Interview with Dan Adelman – Nintendo’s Former Indie Guy

Dan Adelman. It’s a name you might have heard of recently. He just resigned from Nintendo, where he previously was, for better or worse, the man in charge of getting indies onto their platforms. I’ve been dying to interview Dan for a while. I attempted to while he worked for Nintendo, but that was a non-starter. Now that he’s out on his own, and starting his own indie consulting company (I’ll have full details on that sometime in the near future), he’s got a lot more time to talk. I had a few questions for him. He had some answers.

Indie Gamer Chick: Nintendo seems to be stuck on where gaming was five or more years ago versus where it’s going in the future. It doesn’t seem like an attitude that’s compatible with the emerging indie gaming scene. How much of your time was spent trying to convince them that gaming was going this direction?

Dan Adelman: Very little actually. During the WiiWare and DSiWare years, I don’t think many people really knew what I was working on. I was kind of left alone to do my thing, while everyone else was busy printing money with the Wii and DS business. Unfortunately, it was hard to get the changes I needed made because no one could hear me over the ringing of all the cash registers.

IGC: One of Nintendo’s more, ahem, infamous policies was that they would only look at indie developers who had a dedicated office away from home, and some kind of security system. Yes, because I’m sure Microsoft and Sony are sweating bullets over the Wii U. I guess my question is, did Nintendo as a company, a conglomeration, have any awareness at all of the realities of the indie scene? In other words, games by people who don’t have an office, or money for an office, let alone a Get Smart like security system?

Dan's virtual self, or possibly the dad from American Pie.

Dan’s virtual self, or possibly the dad from American Pie.

Dan: You’d be surprised how long it actually took to get that policy changed, since so many different groups were involved. It was like brokering peace in the Middle East. For the first 6 or 7 years I just tried to work around it as best I could. At one point, the group responsible for vetting the applications was giving a pretty well-known developer (one whose name your readers would instantly recognize) a hard time about his office in a detached garage. So I decided enough was enough and just tried to kill that policy. It still took another year. One of the compromises is that the home office has to be a dedicated workspace with a lock on the door, so the people who used to look up addresses in Google Maps are now asking for photos of locks.

IGC: We’re only just now starting to see indies release in large quantities on Nintendo platforms, but around a year ago, indies were super excited over Nintendo’s indie policies, especially compared to Microsoft’s. Now the buzz and chatter over Nintendo’s policies has all but disappeared. Why do you think that is?

Dan: Well, it’s not really news anymore. For a long time, Nintendo was the only platform where you could self-publish without going through a concept review process. Now I think all the platforms operate this way. Nintendo was the first to do a deal with Unity to pay for all developers’ licenses, but now Xbox has a similar deal in place. I think it’s great that the competition among the platforms is forcing everyone to be a lot more indie-friendly. I’ve heard Microsoft was a nightmare to deal with when XBLA was doing really well and everyone wanted to be on it. Now that it’s lost that edge, they’ve been forced to soften their approach. Chris Charla has done an amazing job making ID@Xbox so friendly. Adam Boyes and his team at PlayStation as well.

IGC: Be honest, when Nintendo first handed you the Wii U, you stared at it for an hour and then had to be talked out of throwing yourself off the roof. Go ahead, you can say it. I’ve got sources.

Dan: The Wii U itself is not a bad system at all. I wish it had a bit more horsepower, but that’s never been Nintendo’s focus. The GamePad is only as good as the games that make use of it, and I think the first party games will show the world what it’s really supposed to be used for.

IGC: Despite all the bullshit, being able to help indies on the level you have must be so incredibly rewarding. Was there any one moment where you paused to reflect and tell yourself “you know what? This is worth doing”?

Dan: When I first started working with Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes on Super Meat Boy, I took Ed and his wife, Danielle, out to a diner. I can’t even remember what we talked about – mostly just excited about how awesome Super Meat Boy was going to be, I think. After dinner, Ed went to the bathroom or something, and Danielle asked me hopefully, “Do you think if Super Meat Boy does well, we’ll be able to afford health insurance?” That just broke my heart! I was already hoping to help make Super Meat Boy successful, but that conversation really hit home for me. Now Ed and Tommy are rich and famous, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

IGC: You obviously had friction with Nintendo regarding their policies. If you could change any one thing, ONE THING, about Nintendo in relation to how they handle indies, what would it be?

Dan: Everyone should have just given me the ball and gotten the fuck out of my way. I got this.

Attention any journalists planning on writing an article based on this interview – please don’t make this answer into a headline!

Dan helped bring incredible games like Steamworld Dig to 3DS. Now, he works for the whole community.

Dan helped bring incredible games like Steamworld Dig to 3DS. Now, he works for the whole community.

IGC: That actually was going to be my headline for this, but whatever. Despite the jokes hardcore gamers make about Nintendo (myself included), no gaming company is held in as much reverence as them. I’ve met hundreds of indie developers and many of them, the largest percentage of them, dreamed about making games specifically for Nintendo. Does Nintendo remotely realize the significance of that? That for many, seeing their game published on a Nintendo platform is a dream come true?

Dan: They absolutely do. And in some ways, I think it can limit what they do. They’re being held to such a high standard that they don’t want to mess it up. They’ve got everyone’s childhood memories at stake.

IGC: Seriously, you don’t work there anymore. Be honest, the Wii U kinda sucks, huh?

Dan: No, it actually doesn’t! And I’d tell you if I really hated it. It’s actually gotten better with time. I wish some of the firmware updates that we’re seeing now had been there from the beginning. The software lineup is finally just now starting to hit its stride. Could you imagine if the Wii U launched with Super Mario 3D World?

IGC: Despite Nintendo’s reputation, they did allow games like Retro City Rampage (which is liberally peppered with adult situations and jokes at Nintendo’s expense) onto their platforms. Were there any games you fought for that Nintendo simply put their foot down and said “No!”?

Dan: Actually, no. There was – and is – no concept approval process, so unless something specifically conflicted with a guideline, it was allowed. I actually had the opposite problem. There was a ton of shovelware on WiiWare that was cluttering up the shop. I wanted to get rid of some of the garbage to make it easier to find the good games. Unfortunately WiiWare didn’t have any ability to merchandise and showcase the best games, so clutter just made it impossible to find anything. You were either a top seller, a new release, or buried in a mass grave.

IGC: You’re dumping Nintendo for the indie scene. So I guess my first question is, how do you like the taste of Ramen Noodles? You’ll be eating a lot of them.

Dan: I’m keeping a lookout for fresh roadkill. It’s a good source of protein. Actually, I’m going into this with the full expectation that I won’t have any income for at least 6 months and that it’ll be about a year before my household income exceeds my expenses.

IGC: I’ve been a part of the indie scene for over three years now, and few non-developers are held in as high a regard as you are. You just left the security of one of the planet’s biggest game developers to work with and help support the indie scene. Why did you choose indies?

Dan: Three years? Noob.

I’ve been a gamer all my life. My first console – which I barely remember – was a Magnavox Odyssey. I moved on to an Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and then started making my own games on my father’s IBM PC and eventually got my own Commodore 64. I’ve mentioned in a few interviews that it really bothered me how boring games were becoming. Every game I looked at was so predictable. I chose to work with indies because they’re the only ones who can save gaming. I can’t do what they do, so I do the next best thing – give them whatever support I can.

IGC: If you had to give indies only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Dan: Help me help you. You can get in touch with me on Twitter or find my contact information on my website: www.dan-adelman.com. (Shameless plug!)

Note from Cathy: From what I’ve read about Dan’s business plan, I absolutely endorse it. His intention is to become a virtual member of the development team throughout the entire development cycle, as a sort of business manager for your group. Not all of you are ready to take a step forward towards having to both make games and be responsible business people. But, for those that are, Dan is absolutely qualified and capable of helping you get the business side of your new studio in order. Give him a chance.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

7 Responses to Interview with Dan Adelman – Nintendo’s Former Indie Guy

  1. kriswd40 says:

    >> Chris Charla has done an amazing job making ID@Xbox so friendly

    Nice interview Dan, although I take particular issue with the above comment. Calling ID@Xbox friendly is a BIG stretch. It’s basically XBLA again only hiding behind some empty promises of being indie friendly. It’s not an indie program in the sense that Nintendo or Sony are operating and it does a disservice to those companies that are truly embracing indies to lump Microsoft in with them.

    • Honestly, I’m really apathetic to the whole ID@XBox program now. No doubt it’s a great promotional tool for the handful of cherry-picked developers. However, there are many other avenues for distributing games to players, such as GameJolt, Itch.io, Kongregate, Newgrounds, etc. Most of those sites provide advertising revenue sharing, which probably won’t ever make anyone rich. However, it will get your work in the hands of gamers, which is what it’s all really about in my opinion.

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