manager at Adult Swim Games Jacob Paul says. “I think it’s the perfect platform for pick-up-and-play as people are going on the bus or on planes.”

The technical side of the Switch is also attractive to developers. Frozenbyte has plenty of experience with Nintendo's platforms, having brought Trine and Trine 2 to Wii U, and Has-Been Heroes and the upcoming Nine Parchments to Switch. “Switch is much easier to develop for than the Wii U,” says marketing manager Kai Tuovinen. “They have the Unreal and Unity support as well, so those guys who are using those engines can easily bring their games. Also for people like ourselves who are using our own engine, it’s really easy for us to put our games on Switch as well.”

Though Team Meat, the developers behind Super Meat Boy and the forthcoming Super Meat Boy Forever, never released anything on Wii U, CEO and lead programmer Tommy Refenes says Switch is incredibly easy to port games to, calling Nintendo’s leap ahead from the Wii development tools “night and day.” “I ported [Super Meat Boy Forever] in like two days – from nothing to working in two days,” he says. “Microsoft used to always be the people with the crazy good tools because they make Windows, so of course they’re going to have good stuff, but Switch’s tools… I’m legitimately surprised by how well-thought-out everything was.”

While Refenes implies that Nintendo is eclipsing Microsoft in terms of developer-friendly framework, he also asserts that Nintendo is overtaking Sony in a completely different area of supporting its indie developers: promotion.