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Nintendo EPD's Multi-Developer Process Examined

Shikamaru Ninja

任天堂 の 忍者
Nintendo's entrance into the HD and "3D" market was a huge transition affecting the amount of development staff required for retail game production. This same hardware transition previously witnessed all the big Japanese publishers shrink their once prolific calendar releases to a meager and cautious list of yearly games. Nintendo's answer to one of those specific hurdles has been embracing a multi-developer structure for their own internal games. While previously, or generally, the phrase "co-development" could be gratuitously used when Nintendo published a game developed by an external company, the phrase has taken on a more concrete form in regards to a practice of R&D and subsidiary and contract company cooperation.

Miyamoto and Eguchi embraced a new development culture for their internal teams to not only develop the same amount of games despite the large increase in staff (and money) across the board, but Miyamoto actually challenged his teams to release more games.

How would this be done? Internally at Nintendo's EPD Division (housing about 10 production units, each unit usually working on 2 properties at a time), game development has been broken down into the following:

1. Mega Game Internal Development (w / asset support)
Examples: Splatoon, Mario Kart 8, Pikmin 3
This scenario is where the game is prototyped and then fully developed internally at Nintendo EPD. Obviously, like all HD games developed in Japan, there are additional assets contributed by internal and external assistants.

2. Prototype Development with Full Production Co-Development
Examples: Steel Diver, Wii Sports Club, Star Fox Zero
This scenario is where the game is prototyped internally, usually meaning the basic mechanics and templates are programmed and designed internally, but there isn't a full production staff to complete the game. Nintendo then partners with another agency to continue working with the prototype and co-developing a finished product.

3, Sourcing Engine And Producing a Remaster
Examples: Star Fox 64 3D, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D
This scenario is where Nintendo EPD provides source engine of a previously released game to an agency, and handles some basics like music and sound remastering, while the outside agency ports and reworks most of the game.

4. Creating Games With Small Art Staffs or Recycling Assets
Examples: Super Mario Maker, New Super Luigi U, Captain Toad
This scenario is a twofold concept involving creating new game content while reusing graphics (like NLSU or Toad) or new concepts that don't rely on much assets at all (like Flipnote Studio or Tap Amiibo: Greatest Bits).

5. Licensing IP
Examples: Hyrule Warriors
The exception where Nintendo's EPD group supervises the licensing of an IP. No production or development is involved outside of minor supervision.

With that said: Updated List Time of Recent Projects of the next big 3.

* Star Fox Zero (Nintendo EPD / Platinum Games)
* The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes (Nintendo EPD / Grezzo)
* Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival (Nintendo EPD / Nd Cube)
 

Phazon

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Cool, thanks for the info. It's explained very well and simple. I'm really curious how this structure will affect the next generation of Nintendo platforms, since the current one got only 'partly' affected by this transition.
 

Vena

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Sep 2, 2014
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Cool, thanks for the info. It's explained very well and simple. I'm really curious how this structure will affect the next generation of Nintendo platforms, since the current one got only 'partly' affected by this transition.
The first two years of the WiiU were a development bloodbath, if you look at all of the titles in the list, almost all of them are from within the past year or so after these reworks/guidelines were better streamlined and realized within the company.
 

Lunar15

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Echoing the posts above, now that they have this setup, I'm curious to see how it plays out entering a new generation.
 

James Scott

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May 24, 2014
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The new set up along with the NX should allow for a lot more project to come out of Nintendo next generation.
If the NX allows for easy porting of games they could just focus make one version of a game and port it up (or down) to the other NX platform.
For example making only one new Mario Kart game next generation which should free up quite a bit of resources to make more games especially if they combine it with licensing of their IPs like Hyrule Warriors and Ibun Roku #FE.
 

KingBroly

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Mar 18, 2015
23,759
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I wonder what this means generally for their IP's that require a lot of unique asset creation but either haven't gotten it recently or not at all. I can't imagine them working on creating assets for Mario much considering they already have a ton of Mario games out there.
 

AdanVC

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Nov 26, 2013
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Thanks for the info! So it's not EAD anymore but Nintendo EPD instead? Nice. Hope all of this new management phases can ease the development process when NX comes around since it's pretty obvious that Nintendo suffered on transitioning from making SD games to HD. They've been doing a stellar work but the huge gaps between each title and the fact that Wii U doesn't have 3rd party support at all to compensate makes waiting for each 1st party game an eternity.
 

ChaosXVI

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May 7, 2012
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I'm rather curious how Nintendo's Western partners/studios fit into this new schema, particularly Retro. They were of course under the SPD branch beforehand, but with the new set-up, it makes me wonder whether or not Retro will still have games that are "their" games. Now since Retro's next game can be expected to land around Fall 2016 or so, I would still expect whatever it is to primarily feel like a Retro game, but what about after that?

The new structure (at least what they've revealed of it), shows the company overall being far more open than before, and everybody in EPD is just in a big pool rather than EAD1, EAD2, etc. I'd hate to see the teams that have their own signature, like Retro, become homogenized with the rest of the company.

Feel free to correct anything I've said, I've only been casually observing this situation.
 

GhostTrick

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Jan 11, 2012
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To me, the fact that Miyamoto wants his team to release more games just screams one thing: Lower budget/scale titles without ambitions. I think Star Fox Zero was the first batch of that kind of titles. And it doesn't inspire confidence.



Edit:

Yup, seeing the three first titles, SF0, Tri Force Heroes and Animal Crossing Party... yikes.
 

astrogamer

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Dec 31, 2012
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The new structure (at least what they've revealed of it), shows the company overall being far more open than before, and everybody in EPD is just in a big pool rather than EAD1, EAD2, etc. I'd hate to see the teams that have their own signature, like Retro, become homogenized with the rest of the company.

Feel free to correct anything I've said, I've only been casually observing this situation.
EAD did tend to pool its staff together at the lower rungs with some games taking people who worked on all sorts of games like the console Zeldas and Nintendo Land. Splatoon was an interesting case since while we assumed that it was EAD2 since Nogami was heading the project, it took younger staff from across EAD in general, with people who typically work on EAD2 games being the least involved, probably because of Happy Home Designer. The team leaders might have rearranged but I think there is still groups. Retro definitely won't become homogenized since the separation contributed the most to that. I don't think they are directly under Tanabe anymore though but they'll likely be treated similar to before due to the distance between them and EPD
 

Vena

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To me, the fact that Miyamoto wants his team to release more games just screams one thing: Lower budget/scale titles without ambitions. I think Star Fox Zero was the first batch of that kind of titles. And it doesn't inspire confidence.

Yup, seeing the three first titles, SF0, Tri Force Heroes and Animal Crossing Party... yikes.
What exactly is wrong with TriForce heroes? Its not like we didn't have a chance to play this at the demo kiosks, the game is solid. (Also... SFZ got delayed for the very reason of it not being very good, so the whole idea seems to fall apart before it even gets started. If the idea were to just churn out unambitious garbage, SFZ would be coming out in two months.)

Also you do know that Splatoon came from this same mindset, right?

And for what its worth, the existence of AC: Amiibo Festival is because its developers wanted to make it as a pet project for AC amiibos. The light budget and amiibo line are the only reason it was even greenlit, and even then they still moved NDCube to support the title with mini-game additions after fan response which were initially not even going to be part of the package.
 

AmyS

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Aug 22, 2012
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Very nice, easy to understand.

Man, if it were possible, I'd love a new Steel Diver: Sub Wars on NX, playable on both handheld and home console. Best F2P game Nintendo has made IMHO. Needs some improvements though, the game still disconnects from the server too often.
 

DeuceGamer

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I wonder if there are any goals on how often to release each type of game? For example, do they shoot to release a specific amount of co-developed games, remasters, etc...?
 

VLQ

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Jan 29, 2015
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To me, the fact that Miyamoto wants his team to release more games just screams one thing: Lower budget/scale titles without ambitions. I think Star Fox Zero was the first batch of that kind of titles. And it doesn't inspire confidence.



Edit:

Yup, seeing the three first titles, SF0, Tri Force Heroes and Animal Crossing Party... yikes.
More like Captain Toad, Splatoon and Mario Maker

edit: and NSLU before that
 

GhostTrick

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Jan 11, 2012
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What exactly is wrong with TriForce heroes? Its not like we didn't have a chance to play this at the demo kiosks, the game is solid. (Also... SFZ got delayed for the very reason of it not being very good, so the whole idea seems to fall apart before it even gets started. If the idea were to just churn out unambitious garbage, SFZ would be coming out in two months.)

Also you do know that Splatoon came from this same mindset, right?

And for what its worth, the existence of AC: Amiibo Festival is because its developers wanted to make it as a pet project for AC amiibos. The light budget and amiibo line are the only reason it was even greenlit, and even then they still moved NDCube to support the title with mini-game additions after fan response which were initially not even going to be part of the package.


As much as I love Splatoon, its still a smaller budgeted release at least in Europe, with not that much content. Splatoon is the kind of game that deserved to get a bigger treatment.
 

James Scott

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May 24, 2014
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As much as I love Splatoon, its still a smaller budgeted release at least in Europe, with not that much content. Splatoon is the kind of game that deserved to get a bigger treatment.
Splatoon does have quite a bit of content and keeps getting free support every so often.
Splatoon proved to be a massive success so Splatoon 2 will likely have a bigger budget and a bigger marketing push.
 

StevieP

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Sep 10, 2006
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As much as I love Splatoon, its still a smaller budgeted release at least in Europe, with not that much content. Splatoon is the kind of game that deserved to get a bigger treatment.
It had a marketing budget in some places that likely rivaled or exceeded some AAA titles. I'm sure it also required FAR more prototyping than your typical, say, yearly AC.
Time + developers = money.
 

Vena

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As much as I love Splatoon, its still a smaller budgeted release at least in Europe, with not that much content. Splatoon is the kind of game that deserved to get a bigger treatment.
Toad is also from this pool.

The point wasn't the content (of which Splatoon now has oodles, so I don't get your complaint), its that these games were creative and ambitious, and good. Very good.

Splatoon also was most certainly not a budget title, it was prototyped and brought to reality in record time, sure, but the game itself got a lot of development invested into it in the last year before release after the concept was made rock solid from within Garage's prototyping.
 

GhostTrick

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Splatoon does have quite a bit of content and keeps getting free support every so often.
Splatoon proved to be a massive success so Splatoon 2 will likely have a bigger budget and a bigger marketing push.


Yeah, I kinda hope so. Splatoon is shaping up to be a great IP. And I expect a lot from a two content wise. First of all, the campaign. I hope for something more fledged in term of story and bosses. The game deserve a clever use of its concept and more variety like stealth moments or more action moments. The story of first one was pretty great. And I love the hub idea. Just wish it something like Super Mario Sunshine.
 

GhostTrick

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Toad is also from this pool.

The point wasn't the content (of which Splatoon now has oodles, so I don't get your complaint), its that these games were creative and ambitious, and good. Very good.

Splatoon also was most certainly not a budget title, it was prototyped and brought to reality in record time, sure, but the game itself got a lot of development invested into it in the last year before release after the concept was made rock solid from within Garage's prototyping.

It was still a bit short on content. The same could be said of Captain Toad. A lot of qssets reusing to produce non ambitious smaller scale titles.


It had a marketing budget in some places that likely rivaled or exceeded some AAA titles. I'm sure it also required FAR more prototyping than your typical, say, yearly AC.
Time + developers = money.


Marketing budget is good but its not relevant to game budget. And of course that a new IP with a new concept will require more prototyping. But theres no denying that Splatoon was pushed to have core features ready and pushed with a smaller budget dev.
 

Oersted

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To me, the fact that Miyamoto wants his team to release more games just screams one thing: Lower budget/scale titles without ambitions. I think Star Fox Zero was the first batch of that kind of titles. And it doesn't inspire confidence.



Edit:

Yup, seeing the three first titles, SF0, Tri Force Heroes and Animal Crossing Party... yikes.
This happened two years within WiiU and 3 years within 3DS lifecircle. Don't be so premature.
 

CrisKre

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Great OP as always.

I do believe that when it comes too Wii U Nintendo's policy have shifted to smaller, less asset intense titles (Sam's zelda, but i fully expect that to release on NX as well).

That said, they have been very careful to release great products with this mindset even if the scale is smaller.

Its an elegant solution to ramping up NX development while catering to Wii U and 3ds audiences.
 

Pikma

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Mar 4, 2009
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Yeah, I kinda hope so. Splatoon is shaping up to be a great IP. And I expect a lot from a two content wise. First of all, the campaign. I hope for something more fledged in term of story and bosses. The game deserve a clever use of its concept and more variety like stealth moments or more action moments. The story of first one was pretty great. And I love the hub idea. Just wish it something like Super Mario Sunshine.
Splatoon is a multiplayer first, single player second, game, of course the game will sound short on content if you ignore the multiplayer.

Also, if you think Splatoon and expanding on the Captain Toad mini games from SM3DW was unambitious, you're crazy.
 

GhostTrick

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Jan 11, 2012
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Splatoon is a multiplayer first, single player second, game, of course the game will sound short on content if you ignore the multiplayer.

Also, if you think Splatoon and expanding on the Captain Toad mini games from SM3DW was unambitious, you're crazy.


I just have different standards maybe. Especially how much talents Nintendo has and is nowadays relegated to simple work. Or especially how we seen different kind of efforts from their studios than "expanding on mini games" to release a fast game.
 

brainchild

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May 12, 2015
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Interesting development structure. It seems potentially more efficient than their previous structure.

Subbed for future updates.
 

thisisvlad

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Seems like a good "tiered" framework for game development. In this way, management can focus on excellence across these individual buckets and create games that leverage each pro/con.

May I ask how we learned this information?
 

brainchild

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Seems like a good "tiered" framework for game development. In this way, management can focus on excellence across these individual buckets and create games that leverage each pro/con.

May I ask how we learned this information?
From the OP. He's pretty resourceful. Though I'm sure he'd provide sources (if possible) if you asked him.
 
To me, the fact that Miyamoto wants his team to release more games just screams one thing: Lower budget/scale titles without ambitions. I think Star Fox Zero was the first batch of that kind of titles. And it doesn't inspire confidence.



Edit:

Yup, seeing the three first titles, SF0, Tri Force Heroes and Animal Crossing Party... yikes.
In fairness, those games are all arguably stopgap releases for what are the twilight years for both the 3DS and Wii U. I think its been generally assumed that development on high-profile titles have all been moved to the NX by now, excluding the few remaining outliers (Zelda). I wouldn't be surprised if Miyamoto's team is bouncing off ideas for or is working on a major project for the NX.
 

Datschge

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The new structure (at least what they've revealed of it), shows the company overall being far more open than before, and everybody in EPD is just in a big pool rather than EAD1, EAD2, etc. I'd hate to see the teams that have their own signature, like Retro, become homogenized with the rest of the company.
This is strictly about Nintendo's internal developers and reflect the fact that finally all of them are located in a single huge development building. For all time until now all the different hardware and software groups were separated mainly due to being located in different parts of Kyoto. This doesn't affect first parties that are not internal (e.g. Monolith Kyoto) or independent developers that are considered quasi-internal (e.g. Intelligent Systems and HAL Laboratory; actually IS moved into its own building recently after all these times sharing offices with R&D1/SPD).
 

Shikamaru Ninja

任天堂 の 忍者
This is strictly about Nintendo's internal developers and reflect the fact that finally all of them are located in a single huge development building. For all time until now all the different hardware and software groups were separated mainly due to being located in different parts of Kyoto. This doesn't affect first parties that are not internal (e.g. Monolith Kyoto) or independent developers that are considered quasi-internal (e.g. Intelligent Systems and HAL Laboratory; actually IS moved into its own building recently after all these times sharing offices with R&D1/SPD).
Well their main R&D is still divided between Kyoto and Tokyo, though it's like 1500 in Kyoto and 100 in Tokyo. Nintendo always speculated doing R&D in Osaka as well, where they still hold some Nintendo Game Seminars every other year.
 

TheMoon

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To me, the fact that Miyamoto wants his team to release more games just screams one thing: Lower budget/scale titles without ambitions. I think Star Fox Zero was the first batch of that kind of titles. And it doesn't inspire confidence.

Edit:

Yup, seeing the three first titles, SF0, Tri Force Heroes and Animal Crossing Party... yikes.
I think you need to expand your definition of "ambition" ...