GDC: Iwata warns developers

In his GDC 2011 keynote, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata warned video game developers that their very livelihood is threatened by games being turned into mobile applications.


In his GDC 2011 keynote "Video Games Turn 25: A Historical Perspective and Vision for the Future", Nintendo president Satoru Iwata issued a serious warning to developers on the danger posed to their future by the rush to mobile apps. He pointed out that to phone companies, it is a matter of quantity, and that they have no motivation to maintain the quality of video games. "The value of videogame software does not matter to them," Iwata said. He followed up saying, "We produce value; we should protect that value." By comparison, he said that Nintendo sees hardware as something people reluctantly purchase so that they can play the games they want to.

In the bigger sense, Iwata noted three concerns he holds for the future. First, he discussed how the tremendous scope of modern games undermines craftsmanship. He said that there's simply not the ability to polish things over and over, no matter how much money, time, and talent are involved. Second, he wondered where the next generation of "master game creators" who can see the overall vision of a game will come from in an era of development teams made up of specialists. And finally, the divide in the business, as he warned about with regard to mobile apps, he feels could threaten the very livelihood of game developers.

To combat these issues he offered two directions to get games noticed and rise above the rabble. To start, Iwata offered that in the modern era games must show their central appeal with the first 10 minutes. The other point he offered was the unique nature of a game must be something anyone can quickly and easily describe. Only then can it be shared, leading to it reaching the tipping point at which the game begins to sell itself.

In closing, Iwata said that innovation holds the key. At Nintendo, he said, they have always looked for that which people thought was impossible, and then made it possible. "Trust your passion; believe in your dream," he said.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 2, 2011 12:15 PM

    Comment on GDC: Iwata warns developers, by Garnett Lee.

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      March 2, 2011 12:17 PM

      Translation: People aren't buying $50 shovelware on the Wii anymore. They're buying the same game for $0.99 on their phone.

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        March 2, 2011 12:18 PM

        0h, okay.

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        March 2, 2011 12:19 PM

        But they already have that market covered with WiiWare and DSiWare themselves, don't they?

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          March 2, 2011 12:20 PM

          But most of that stuff is still like $5, right?

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            March 2, 2011 12:23 PM

            Some of it is super cheap too. I think it's more a case of Iwata trying to steer people away from phones because Nintendo doesn't have anything in the phone space.

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              March 2, 2011 12:26 PM

              That's kinda what I was aiming for in my post, but it came across poorly. Basically, Nintendo is pissed that devs are making their mingames and such and shoveling it out for $50 on the Wii, or $30 on the DS. They're making individual games, and selling them for $0.99, and doing it on phones, where people are more likely to play games like that.

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          March 2, 2011 2:51 PM

          "To date, our WiiWare and DSiWare services have not operated as well as they should have."

          • Ebu legacy 10 years
            March 2, 2011 10:48 PM

            Locking purchases to the physical console forever is not a good way to go about it.

            It's actually a great way to ensure I never spend a dime on it.

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          March 2, 2011 6:55 PM

          How many people here have DS and Wiis vs iOS devices? How would you compare the volume of iOS gaming related posts to DSiWare and WiiWare?

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            March 2, 2011 9:59 PM

            I wasn't comparing the volume, I was comparing the pricepoint.

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              March 2, 2011 10:20 PM

              Right, I was using the volume to show that just because you have the price point doesn't mean you have the market covered.

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                March 2, 2011 10:26 PM

                What I meant by having the market covered was that they had a presence in that segment of the market, not that they owned or controlled it.

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      March 2, 2011 12:30 PM

      You can't ignore volume and the mobile device market is going to eclipse the size of whatever install base dedicated gaming devices manage to achieve. I think the triumph of the wii over the 360 and ps3 proves that the hardcore gamer market is a lot smaller than people were expecting. Neither the 360 npor the ps3 will match ps2 sales numbers. The market did not move from the ps2 to the 360/ps3. A good chunk of it went casual/social: facebook, iphone, wii.

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        March 2, 2011 1:47 PM

        There was actually an article just recently detailing how strong the PS2 fanbase remains to this day; Sony still sells the thing new for 99.99. What they didn't lose to FB, iPhone and Wii, could maybe have been pushed onto PS3 had they kept the emotion engine in there.

        I think Sony made a mistake by removing it. If Nintendo has any brains behind their bluster they had better be studying examples of integration like PS3 w/EE and Xperia Play.

        Nintendo needs to adapt to the marketplace of 2011, instead of bemoaning the loss of the marketplace of 1991.

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      March 2, 2011 1:01 PM

      Basically: apple has stolen the consumer exploitation crown from Nintendo, now their fiddling their thumbs together trying to understand how they fell behind.

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        March 2, 2011 1:45 PM

        This is too funny, somebody is beating Nintendo at their own game and now their getting nervous. They have the audacity to complain about shovelware? Really, Cooking Mama, take a look in the mirror Nintendo, you are projecting.

        Then he also tries to throw the trend of big Western studios under the bus, by saying they can't make quality products, because they have too many hands working on a title.

        Well clearly, that leaves only Nintendo right smack dab in the middle, as the only one who has the wisdom to spend as little as possible on developing a game. As well as the forsight to sell it to you at a high enough price, preventing you from playing too many other shovelware games.

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      March 2, 2011 1:20 PM

      The day I'm able to play 64 player BF3 with all the same features and graphics..... yea I don't think so

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      March 2, 2011 6:48 PM

      I agree with his points, so why hasn't he brought back the 'nintendo seal of quality'?

      Instead we get We Dare...

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        March 2, 2011 10:37 PM

        My thoughts, exactly. I'm usually siding with Nintendo on these types of things, but he's being completely hypocritical. He removed the Seal of Quality so developers wouldn't be forced to charge at least $30 for their games, thereby opening the floodgates for shovelware. Iwata is the very last person that should be tooting the "quality is better" horn.

        So Apple lowers the standards even more to appeal to cash-strapped gamers (in doing so creating a gigantic new game market) and now Iwata is backtracking like crazy. This almost makes me lose a bit of respect for Nintendo and I hold them up just as high as Valve and Bethesda/ID.

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          March 2, 2011 10:39 PM

          Oh and for the record, I actually agree with his statement. The day quality games stop being made is the day I get a new hobby. But he's still a huge hypocrite.

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      March 2, 2011 9:57 PM

      I don't buy this argument at all. The small scope of mobile phone games has had exactly the effect he identifies as hard to achieve with large-scale games: they can be polished. The most successful iPhone games are small in concept, but very well executed. They really are a distillation of a mechanic into an immediately accessible package.

      On the other end of the spectrum, the 360 and PS3 are home to the big-budget blockbuster. If you can afford to make a good AAA title, go for it, there's an audience. If you don't want to take that risk, and instead want to concentrate on small-scale quality, there's a huge audience at the App Store.

      Nintendo just doesn't have a currently-hot angle on either end. The Wii rode the wave of small, focused, and polished games (mostly Wii Sports) that the iPhone seems to have taken over. They ceded the big-budget blockbuster to gain the larger market, but Apple ended up with a better offer for customers: cheaper games that are easier to acquire.

      Here's hoping they figure out how best to position themselves moving forward.

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      March 2, 2011 10:01 PM

      Honestly Iwata is starting to show his age. I get why technical stuff wasn't that important twenty years ago, but now games can be legitimately just plain pretty.

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      March 2, 2011 10:53 PM

      Great summary, Garnett.

      I think Iwata KNOWS Wii has a bunch of garbage software on it... most people know. 1st party Nintendo games are the only heavy hitters for the Wii system. DS has a bunch of garbage too. I think he's speaking to the developers here... basically telling them to stop flooding his system with crap games, because you can do that on mobile platforms for $0.99 cents, instead of $30-40 bucks on Wii/DS.

      Nintendo does produce quality, valuable software... Maybe Iwata is saying he wants other developers to make something worthwhile as well.

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      March 2, 2011 11:16 PM

      "The divide in the business" that he speaks of as being dangerous to his business IS the divide between cheap, seemingly simplistic games that go for smaller experiences vs blockbuster titles that tons of money is spent on. That is the divide they built the Game Boy on, the DS on, and then the Wii on. Nintendo came into this gen saying that graphics and sound don't matter, the fun matters.

      For him to now argue that "the value" matters instead... well, he's just a sore loser. The App Store dev's heard you, man. They heard you talking years ago and now they're doing what you said! You said graphics and sound don't matter, just imagination and fun! Well, Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and Space Miner: Space Ore Bust all agree with you.

      Oh wait? Those aren't on Nintendo consoles? You don't like it that they're taking your ideas even farther than you thought possible? That it's squeezing you out of the market? Because on the high end, you got MS and Sony. And on the low end, you got Apple... and you've got nowhere to sit?

      Well, maybe you should have THOUGHT of that before you got casual/mainstream gamers used to crap with the Wii and DS.

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        March 2, 2011 11:29 PM

        Hahaha. So much anger in this thread. But yeah. I hear you guys. The Wii has a HUGE LOAD of absolute shit.

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      March 3, 2011 2:29 AM

      it's funny that when anyone speaks of the mobile phone 99cent market, it is impossible for them to hide the fear. it's just suits desperately trying to keep their own business models going... but it's impossible to stem this tide. i mean, look at his description for an ideal game:

      "To start, Iwata offered that in the modern era games must show their central appeal with the first 10 minutes. The other point he offered was the unique nature of a game must be something anyone can quickly and easily describe. Only then can it be shared, leading to it reaching the tipping point at which the game begins to sell itself."

      that's the app store.

      oh dear... fear of change. so difficult to hide, so impossible to avoid the change.

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      March 3, 2011 4:13 AM

      Out of my stomach about 15% of the game on the DS are match the good quality he speaks of, maybe 5% on the Wii. Nintendo sounds like a hypocrite.

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      March 3, 2011 6:09 AM

      A bit worried about a changing market? But I kinda agree I don't really want more angry birds I want more Dragon Age 2.

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        March 3, 2011 10:08 AM

        My kids are spoiled. We have an XBox 360, a Wii and a PS3. A month ago I finally broke down and purchased an iPad. Both kids haven't touched the gaming consoles since I bought the iPad. There are endless free games to play and so many free educational games its awesome. My oldest has to do math and spelling apps before he is allowed to play with the iPad.

        We all talk about the death of the PC to consoles. We will soon be talking more of the death of consoles to phone and tablet apps.

        It's easy math. Should I pay $50 for a game my kids will play for 2 weeks or $50 for an assload of apps my kids will play for months and months.

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