Unity & Wii U: A Golden Gateway For Indie Developers?
If you‘ve been tuned in to the internet lately, you‘re likely to have heard about Nintendo‘s latest partnership gone public. Only a few days ago, it was announced that Nintendo had recently signed a worldwide licensing agreement with Unity Technologies to bring support for the company‘s multi-platform game engine and development tools on to the Wii U. Now, when it comes to game development, Unity is a pretty well-known name in the business; its engine and tools are quite popular among new and existing indie devs, as well as curious experimenters in addition. Though, it‘s mainly seen used on platforms such as iOS, Android, Windows, Adobe Flash etc., so seeing a direct path for development using Unity come on to the Wii U is quite big news, both for gamers and developers. It‘s the first we‘re hearing of a unique partnership between the two firms to be able to provide outright support for a console – and it definitely has its perks. Some of the industry‘s most notable developers and publishers, including Ubisoft, SEGA, Obsidian Entertainment and even Nintendo in the past, have been using Unity for their game projects due to its apparent easy utility – it requires almost no programming expertise and, as I mentioned before, is a multi-platform engine. It‘s quite easy to see why many smaller game teams and companies are eagerly developing their games with Unity, as well as why a few larger, established ones as well. It covers both ends of the scale, and that‘s admirable; this potentially means a greater accessible platform for indie game developers, and in turn, more chances for some excellent titles hitting the Wii U‘s digital store.While it‘s debatable that many things Unity haven‘t been granted maximum exposure, I‘ve seen great things happen with the engine. Games like Wasteland 2, Blood and Glory, Interstellar Marines and Shadowgun are all stellar examples of quality gaming experiences developers can achieve when Unity is put to good use, and if I‘m correct, the recently revealed Unity 4 is also Wii U-bound. Capable of Shader 4.0 and higher, 3D textures, real-time dynamic lighting, DirectX 11-equivalent graphics and all the other impressive doo-dahs that come with, it‘s a great opportunity for many devs to make use of to the fullest (if the Wii U‘s hardware can accomodate such a feat, which could be the case). But, despite all the positive things that have amounted from this, I among many others have also had slight doubts about Unity ever since Unity 3D was released; it was a little discouraging on their part. Many developers complained that there was only minimal improvement over the previous versions of the engine and countless issues as well as bugs with a good few aspects of the development tools. The ease of use when it came down to it all was very appealing, and the low learning curve also attributed to a lot of its appeal, but unfortunately, this also meant a heck of a lot of restrictions with the simplicity of the engine. Simply? It was considerably full of useful features, but a lot of the performance wasn‘t up to par. In short, it was a good, versatile engine but with a lot of maturing to do. Still, that isn‘t to say that the Unity Engine is all that atrocious; despite its perceived hindrances, quite many developers were able to overcome the partial letdown of the 3D Engine and create inspiringly amazing work (some of which I mentioned earlier), a few of them being quite big games too (the heavily populated MMO Cartoon Network: FusionFall, to state an example). It is just desperately hoped that more developers will be able to utilise the engine to create bigger and better games, and not petty shovelware, up to the standard of their acclaimed successful counterparts, and that Unity 4 will demonstrate that its creators have acknowledged their mistakes with the engine‘s predecessor. Overall, weighing out the total pros and cons of the engine with developers as well as what we‘ve seen in relation to it all, I‘d still say the prospects of game development using the Unity Engine (especially Unity 4) are something to keep an eye on for the Wii U eShop in future.
One thing that concerns me with indie development in general for the Wii U though, is licensing. Many people really want to see the accessible support of Unity utilised proficiently on the Wii U, but successfully developing a game is one thing; licensing for those games to be published via Nintendo also comes into play. It‘s pretty obvious that, while published and existing game developers through Unity are more than welcome to see their titles gleaming on the Wii U for a change, the whole appeal behind Unity‘s endeavour with Nintendo is to establish talented new developers on a prominent gaming platform by enabling them to bring their fresh creations to life through Unity‘s ease of accessibility. In this upcoming generation, we want to see brilliant new IPs – lots of them – on what seems to be a brilliant new console, and Unity‘s support for Wii U is providing one broad path for the people who can fulfill these wishes of ours. This time around good, well-priced indie titles are vital to the success of Nintendo‘s eShop. But the main concern is whether or not promising aspiring game developers will truly be able to see their creations come to life on the Wii U. Let‘s be frank, successfully getting your game licensed to be published digitally through Nintendo as a new dev is quite an expensive feat on its own; sadly, one that not many out of the good piles out there are fortunate enough to achieve, and thus concerns arise. Occassionally, among the masses of shovelware-pumpers turned away, there is the rare gem of a previously unseen game developer with a potential new IP that gets turned away from Nintendo‘s doorstep because they do not meet the SDK requirements; then, more often than not, they opt to attempt to go publish their material elsewhere, be it PSN or XBLA or even the iOS/Android platform – and their chosen rival platform is where they choose to establish themselves. Frequent occurences of these such situations repetitively amass to a huge blow to Nintendo‘s digital services; they‘re indirectly boosting the competition. While it is clearly understandable that selective procedures are in place to minimalise the existence of shoddy games on their platform, I believe that Nintendo should establish themselves to be more approachable and friendly to new, smaller indie game devs out there; the Wii U is seeing itself some major changes and revamps with online services and digital consumerism right now, and it‘s only befitting that more devs out there should see themselves a chance to valuably add to the content of the Wii U eShop and expand the appeal of the service – if navigated well, it‘s a win-win situation all round.
Yet another issue related to what I‘ve elaborated on above is possibly exposure. Now generally, exposure is a potential obstacle to be overcome on every digital video-game platform out there, but the problem seems to see itself more prominence in Nintendo‘s case. In the midst of their digital platform, Nintendo does have plenty of first-party titles to appeal to the masses as well as a host of their old retro classics from earlier times, many of which are total fan-favourites among older nostalgic gamers and the avid younger ones. In addition to that, veteran third-party developers who have had notable appearances on the eShop (such as PopCap etc.) take up a good portion of the spotlight when it comes to downloads too. While more of all this is welcome to boost the credibility of the eShop overall, this can greatly outshadow more of the lesser-renowned indie devs on the platform and leaves minimal exposure for titles in this particular vein to reach a majority of their audience – which poses great problems for both developers and gamers alike. Personally, I think the solution to this may be quite simple; tidy up your digital platform, Nintendo. If you don‘t regularly read eShop reviews or download announcements online, you‘ll most likely find it very hard to sift through the depths of the store to find what you‘re looking for, especially if it‘s not too popular a release. In comparison to the setup of the rival PSN and XBLA platforms, Nintendo‘s services just aren‘t proving up to par when it comes to the continuously growing indie sector or ease of utility for that matter. The eShop needs a better structure and organisation if we are to even see minimal improvement with Nintendo on this issue. With the increasing curiosity and potential to see big things with the Nintendo Network on the Wii U, as well as promises to do good by us with their online services this time around, we can all only plead with Nintendo to acknowledge the crippling disadvantages of the eShop‘s current setup for its abundance of titles – it‘ll not only benefit the whole host of upcoming indie devs, but also a huge chunk of gamers out there.
Conclusively, I believe that although the prospects of Nintendo granting a unique partnership with Unity could prove to be one big step in creating a more versatile platform to the Wii U for both new and existing indie developers, the whole hype and encouragement could also prove to be a little manipulative if Nintendo does not also do a lot of work on their part in renovating their digital platform into a more accessible and advertising platform for this same set of developers. As I said, the indie game sector is seeing itself a lot of growth in the current and upcoming generation, and I believe an abundance of opportunities for new indie IPs to flood the digital Nintendo marketplace is crucial for the perceived success of the Wii U eShop in future. With the introduction of the Nintendo Network as a major part of the Wii U‘s online system alongside Miiverse, it is vital that Nintendo seizes this opportunity to overwhelmingly renovate the capabilities of their digital platform, and improve on their structure to form an increasingly all-round competitive e-store against rivalling platforms that are rapidly gaining momentum in the sector, especially prominent mobile platforms. Unity jumping aboard Nintendo‘s wagon is definitely a good sign for new developers to hop on to the initiative, and I‘m anticipating seeing what will amount from game developers utilising the Unity Engine for the Wii U, especially with the new Unity 4 – but will this be enough to forcefully persuade Nintendo to actively follow through with the encouraging potential they‘ve acquired? Only time will tell as the time draws near for Nintendo to shed some illuminating light on more exciting aspects of the Wii U.
Stay tuned to Velocity Gamer for upcoming updates and news on the Wii U.