Nintendo has been aggressive in its campaign to make the Wii U and 3DS eShops as welcoming as possible for indie developers. Whether that means opening the door to small developers or providing Unity engine licensing to partners, the Nintendo of today is almost unrecognizable compared to what it was a few short years ago. That being said, there are still some roadblocks that some developers still might stumble over.
“There have been a lot of initiatives recently in terms of revamping the guidelines, re-addressing how to make the development process easy as possible for Nintendo platforms,” said Damon Baker of Nintendo’s marketing team. “We’re going to continue to hit that message over and over.”
One such guideline is Nintendo of America’s surprisingly strong restriction against potentially controversial religious material. This rule goes back to the NES days when many games would be stripped of crosses and religious iconography on their way from Japan to North America. Obviously this rule isn’t quite as strictly enforced as it once was, but it still can have a fairly significant impact on developers today. The Binding of Isaac, an indie title from the same team behind Super Meat Boy, was denied release on Nintendo 3DS due to it being based on the biblical story of Isaac. In the Bible, God orders an obedient follower, Abraham, to sacrifice his son, Isaac, only to stay his hand at the last second having seen he was truly loyal enough to do it. The game, on the other hand, is about a mother who’s religious zealotry culminates in her also receiving orders to kill her son, who the players assumes control of as he flees his mother into monster filled dungeons.
“It kind of kills me…it kills me right now that I had to make that phone call,” said Dan Adelman, another Nintendo employee, ““We carve out some categories of content we don’t allow. Religious themes is one of those topics.”
“What we need to do is be a bit more flexible sometimes as far as interpreting those guidelines and making exceptions where they do make sense,” Adelman added, “But we’re a large company. We’re kind of going through some of our own growing pains in that regard.”
While games heavily based on religious themes and ideas are still exceptionally uncommon, the more open a marketplace is to a variety of concepts, even potentially divisive concepts, the more likely it is to thrive. Even though Nintendo has stated quite clearly that it is most interested in refining and pushing gameplay ideas, many indie developers are more daring in their storytelling and willingness to consider more controversial concepts. If Nintendo wants to keep attracting more and more indie developers, it has to be willing to let them make the games they want to make, even if it isn’t completely in concert with Nintendo’s own corporate ethos.