From CELESTE to STARDEW VALLEY, The Switch is quickly gaining a reputation as a haven for indie games.

Indies on the Switch, or “Nindies” as I refuse to call them, are quickly taking over the platform. These small-budget games are an underappreciated but essential component of the industry, providing diverse, innovative ideas to an increasingly stagnant market.

It seems like every day I get a press release about a new indie game coming to the Switch. This got me wondering: how exactly did this happen?

Why is the Switch focusing so heavily on indie games? How does this benefit Nintendo? Why should we care? Well, let’s take a look!

AAA Isn’t The Only Way

While their original IPs are solid, Nintendo has always had a problem with 3rd party games. From the Gamecube to the Wii U, the platform has always had trouble attracting the same AAA developers the other platforms take for granted. Since the announcement of the Switch, I wondered how it could keep up with the competition without a strong 3rd party following.

The Switch isn’t the most powerful console on the market, and we likely won’t see the next Ubisoft or EA blockbuster in its library. However, the relative weakness of the console has proven to be a blessing in disguise. By embracing indie games, not only has Nintendo expanded its library, but it’s offering titles no other console provides. This also allows them to avoid the various controversies surrounding the AAA market.

BATTLEFRONT AAA Switch
So far, Nintendo has avoided the PR trainwreck of the past year.

Let’s face it: the big-budget developers are in a bit of a crisis. While they’re still making money, many fear their over-reliance on loot boxes will lead to an unsustainable economy. With government officials breathing down their neck, and growing concern from parents, it’s only reasonable for Nintendo to distance themselves from the AAA market.

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In its place, Nintendo is providing a space for simple, creative titles that put fun first. This more closely matches Nintendo’s brand and allows them to carve their own niche into the market.

What do Indie Games Offer?

But why focus on indie games anyway? Sure, they carry less baggage than the AAA market, but what do they have to offer? Let’s not beat around the bush: the Switch was made for indie games. These titles tend to be a bit more casual, “arcadey” and less reliant on graphical horsepower. Indies are quirky, creative, and fun. This matches perfectly with Nintendo’s philosophy for the Switch.

But the importance of indie games goes beyond Nintendo. Many of the most popular gaming trends originate from indie developers. AMNESIA breathed new life into survival horror, without DAYZ, we wouldn’t have the wildly successful PUBG. A little series called DEFENSE OF THE ANCIENTS began as a small mod, spearheading the lucrative MOBA market.

DOTA 2 SWITCH
You may have heard of it.

Indies provide a shock to the system that the AAA market simply can’t provide. Smaller budgets allow for more creative risk, encouraging passion projects that cater to niche markets. Once a niche grows, it’s only a matter of time until the big-budget devs catch up. Put simply, indie games are the creative powerhouse of this industry, and their importance can’t be overstated.

By focusing on indie games, Nintendo is placing itself on the bleeding edge of the market, cementing itself as a platform for innovation and progress.

Why Is The Switch So Attractive To Indie Devs?

So, we know why Nintendo is prioritizing indie games, but why are indie devs so eager to get on the Switch? In years past, the most popular way to sell an indie game was through Steam: a popular marketplace for PC games. It’s notoriously easy to put a game on Steam, and with 18.5 million users, why bother with Nintendo?

Games pundit Jim Sterling asked a few indie devs this question a while back, and the answer is pretty simple: it’s a combination of access, popularity, and quality control.

Philipp Döschl, co-founder of FDG Entertainment, had this to say to Mr. Sterling:

“Switch has become a good home for indie games as it doesn’t suffer from its own success as does Steam. The eShop is still a very healthy ecosystem, whereas Steam just seems to be a big risk and gamble nowadays.”

Brjann Sigurgeirsson of Image & Form puts it bluntly:

“Steam is too crowded, Sony is too uninterested, Nintendo is interested but can cherry pick what games make it onto the Switch.”

Other Platforms Can’t Compete

Over the past few years, Steam has opened the floodgates, allowing almost any game onto its market. From broken early access titles to offensive cash-grabs, to games without an executable file, (you know, the part that has the actual game), steam has gained a reputation for poor quality indie titles. This lack of oversight, coupled with the endless stream of new releases, makes it difficult for decent games to get noticed.

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Microsoft has dipped their toes into the indie space, with a rather sizeable collection, but these are spread across a much more crowded library of games over a longer period of time. Overall, we haven’t seen the same level of focus from Microsoft as we have from Nintendo.

Meanwhile, Sony seems completely clueless when it comes to indie games. On one hand, they’re much more exclusive than Steam, with arcane and confusing rules barring most indie games from their market. At the same time, they’ve allowed several bizarre, hilariously bad games onto the PlayStation, including LIFE OF BLACK TIGER and INNER KUNG FU GAME. No one’s quite sure what to make of this, and Sony does little to attract legitimate indie studios.

INNER KUNG FU GAME Switch
Seriously, what the hell, Sony?

But Nintendo’s eShop is the best of both worlds. Not only is it exclusive with its titles, but Nintendo shows a genuine interest in courting indie developers. According to Sigurgeirsson, this is nothing new, but the Switch’s hardware and general success make it an attractive platform for these small studios.

“Many devs and publishers WANT to be on the Switch.” – Brjann Sigurgeirsson

At the end of the day, it’s pretty simple: if you provide a carefully curated space and an attractive product, the indies will come.

The Point

I gotta say, I had low expectations for the Switch going in, but Nintendo has made a believer out of me. The Switch’s success should be an object lesson for the industry. You don’t need to chase what’s popular to be successful. Horsepower alone doesn’t make a good product. If you focus on quality and creativity, the money will come.

Nintendo’s focus on indie games is one of the best decisions it’s made in years. Hopefully, its competitors will learn from its success and give indie games the attention they deserve.

2 Comments

  1. […] Nintendo Switch has built itself a reputation as a haven for indie games. With the start of a new year, Nintendo has shown they want to keep that momentum going into 2019. […]

    Reply

  2. CobraA1

    March 12, 2018 at 7:39 am

    “The Switch isn’t the most powerful console on the market, and we likely won’t see the next Ubisoft or EA blockbuster in its library.”

    Too late. We already have Mario+Rabbids, which is Ubisoft.

    I don’t see why not, to be honest. Mario+Rabbids is already a success, and the console has surprising horsepower for its form factor: It can run the latest version of Doom, even with the caveat that it needed a lot of optimization work.

    I think choosing the Tegra was a winning move for Nintendo. Since it’s based on existing Nvidia hardware, it’s a known platform and won’t require a total rework of existing engines.

    Reply

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