Unity and Nintendo partnership promises a bright future for indies on Wii U

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Nintendo didn’t illuminate its plans for the Wii U’s eShop at its event in New York last week, nor did it detail what kind of opportunities independent developers would have to sell their wares through it. The Wii and its WiiWare program were a bust for developers since Nintendo barely promoted games in the store and they were difficult to find. Word on the street, though, is that Nintendo is offering indie developers “insane incentives” to publish downloadable games on Wii U. Is Nintendo finally getting serious about getting indies on its machines?

A new partnership with Unity Technologies suggests it is.

The company’s Unity engine has been used by myriad indie developers to create complex games for PCs and web browsers, and now it will power Wii U games as well. Unity already has tools in place for developers using the platform to export their projects to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and even Wii, but this new deal marks the first time that Nintendo has worked directly with Unity to ensure that the Danish company’s tools will be made available to all of Nintendo’s first and third-party developers.

“The details of how this is all going to play out are not yet announced, but basically, we can bring a lot of awesome developers, both big and small, and a very large number of indie studios with very creative games and game ideas to the Wii U ecosystem,” Unity CEO David Helgason told Edge Magazine.

“We supported the Wii, and that was fairly open. There’s an approval process, obviously, and it’s heavier than, for example, the mobile market today. But we had really small, fresh developers publishing Wii games, so [Nintendo] wasn’t that closed… [Without] putting words in Nintendo’s mouth, I feel pretty confident that they feel excited about having access to the very big, sprawling, chaotic, and awesome ecosystem of developers using Unity.”

It’s a far cry from the company that said it “wasn’t looking to do business with the garage developer” just 18 months ago. Before indies can really start focusing on leveraging the Wii U as another venue for their games, Nintendo still needs to explain how its eShop and online Miiverse service is going to work. WiiWare seemed like a good opportunity for independent developers when it was first announced, but Nintendo’s terrible online services prevented it from reaching its potential.