Heart of a Gamer

On March 10, 2005, Satoru Iwata gave one of his most memorable keynote speeches ever. Iwata-san spoke at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) and shared exactly what it is to be a true gamer!

Iwata-san shared the beginnings of HAL Laboratory and how they become connected toIwata-san in his Early 20s Nintendo. It’s amazing to see gems seemingly locked in time, being released for us all to admire and experience. That is something that Nintendo has done for so many people through the last 2-3 decades, and Iwata-san’s keynote is just another opportunity to gain more insight into that world.

“Since not everyone can be a Miyamoto, we discovered that ideas can come from several  team members building on each other to make something superior to what one person could invent.” ~Satoru Iwata

Iwata-san felt the desire to answer two question that he felt were industry defining.

“How have things changed as a developer in the two decades that you have been working with video games?”

“One thing that has not changed, and will not change, is our nature as a form of entertainment. Like any other entertainment medium we must create an emotional response in order to succeed. Laughter, fear, joy, anger, affection, surprise, and most of all pride of accomplishment. In the end, triggering these feelings from our players is a true judgement of our work. This is a bottom line measurement of success.
Secondly, we must always weigh challenge and reward. How much work and frustration a player is willing to withstand depends on the personality and skill of the player. Core gamers have a huge appetite for challenge. Casual gamers want less difficulty. At Nintendo, we believe it is our responsibility to make games for all skill levels, and most definitely that includes people who are not playing our games now.
The third thing that has not changed, is the importance of the idea. Of course, it is valuable to devise an extension or offshoot of a current idea, but it invaluable to come up with a brand new idea of what a game can be. I’m sure there are a few of you out there in the audience today with such creativity, and  our industry needs you.
Fourth, this truth never changes; software sells hardware! People buy game systems to play the game they love. I agree with Steve Jobs, the head of Apple, when he said ‘Software is a user experience. Software is a driving technology, not just of computers, but of all consumer electronics.’
Finally, what has not changed is the value of Intellectual Property. If it is true that software sells hardware, it is more true than ever that franchises sell software. While our industry has made hit games with names like Spider-Man, James Bond and NFL football, I think we should be proud that our best games are those whose hero and worlds, we invented ourselves.”

“And, what has remained the same?”

“On the other side of the coin, what do I think of when I consider what has changed? One word immediately comes to mind…BIGGER! Iwata-san at GDC 2005Especially here in the Western Hemisphere, the business is bigger. The North American and European retail markets alone, are now worth approximately $17 Billion. In the US, game sales were up another 8% last year. There are games in your living room, your office, on your PDA, your cell phone, and of course, best of all on your Nintendo DS. Many in the media are shocked to learn that young men now spend more time playing games, than watching tv. I think those of us in this room could have told them that a long time ago. Of course, the games themselves, have become much bigger in several ways. They are bigger in a technical sense, occupying more digital space. That in turn, requires bigger teams, bigger budgets, and bigger challenges in meeting deadlines. This also means that big game companies are getting bigger by consuming smaller ones. We know that in the next generation, budgets for AAA console games will regularly move into 8-digits, and that’s before any marketing money is spent. Only the biggest companies can afford such costs. Not surprisingly, the success of our industry, and the profit-margin for hit games, has again drawn big attention from larger entertainment companies. But, we may not be compatible. Their books, movies, and tv shows are exactly the same for every user. But, our games let players help write their own screenplays, and their own endings. Now, I don’t think any of this is news; bigger budgets, bigger staffs, bigger companies. It’s there for all of us to see, big is obvious. On the other hand, what’s more prominent in my thinking these days is how our industry is getting smaller. We are smaller in the amount of risk we are willing to accept. We are also smaller in how we define video games. The list of genres seems fixed. Shooters, sports, platform, puzzles and so-on. When is the last time we invented a new genre? But, as importantly, even within these genres, we have reduced the environments we use. The racing tracks, the soundtracks, the bosses, the heroes are starting to look more and more alike. Consider Tiger Woods’ Golf and Mario Golf. Each a successful franchise, but using two different looks for the same genre. Such variety is becoming harder and harder to find. We are even getting smaller in how we define progress. Making games look more photo-realistic is not the only means of improving the game experience. I know, on this point, I risk being misunderstood. So remember, I am a man who once programmed a baseball game with no baseball players. If anyone appreciates graphics, it’s me. But, my point is that, this is just one path to improve games. We need to find other improvements, has more than one definition. And finally, I am most concerned with what we think as a gamer. As we spend more time and money chasing exactly the same players, who are we leaving behind? Are we creating games just for each other? Do you have friends and family members who don’t play video games? Well, why don’t they? And I ask this, how often have you challenged yourself to create a game that you might not play? I think these questions form an important challenge for all of us.”

Iwata-san discussed quite a few things of note throughout the entire keynote speech, and another such thing was the 4 I’s that are developer standards for the company. With these standards, Nintendo sees everything they approach. Whether that is on the software or hardware side, or even in some other form that has yet to be revealed, this is their starting block.

  • Innovation- something different from what has come before
  • Intuitive- does control of the game and the direction of game play seem natural
  • Inviting- do you want to spend time in this world
  • Interface- can the player connect in new way

One final note that I would like to share is, Iwata-san addressed something in this 10 year old speech that rings true to this very day. And as our favorite gaming company looks to say its final farewell to him, the following question he addressed from stage is highly relevant now.

Where does Nintendo go from here?

“In the universe of interactive entertainment, there is a planet we call video games. It is the one we know best, but it is only one. Also, in our universe, are other planets which entertain, but in different ways from current games. It is this part of the universe we are anxious to explore. So, this idea creates the dual passions of Nintendo. On one hand, we work everyday to make what we describe as video games better. We want to give players what they want, but at the same time we are intent on finding out what else we can use to entertain.
Our second goal is to show players something new, something they may not even know they want. You are already familiar with a good example of this philosophy, it’s Pokemon…Another example was our decision to put PictoChat into the DS. It’s not a game, not a competition, but a way for us to better understand how communicating wirelessly might also entertain.”

I believe with this company-wide philosophy, Nintendo is very well poised to continue with their successful ways. Thank you Iwata-san for all that you have brought to this industry and for showing us all the Heart of a Gamer!


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One thought on “Heart of a Gamer

  1. Pingback: The Game Awards Offers a Moving Tribute to Satoru Iwata | Jewelarchon Gaming

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