App Store versus DSiWare - The Developers' Verdict (Part Two)
So far our trio of developers - Nic Watt (Nnnooo), Thomas Kern (FDG Entertainment) and Luc Bernard (Oyaji Games) - have told us what they like (and dislike) about the App Store and how easy it is to get games published on both Apple’s and Nintendo’s download portals.

In this second segment, we delve even further into their respective psyches in the hope of getting to the bottom of this hot topic.

Pocket Gamer: Do Nintendo or Apple have any restrictions on what can be placed on their respective stores?

Nic Watt: Nudity and sexual content are frowned upon and both companies also have restrictions in place to stop you making use of or finding exploits in their hardware. For example making an application which allows your iPhone to share your 3G connection with your computer over Bluetooth is forbidden by Apple.

Thomas Kern: Apple doesn’t have an official list of restrictions, but you can often read about “inappropriate” or “strange” apps getting rejected. Nintendo has a list but it is under NDA so I can’t say anything about that, I’m afraid!

Which service wins out in terms of sheer profitability - the App Store or DSiWare?

NW: If you mean who is making the most money from their online stores then I'd say Apple at this stage. However, if you’re talking about individual developers then it is probably a harder call. On the App Store I'd say there are a few companies making loads and the vast majority making very little.

On WiiWare - and by association, DSiWare - I would say that the ratio is much closer together. There are still titles that will be selling very well; however, I think that most titles will do enough to cover costs.

Luc Bernard: DSiWare hasn’t been launched yet in the west so it’s hard to compare the two; I don’t think it ever will be comparable to be honest, since the games on the App Store sell crazy amounts that I think DSiWare will struggle to rival.

Having said that, I think overall DSiWare is a safer bet for developers because it’s far easier to predict what your sales might be.

TK: You can produce content far more cheaply for the App Store but the probability of not being seen is much higher compared to WiiWare or DSiWare as there’s less content being put online on Nintendo’s services - it’s around three games a week, sometimes less with WiiWare.

Having said all that, the iPhone version of Bobby Carrot reached profit stage last week so we can’t complain.

Which service is easier to develop for, in your opinion?

NW: In terms of making the software, I don’t think either of them is significantly harder, they just require different experience and knowledge. The differentiating factor is in the approval process, the cost of getting the game rated and so forth.

LB: It really depends on your experience with either platform. At Oyaji Games we are lucky in that the lead programmer has experience with both.

With the App Store, you’re merely competing with other publishers and developers, but with DSiWare you’ll be going up against Nintendo itself. Do you think Nintendo DSiWare games are likely to have a massive advantage over third-party titles, purely because of the strength of the brand?

NW: Yes I think so. However it will also act as a major draw to the store. If people hear that there’s a new brain training game that is only available online then that will bring new customers to the store who maybe wouldn't have visited before. They might browse and see Pop Plus: Solo and think “that looks fun and not too expensive I'll give that a try!”

LB: I’m not so sure. I think if you make a good game, then you will get attention. If you make a terrible game then of course Nintendo games will sell better.

TK: As you can see on the App Store, the low price reduces the reservation of customers. So I am sure people will try out a lot more than they would if they’d have to purchase them for $40. Even though Nintendo titles may to best, there’s still a lot of potential for the other games to succeed.

Do you think DSiWare could be more successful than the App Store purely because it’s on a dedicated games device, as opposed to a phone that also plays games?

NW: I think for developers it will be a better bet as the people who buy a DSi are much more likely to be buying it to play games.

The App Store by contrast has not only been hurt by the now prevalent public perception that software is cheap, free and of low quality it also faces the fact that a lot of iPhone customers bought a phone not a games machine.

LB: I don’t think the DSiWare service will ever bring as much money as the App Store but if a game flops on the DSi I doubt it would be as bad as a flop on the iPhone.

TK: In my opinion the App Store wins here. They have a phone which stays in your pocket all the time and can go online and download anywhere, anytime. That’s a major advantage and consequently offers a much bigger market to developers.

DSiWare only works on the new DSi device when it’s within range of a wi-fi access point, and it's questionable how many existing DS owners will adapt to the new device in the first place.

The DS is clearly a less powerful machine than the iPhone, but it does offer a traditional control interface, as well as touchscreen capability. Do you think that this makes up for the lack of processing power?

NW: In terms of making games I think it is as good as the iPhone, features wise. Sure it is less powerful and the graphics may not look as amazing, but it has more buttons and the two cameras, so there is a lot more there you can do for players.

For example, a racing game on the iPhone is very restricted due to the lack of buttons. Obviously you can innovate in other ways but with the DSi you can have both new innovative control schemes and old school ones too.

For us at Nnooo is it much more about what great software can we make on this device rather than how powerful the hardware is. As long as what we make is fun then that is what is important.

LB: The iPhone unquestionably has a lot of power but you simply cannot do the same type of games that traditional consoles like the DSi offer. In these terms I think it’s foolish to compare the two machines, to be honest.

TK: Look at iShoot. It doesn’t need processing power to be successful. So in my opinion, it is a definite plus for DSi to have a touch screen AND a D-pad and buttons interface.

Although the DS has a massive installed user base, DSiWare won’t be able to reach all of those people unless they purchase a DSi. Do you think this makes the service a little less attractive from a profitability point of view?

NW: I think a lot of it will come down to how great the software on DSiWare is. When the DS first came out it took about nine months or so to really gather momentum. People were writing it off and the initial software was just okay, rather than great.

Then it turned the corner and really found its feet: developers got to grips with what you can do with the two screens, the touchscreen and the microphone.

I think the same thing may initially happen with the DSiWare Store. The amount of software at the start will be good but there will be very little of it. However, I really see it growing pretty quickly and hopefully the fact that you can sell games for a lower price point and make them downloadable will really push innovation.

We already have a lot of ideas for both software and games for the service. We hope to start working on some of these quite soon.

LB: Trust me, I think everyone is going to forget about the DS and all jump on the DSi. To me it’s nearly like a new platform because of the DSiWare service.

Our thanks to Luc Bernard, Thomas Kern and Nic Watt for their insights.
Damien McFerran 20/3/2009
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