PAX Prime 2015 Indie Spotlight: tinyBuild

tinyBuild isn’t exactly a household name on Nintendo platforms, but that’s all about to change very, very soon.

I’d wager most PAX Prime attendees missed out on tinyBuild’s booth last year, which is a real shame. Even though their demos consisted mostly of readily available PC curios, games like Lovely Planet were refreshingly unlike anything else on the showroom floor. Not to mention their booth was undeniably the most eye-poppingly orange booth out there, bar none. Still, it’s hard to get excited about games that can purchased at a moment’s notice. While tinyBuild had a fun selection, their exhibit lacked the wow-factor to reel in fickle-minded convention goers. Orange alone can only accomplish so much, after all.

Fast forward a year and tinyBuild was back at PAX and bigger and badder than ever, and definitely more orange. Gone were the card tables dressed up as demo stations and it looked like the devs didn’t have to resort to their personal laptops for demonstration purposes. This year, tinyBuild had a towering scaffolding gaming hub constructed in a prime location on the 6th floor of the Seattle Convention Center. Suspended monitors on one end, 50-plus inch TVs on the other, an employee/media gathering area, a rotating company banner — the works! What a difference a year makes.

The more I marveled at the booth’s massive transformation, the more I wondered why I hadn’t seen more of tinyBuild’s projects on Wii U or 3DS. Sure, Lovely Planet was recently christened a Nindie at this year’s E3, but it seems so tame when compared to tinyBuild’s characteristically hectic multiplayer games. Stuff like SpeedRunners or the Smash Bros.-inspired Check-In, Knock-Out seem made with Nintendo platforms in mind. Surely some of those games are on their way, right?

Mike Rose, the resident PR guy and publishing facilitator at the orange-obsessed indie company, likewise thinks tinyBuild has what it takes to make a big splash on the eShop. As I spoke with him, Rose echoed my first impressions then highlighted the Nintendo influences that had seeped into tinyBuild’s games. For example, it’s no coincidence that SpeedRunners sports a lap-based system or item boxes; Rose admitted it’s effectively Mario Kart-meets-2D-platforming, which sounds right up the eShop’s alley.

While far from confirmed, Rose shared some ideas the SpeedRunners team has for a potential Wii U port. I was told 5-player local/online multiplayer seems feasible while Miiverse functionality would be a given. There are even talks of including a level editor for designing custom tracks, which would no doubt be a fun tool to tinker with using the GamePad’s touch screen. Evidently tinyBuild wants an eventual Wii U version to leverage the console’s unique features in order to differentiate it from the currently available PC iteration.

Even though tinyBuild hasn’t finalized anything just yet, Rose believes the pieces are falling into place. Talks with Nintendo are beginning to heat up and it sounds like both sides want to see this deal come to fruition sooner than later. Before that can happen, however, Rose stressed that tinyBuild wants to ensure their foray onto Wii U and 3DS is done the right way. As such, Rose has been tasked with devising a marketing strategy that will hopefully promote lasting sales, which is tricker than you’d think.

He explained that the biggest challenge indies face on the eShop is sustaining relevancy. According to Rose, indie games do most of their sales upfront at launch while they’re still in the public eye, ergo the eShop’s front page. Afterwards, they tend to fade into obscurity as they’re crowded out by Nintendo’s latest offerings as well as trendier indie games. Unlike Steam, the eShop doesn’t offer the frequent discounts that thrust older games back into the front page spotlight, which means once-popular games simply get buried beneath the influx of new arrivals.

This isn’t to say popular indie games can’t remerge, though. Shovel Knight, for example, continues to enjoy ample success thanks in part to publishers like Nintendo publicizing the game’s post-launch content, which has helped garner renewed interest in the shoveling crusader and in turn generate strong sales long after its 2014 release. Even though tinyBuild doesn’t have an industry-shaking game like Shovel Knight, the company intends to follow Yacht Club’s example with crossover partnerships and console-exclusive content where applicable to hopefully circumvent the huge sales drop-off.

Expect to see a whole lot more from tinyBuild in the coming months. Lovely Planet is still aiming for a late 2015 release on Wii U while Rose speculated that other tinyBuild offerings would follow suit closer to mid-2016. From there, the company hopes to cement their presence on the eShop with frequent releases of their most popular titles.

For more on tinyBuild, check out their website here and be on the look out for Lovely Planet on Wii U this winter.

Big thanks to Mike Rose for speaking with Always Nintendo!

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About The Author

Former Co-Editor

Trace Wysaske lives somewhere in Washington, and when he isn't compulsively hunting Green Stars or felling the Lagiacrus, he's writing about everything from forlorn Japanese teachers to well-mannered crows. He still needs to play Ghost Trick.