Dutch games developer Engine Software has claimed that its first contribution to Nintendo's forthcoming online WiiWare service will be available in March. The news has prompted a rush of online speculation that Nintendo will be launching the service in the next couple of months.

Nintendo has neither confirmed nor denied the rumoured date, instead telling the Next-Gen.biz gaming website that: "Nintendo has not made any official announcement regarding the launch of the WiiWare service". To our ears that sounds rather like: 'We'll tell you when we're ready'.

What's the big deal?

Because whenever it does launch, WiiWare will allow Wii owners to download small creative games to their consoles through the WiiWare section of the Wii Shop.

Nintendo says that the service will give small, independent developers the chance to compete against established players to create the next big thing. Ultimately, the fate of a WiiWare game won't be decided by marketing campaigns or magazine reviews. It will be decided by quality, with the online Wii community acting as both judge and jury.

There's no official word on prices yet, but it won't be a free service and Wii owners will have to pay for downloaded content much like Xbox 360 owners do with current Live Arcade titles.

Like Microsoft's Live Arcade, WiiWare games are likely to be restricted in size. Some Nintendo watchers have speculated around the 40MB mark, so they can easily fit on SD cards. WiiWare games will also need to take full advantage of the Wii's unique gesture-based control system to stand any chance of getting through Nintendo's QA process.

Nintendo is currently in talks with likely providers as the number of titles that can be released during the service's launch window is limited.