Close
Are you sure? Are you sure you want to report this comment? I understand, report it. Cancel

Iwata outlines concerns over "high value" game future

Wed 02 Mar 2011 6:12pm GMT / 1:12pm EST / 10:12am PST
GDC 2011

Nintendo president fears industry is "drowning" as mobile and social network titles rise

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has used his keynote presentation at this year's GDC event in San Francisco as a platform to outline three of his concerns over the future of game development, saving a special mention for his fears over the future of "high value" games as the numbers of social network and mobile games rises.

The first of his concerns focused on whether or not games were as polished as they should be at launch, and mourned the loss of craftsmanship in the industry.

"As projects become bigger and more complicated, often the option of working over and over again to polish a game, to make it the highest quality it can be, is disappearing," he said. "This isn't a criticism of the people developing games, but rather the circumstances in which they operate.

"No matter how much money or manpower is available, no matter how much talent is involved, the needed flexibility may not be available when unexpected developments arise. Small details can get lost, even in huge projects."

"Game development is drowning. Yes, nearly every one of these downloadable games is far less expensive to create than most retail titles, but what revenues do they generate?"

Satoru Iwata, Nintendo president

He outlined his second concern as a worry about where the next "master game creator" would come from, as those working in development specialised more, and few were able to understand the bigger picture of the game's creation.

But his biggest fear was for the future of high value products, which he seemed to equate with retail titles - questioning whether or not the majority of developers would be able to "make a living" in the future.

"I fear our business is dividing in a way that threatens our continued employment, for many of us who create games for a living," he said. "Yes - developers' hours are always too long, and the stress too high - but until now, there has always been the ability to make a living. Will that still be the case moving forwards?

"Let me share a few numbers. Today in America there are more than 500 retail games available for PS3, more than 700 for the Xbox 360, and more than 1000 each for both Wii and Nintendo DS. With so many choices it is already very challenging to gain enough visibility with the public.

"A few games do become mega-hits, but it's not easy. With such competition, even being noticed is extremely difficult - huge investments promise nothing. Now, consider this. The corresponding number of games available to download from app sites is in the tens of thousands. Game development is drowning.

"Yes, nearly every one of these downloadable games is far less expensive to create than most retail titles, but what revenues do they generate? Screen Digest reports that among all types of application downloads among the leading mobile services last year, 92 per cent were free - and most of those which weren't free are still being sold at extremely low prices.

"Why is this happening? To answer, it's necessary to understand two very different ways of looking at our business, and these approaches focus on a single question. Is maintaining high value games a top priority, or not?"

Iwata went on to explain that while Nintendo is a hardware manufacturer, it is first and foremost a games creation company - and that its platforms exist only to play those games. He then contrasted that with mobile or social network devices, whose purpose were not to play games.

"We make platforms designed to demonstrate the high value of high quality videogame software. But, there is a second, entirely different way to consider the value of software. The objective of smartphones and social networks, and the reason they were created, are not at all like ours.

"These platforms have no motivation to maintain the high value of videogame software - for them, content is something created by someone else. Their goal is just to gather as much software as possible, because quantity is what makes the money flow - the value of videogame software does not matter to them."

Iwata's words will be seen as a shot across the bows to Apple in particular, with the success of the iPhone and iPad seen by many as a strong competitor for the Nintendo 3DS.

The Nintendo president ended by noting two important ideas for the continued success of the games business - firstly, that the first few seconds of a game are crucial, and that gamers may no longer be prepared to wait up to ten minutes to understand what a title is about.

And secondly, he added that a game must be "quick and easy" for people to describe the "unique nature of the game" to others, positing that "social recommendations are far more persuasive than advertising".

Ultimately, though, Iwata described what, in his mind, was an effective solution to the challenge in a single word: "Innovation," which he went on to define as the notion that if there is something considered impossible, then it should be made possible - an idea which he ended his keynote on, imploring the developers gathered in the audience to go and do.

The 3DS launched in Japan last weekend, and is released in Europe and North America later this month.

26 Comments

Private
Industry

1,187 185 0.2
"The corresponding number of games available to download from app sites is in the tens of thousands. Game development is drowning."

And people are drowning in the more than 1000 Wii games where only a small fraction is actually good, just like on the App store.

Games can always be more polished there is never a perfect game and how was that again with the progression block in Metroid Other M? I do hope he was also criticizing Nintendo with that statement and not just products that are not from Nintendo.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Private on 2nd March 2011 6:51pm

Posted:3 years ago

#1

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,199 317 0.3
There are plenty of gamers who want high quality titles. What has a light shone on it is that Nintendo systems have a lot of 30-40 shovelware that is vastly inferior to some mobile 3 titles.

Posted:3 years ago

#2

Haven Tso
Web-based Game Reviewer

255 8 0.0
On that note I am interested to know whether there is an average mega-critics score for all developers based on the games they have developed and released so far. Nintendo seems to have quite a number of high profile games under their sleeves: Mario Bros side scrollers, Mario 3D platformers (e.g. Galaxy and 64), Zleda (e.g. Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess), Metroid Prime collection, Animal Crossing series, Paper Mario series, the latest Kirby's Epic Yarn, Wii Fit series, Wii Sports series, Brain Training series, Nintendog series, Mario Kart series.

Like it or hate it, Nintendo does have a lot more high quality hits than most of the developers around.

Posted:3 years ago

#3

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,210 2,051 0.9
Werner, he certainly was criticizing the games catalog of the Wii and DS. And this isn't the first time either. He and Reggie have called out 3rd parties several times before.

But overall, he's correct. The markets are becoming flooded with product, quality and return on investments are suffering.

Posted:3 years ago

#4

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,199 317 0.3
@Haven, as a developer probably, but as a platform they probably are much lower. I think last time I saw figures, Ps3 had the highest average score, but Xbox had the largest number of 80%+ titles.

Posted:3 years ago

#5
I have to agree with Iwata completely, and its the main reason I have left game dev - the best profit Nocturnal ever made was work-for-hire doing general IT development.

I think I look forward to a console where Nintendo controls the quality on *all* the titles - 3rd-parties apply for dev licenses, and can only release once a game is considered good enough (i..e the original "Nintendo Seal of Quality").

Most of the issue comes from the nature of games - develop a codebase, release a game. Then make some changes, release a new game. And so on, and on, and on. Share the code, swap a few graphics. Add 2-player. Release again. And for another platform. And so on, and on, ...

Its very much going the same way as music - without potential revenue from a "live concert" option. Except the target audience is much, much smaller.

AppStore is a huge red herring too - Apple do great, but make most of their money off hardware - with the key attraction almost unlimited, virtually free software. Perfect for consumers ... terrible for (most) professional developers.

Posted:3 years ago

#6

Sam Brown
Programmer

237 163 0.7
"Screen Digest reports that among all types of application downloads among the leading mobile services last year, 92 per cent were free - and most of those which weren't free are still being sold at extremely low prices. Why is this happening?"

I can't speak for everyone, but for me it would be because the people writing those applications do so in their spare time because they enjoy it, which leads them to care more about the product, so it ends up more polished. And if you spend your own time on a labour of love you want people to use it, so you give it away free.

People have always made the games and apps they wanted to in their spare time, it's just that now there are much more efficient and widely-used channels for distributing them. And they won't care about making much (or any) money from it because it's not their main source of income - Like Michael says, earn your living doing a normal job, then if you love development, develop what you love in your spare time. There are thousands of people out there doing it.

When I work on a game for my employer I obviously do the best job I can. Anything else would be unprofessional, and there is always a certain amount of satisfaction to be gained from problem-solving whatever the context. But if I don't actually like the game, do I do as good a job on it as when I get home and work on my own stuff? Do I, however unconsciously, have a clocking-off mentality about it? I like to think I don't, but the simple fact is I don't know.

Posted:3 years ago

#7

Adam Ross

18 0 0.0
Nintendo may be feeling the worst of this because while they have big titles sitting under there belt, original IP's breaking onto Nintendo platforms have become more sparce over the last 5 years. Nintendo seem content re-hashing the same old tried and tested games.

Posted:3 years ago

#8

Steve Pritchard
Studio Head

6 0 0.0
"...original IP's breaking onto Nintendo platforms have become more sparce over the last 5 years."

Art Academy.

But then again, I'm a bit biased here.

Posted:3 years ago

#9

James Prendergast
Research Chemist

730 410 0.6
There will always be a market for free... a market for small games with small prices and a market for the bigger, more expensive titles.

Of course, salary, agility and innovation will alter between those three scenarios and the three markets will wax and wane in popularity over time. The difficulty is in reading the trends and adapting to change your development/economic model or trying to ride out the storm until it passes.

There's no doubt that those who survived the crash before the NES came out stronger and possibly they were able to refocus and charge more for the titles they put out. Personally i think that there's space for a lot of titles in the lower cost brackets due to the whole impulse-buying mentality.... but there's a lot of competition for relatively niche entertainment choices all being targeted by multiple companies and you really have to have a strong name and/or strong marketing to stand out.

Companies like Harmonix demonstrate that when you're not competing with other companies (even for a relatively niche product) you can make money.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 3rd March 2011 2:48pm

Posted:3 years ago

#10

Tom Keresztes
Programmer

632 223 0.4
While i understand his point, and entirely agree with it, as usual, there is the other side of the coin. Given a platform, there is a reasonable expectation in the number sales it can achieve, therefore the project should be budget to match it, not the other way around.
Small games operate on a tiny budget, therefore they don't have to sell huge amounts to be profitable. Nor they allow the overhead of having 5 managers and 3 producers either...

Also, Nintendo choose to not support small devs, their licensing fees are not proportional with income that can be generated on their platforms as a 3rd party indie - we had the same issue with Nokia, as they were asking more money upfront than the entire budget for the project.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tom Keresztes on 3rd March 2011 4:00pm

Posted:3 years ago

#11

Daniel Hughes
Studying PhD Literary Modernism

410 455 1.1
Adam, over the last 5 or 6 years we've seen the Wii series (Sports, Fit, Chess, Music, Play, Party), Art Academy, Nintendogs, Brain Training, Professor Layton, Elite Beat Agents, Rhythm Paradise, Endless Ocean, Bit Generations, Electroplankton, Flipnote Studio, and in Japan, Captain Rainbow, Xenoblade and the Last Story, either developed or published by Nintendo.

The Wii series games have sold tens of millions of units (even discounting Wii Sports, Wii Fit/Plus have sold in the region of 40 million) and the Brain Training and Nintendogs franchises have sold over 20 million units each. These franchises have changed the face of the traditional market over the last few years. Suggesting Nintendo simply rely on rehashing old IP is misguided, really. If anything over the last five years, they've made a bigger push with new IP to reach out to new markets.

Posted:3 years ago

#12

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,210 2,051 0.9
@Daniel,
The most fallacious "fact" of the entire generation. While I'll grant that 3rd parties have largely failed to sell "as well" as 1st party efforts, they have still sold very well in their own respects. You can't look at a game that sold 500,000 units against a game that sold 5,000,000 units and state the former did not sell well simply because the latter sold 10 times more. Look at the game in its own context. Did it exceed publisher expectations? Did it generate profit for developer/publisher? For the most part, those questions can be answered yes.

Posted:3 years ago

#13

Adam Campbell
Studying Games Technology

101 0 0.0
I've heard it all before and I simply don't agree.

The risk is for the huge publishers that release the same over and over again at a high price, when I could get something low cost, very innovative, fun and with great graphics on a mobile.

There will be serious issue for them if people decide that don't want to invest in 3DS and rather play increasingly great games on their all-in-one device.

They need to rise to the challenge rather than hope it will go away.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 3rd March 2011 6:00pm

Posted:3 years ago

#14

Adam Ross

18 0 0.0
Ok, There may have been a few like the Wii series, but how many Sonic games have we seem over the past 5 years? That IP has been degrading since the late 90's to many gamers that I speak to, however nintendo seem content bringing them out.

Im not bashing them here, Im saying that if anyone has more to lose over the social/ casual gamer market, nintendo have.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Ross on 3rd March 2011 6:19pm

Posted:3 years ago

#15

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

1,993 902 0.5
In other words: every game now needs to be a cross between Alien Soldier, the crazier parts of Dead Space II, Contra Hard Corps, Tetris cranked up all the way, Ms. Pac-Man locked into super speed mode and Burnout? All in the first few seconds?

Um... I guess I'll go grab eight cups of coffee and get back to you.

I happen to like high-action games as well as slower-paced story driven games and everything in between (I'm finishing up both Baron Wittard and Dead Space 2) and I'm old and cranky, not some SAS-sy (short attention span) jaded gamers who can't stand reading two lines of help text (and shit, NEVER reads a damn manual). I don't want to see games go "all twitch all the time" just to meet the demands of a bunch of folks who need to slow down and actually enjoy what's on their plate, not wolf it down and complain they want more and where's my cake?

Random thoughts XI (tongues in cheeks, please... thank you):

I agree on Iwata comments about money - how DO some of you indie guys make a buck (or are you all selling plasma and old vinyl to survive)? Of course, I can ask the same of publishers that FLOOD retail with endless Premium Editions that sit around unsold until they end up going to some closeout warehouse reduced to 80% off.

I've also always wondered something: even if your home-made game is done for "fun", once it gets picked up for publishing (or hell, even if you're self-publishing), isn't a little mercenary behavior (i.e. acting like a game company suit) helpful at some point?

Time is indeed, money at the end of the day and hard work should be compensated if it results in getting a bunch of people suddenly interested in your product. I remember many years back seeing a street artist doing caricatures of people and handing them out, refusing to take a dime. His work was amazing for what were basically two-minute sketches. I asked him why he didn't take and money despite people offering it constantly and he says "Oh, I'm not that good, man - I just find it funny that people are so nuts about a few scribbles..." I wanted to gently bash him on the head with a rolled up newspaper while saying "Take the damn money, dude - you're in a country where health care isn't free" or something like that.

Anyway, are some indie developers being conned into taking the tiniest (or zero) profit on a free, dollar to five dollar game when some of these better made games would have sold just as well in a retail package for more? Are some of these folks the "Aw shucks... (*beet*), my game isn't THAT good, but if people want to PAY for it and what? I make a whole .37 profit on each sale? WHAAAAT? Cha-Ching!!!" saps I think they are (and it seems Iwata thinks so too - while maybe being a little jealous)?

Feh. there is indeed a DISTINCT difference between App Store mega hits and many console or PC games and somehow, too many of the suits in this industry are becoming too stupid to make that distinction as they try to copy that "OmigawditsthebestgamevaranditsFREEorrealcheapandmygrandmacanplayittoo!" feeling casual gamers get when they see flashy colors and cute characters doing funny or naughty things.

Then again, if that Angry Birds movie tanks, I can see the more fickle folks out there suddenly not being interested in certain types of casual games just because a bad idea based on a hugely popular (and quite fun) cash cow left them with a mouthful of old lemons and fish eyeballs...

Ah - coffee's ready - bye, now!

Posted:3 years ago

#16

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,199 317 0.3
@Adam Ross. Nintendo have never released a bad Sonic game. Sonic is Sega, not Nintendo.

Posted:3 years ago

#17

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

1,993 902 0.5
@Adam Ross: Gaming 101, Page 9: DEVELOPERS and PUBLISHERS are often two or more different entities. Know ye this, and your commentary and opinions will be well-respected.

...Or else, this place turns to GameFaqs or other sites that have become home of too many ill-informed "(Name of company that doesn't make the games, they just publish or distribute them) Sucks!" rants.

Posted:3 years ago

#18

Ben Herman
CEO

12 0 0.0
My two cents....Atari died in early 80's when E.T. and Pacman games were awful. Atari 2600 engine could not handle Pacman graphics. Millions of games..no consumer interest. Now we have free social games. If they are bad games no one plays them. Micro transactions happen when game is fun and challenging.

Here are changes I would like to see;
1. Itunes Store add a "Games" category.
2. Create a one stop portal to find games on any mobile device.

P.S. 3D will energize the gaming category. Hardcore gamers await them.

Posted:3 years ago

#19

Christopher Bowen
Owner, Gaming Bus

118 0 0.0
@ Michael Shamgar:

I think I look forward to a console where Nintendo controls the quality on *all* the titles - 3rd-parties apply for dev licenses, and can only release once a game is considered good enough (i..e the original "Nintendo Seal of Quality").

There's two big problems with this. First off, you make the assumption that the Nintendo Seal of Quality was actually a seal of quality. All that denoted was that the company had paid Nintendo's licensing fees, and that the game was authorized for release on those grounds. Nintendo never vetted the quality of those games, just the money it took to release them. Just the existance of LJN as a games publisher proves this, as well as other horrible titles that took $50USD out of unsuspecting gamers back then, without even so much as a Funcoland to help make some of it back via trades.

Now, sure, Nintendo could go into the business of vetting every game they have, making sure it would be applicable in terms of quality, and only releasing things they approve of, but in a way, Sony already does this, and that leads to problem #2, which is that that particular system is a failure, especially for people who like niche genres. Sony's vetting process killed Working Designs because they miscalculated the market for their games in America, on a system that the company was depending on, and also caused the Sakura Taisen PSP set to be labeled as a "visual novel" (!?!?!?) and to be scuttled in America, despite the fact that NIS was able to release Disgaea Infinite in America on the same system. These two critical mistakes - and Sony's utter lack of any sort of appeals process (everyone's said that once a game is rejected, that's it, and the appeals process is a sham) - show that such a system would only lead to games that the company thinks would be massive sellers. That itself leads to a couple of related problems: one, prepare for a lot of games with space marines, and two, what if a company is about to put something out that competes with something the vetting company is about to put out? "Hey, this 3D platformer is good, but we're coming out with Mario soon. Let's find a way to kill this". If you don't think this can happen, ask anyone who's dealt with Apple.

And who's to say what quality is? Sakura Taisen is amazing, but it's niche, so niche that the idiot at Sony who decided it was a visual novel didn't even know what it was. On the other hand, Let's Dance is pure shit, but it sells like hotcakes. I think Let's Dance is a game I'd like to see go away, but the people playing it couldn't care less about Sakura Taisen. Who's right?

It's a novel idea, especially to combat all of the shovelware that hit the Wii when it hit "fad" status, but you'd be doing more harm than good.

Posted:3 years ago

#20

Haven Tso
Web-based Game Reviewer

255 8 0.0
The issue here seems to be quality vs quantity again. But there seems to be no win win situaiton for Nintendo here. During the Cube generation, developers were complaining about the demanding quality required to release games on the Cube so they abandon the Cube to release games on PS2. So for the Wii, Nintendo just put a platform out there for developers to play around and release games on it. But when poor quality games don't sell Nintendo was blamed to flood the platform with shovelware.

Another thing that puzzled me was that PS2 has tons of shovelware on that platform but nobody seems to care but what Nintendo did or not do, it is still Nintendo's fault

Posted:3 years ago

#21

Andrew Goodchild
Studying development

1,199 317 0.3
To add to what Christopher said, now imagine a developer/publisher invest a few million dollers on a title. One person or a small commitee at the platform holder block it. This happens a few times. The developers could have released and tried to recoup, and if they faied it would be their fault, or of the publisher's marketting, but instead the platform holder blocked it on a subjective view of those games. Presuming these companies don't go bust, they are not going to develop any further titles for that platform.
Now, if they are going to rigourously enforce the quality policy across the board, what happens when Ubisoft wants to release a game that the commitee isn't sure they like? Block it and risk one of the top echelon publishers withdrawing from the platform? Or allow it through, and make a mockery of the whole system?

Posted:3 years ago

#22

Tom Keresztes
Programmer

632 223 0.4
@Christopher,

Nintendo actually does that kind of rigorous testing, but only on their first and second party games. Regular 3rd party games only has to pass the lot check (a set of 'recommendations').

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tom Keresztes on 3rd March 2011 10:05pm

Posted:3 years ago

#23

Daniel Hughes
Studying PhD Literary Modernism

410 455 1.1
@Jimmy,

I genuinely don't know what you mean about the most fallacious fact of the generation! I didn't comment on third party games in relation to first party efforts, or whether they can be judged as success or failures relative to expectations and budgets. I simply refuted Adam's point that Nintendo rely on the same old IP. Clearly they wouldn't have done so well this generation by rehashing their old IP. I won't deny they reuse their IP, and sometimes without enough reinvention, but I fail to see where I posted the most fallacious fact of the generation! :)

Posted:3 years ago

#24

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,210 2,051 0.9
Daniel, I think there may have either been another post from another Daniel that got removed or I somehow posted this in the wrong news story. I fully agree with your post and feel a good deal embarrassed that my post seems directed toward you while I assure you it was not.

Hey, Matt and Phil...can we get a quote feature in here?

While I'm at it...why not migrate to vBulletin 4, integrate the news into their CMS publishing suite and hire me as the Community Manager for the built in forum system?

Posted:3 years ago

#25

Daniel Hughes
Studying PhD Literary Modernism

410 455 1.1
No problem Jimmy!

Posted:3 years ago

#26

Login or register to post

Take part in the GamesIndustry community

Register now