Digital Distribution: Saving Online Stores

Digital Distribution: Saving Online Stores

Good news for Nintendo 3DS owners (who are always in need of good news): Starting in November, Nintendo will be releasing firmware updates that will bring the 3DS’s eShop out of the Stone Age. Soon, the eShop will be accessible from the web, game purchases will be possible through Web browsers, and the 3DS will be able to download eShop games while in sleep mode.

It’s nice to see that Nintendo is putting effort into making shopping in its digital stores a tolerable experience. Given the rising relevance of downloadable games, though, that’s like saying, “It’s nice to see that Nintendo made the decision to keep breathing.”

Nintendo isn’t the only console engineer in the business that needs to step up its efforts in the online market. In the past, indie developers have complained that Microsoft makes it “impossible” to self-publish on Xbox Live Arcade. Though XBLA is far and away the most popular console-based digital store, it’s not lacking for competition–which is something both Microsoft and Nintendo ought to keep in mind when formulating ways to woo publishers and developers to XBLA, the Wii Shop Channel, and the eShop.

Other points that the companies should keep in mind:

Maintain a reasonable price range for games — Nintendo is a notorious hold-out on offering cheap and free-to-play games. It argues that it doesn’t want to cheapen the pastime of gaming by flooding markets with 99-cent offerings. That’s a perfectly valid position, but for better or worse, a lot of indie developers are finding their fortunes with their low-priced games (or are at least making enough to get by). Nintendo needs to recognize that quick, cheap games are an option in this market, same as the mid-price download, same as the full-price retail game. If the company doesn’t want to pump out dollar games, that’s fine, but it needs to recognize and support developers who do want to make economical and free-to-play games.

Indie Developer Support — Offers like the Humble Indie Bundle make Steam a haven for indie developers, and the PlayStation Network’s Pub Fund lets indies publish their games without having to acquire an impossible amount of money, or hand over the rights to the game’s intellectual property. Nintendo and Microsoft ought to offer equivalents, or at least loosen publication restrictions on their own platforms. There’s some lovely, original stuff coming from small studios these days, and Microsoft and Nintendo should make sure Steam doesn’t walk away the lion’s share.

Lots of Pay Options — Schlepping around with a “Points” system is a pain. Limited pay options are worse. Console-based digital stores need to implement as many pay options as possible: credit card, pre-paid cards, PayPal, etc.

Demos — Back in the ’90s, one of the biggest advantages the PlayStation had over the cartridge-based Nintendo 64 was the fact PlayStation’s game publishers could easily assemble and distribute demos on CD. These demos generated a great deal of buyer hype for upcoming titles, and that hype often paid off when the final product was released.

With digital distribution, demos have become even cheaper and more convenient to hand out. It doesn’t make sense for a publisher to veer away from offering demos, but Nintendo, again, has been slow on the uptake. Thankfully, it’ll be offering Nintendo 3DS demos with one of its eShop updates. Let’s just hope parents, kids and grown-up kids alike get something more substantial than 30 seconds of gameplay.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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