Popular first-party franchises and an innovative hybrid hardware design have been key parts of the Nintendo Switch’s sales success thus far. But the system also owes a lot to a wide selection of independent games that has helped round out the library of available titles between marquee releases.
So perhaps it’s not a surprise that Nintendo says it’s interested in expanding the range and number of indie titles on the system going forward. In an investor’s Q&A session this week, Senior Executive Officer Susumu Tanaka said, “In the future, we are looking to release around 20 to 30 indie games on Nintendo Switch per week, and we definitely expect to see some great games among them.”
That range would represent a big increase from the Switch’s current baseline of about 10 games released per week, on average, over the last year (a number that includes indie titles as well as games from major publishers). The Switch’s current rate of new game releases—which is comparable to that on the Xbox One—represents a huge increase from the Wii U era, when that system saw just three releases in an average week during its first year on the market in 2013 (and that number that was padded a bit by dozens of Virtual Console re-releases, to boot).
In the intervening time, Nintendo has made a concerted effort to improve its outreach to independent developers. That includes promoting independent games at fan events like PAX, offering free or reduced-cost development hardware to qualifying developers, assisting with localization and production issues, and generally cutting the amount of red tape needed to get a game onto Nintendo hardware, compared to just a few years ago.
“This is an opportunity to learn some lessons from Wii U and 3DS,” Nintendo indies head partner Damon Baker told Ars last year. “I’m happy to say we’ve addressed a lot of those for Switch.”
Expanding those efforts to attract 20 to 30 indie games a week will be a big ask, but not an impossible one. Indie developers have generally expressed happiness with Nintendo’s new hands-on relationship management and with the sales they are finding on the Switch. “On Switch we’ve sold many times what we’ve sold on Steam—somewhere between five and 10 times,” Steamworld Dig 2 developer Brjann Sigurgeirsson told PC Gamer of the game’s concurrent release on both platforms last year. “Super Meat Boy on Switch first-day sales came shockingly close to its debut on Xbox 360 back in 2010,” the Super Meat Boy team tweeted earlier this year. “That’s. nuts.”
From gold rush to glut?
Currently, though, indie games on the Switch benefit from a relative lack of competition; the relative handful of games released on the system each week are all pretty much ensured plenty of visibility on the Switch’s eShop. When there are 20 to 30 indie games hitting the Switch every week, as Nintendo plans, it may be harder for individual games to stand out from the crowd. And the relative lack of discoverability or recommendation tools on the Switch’s online storefront may not help matters, either.
That said, 20 to 30 games a week isn’t exactly an unmanageable flood of gaming content. The PS4 has seen about 20 games released every week for the last year (including indie and major publisher titles) without the platform feeling too bloated. Nintendo’s expanded release schedule plans are still a far cry from the nearly 150 games per week (on average) that flooded Steam in 2017, or the 500 games that got submitted to the iOS App Store every day in 2016.
So while the gold rush days of limited competition might soon be coming to an end for indie developers on the Switch, we’re still a long way away from the tsunami of content that some worry is contributing to a race-to-the-bottom effect on some other platforms. Meanwhile, Switch consumers should soon be able to enjoy the benefits of easy portability and integrated TV play for even more indie titles in the future.
“During development on Nintendo Switch, creating a development environment where it would be easy to create games was one of our top priorities,” Nintendo Managing Executive Officer Shinya Takahashi said in the recent investor’s Q&A. “We do not think of indie games as competition for the large-scale games we develop ourselves. Rather, I think these indie games are what really invigorate Nintendo Switch overall.”