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Iwata's views "no reflection of what consumers want"

Wed 20 Jul 2011 4:06pm GMT / 12:06pm EDT / 9:06am PDT
Development

Kuju Entertainment founder urges developers to take control of the entire dev process

Tenshi Ventures' Ian Baverstock has claimed that Satoru Iwata's GDC keynote is a "shocking indictment" of the way Nintendo views the industry.

In his keynote address, Iwata claimed that craftsmanship in game development was dying due to the abundance of smaller, less expensive games on new digital platforms

Speaking at the Develop conference, Baverstock, who co-founded Kuju Entertainment, vehemently disagreed, saying that these new platforms have expanded the traditional skill-set required to make games.

The rise of Facebook, iOS and Steam have shifted the emphasis away from pleasing retail partners something that Nintendo's business is built upon - and given developers more control over what they create and who they create for.

"I just don't agree," he said. "This lack of craftsmanship is really a reflection of Nintendo's point of view they are completely obsessed with retail, and have been very successful in that."

However, by ceding so much power to their retail partners, the platform holders have led the industry towards a "narrow distribution pipe, with huge inventory risks and huge inventory costs." Baverstock believes that retail buyers don't make decisions based on craft or quality, but on who has "the biggest sign" at E3.

As he left Iwata's keynote, it was "abundantly clear" that the majority of the audience couldn't relate to its content. They were making games for Facebook, Steam, Android and iOS, yet the message was that console platform holders are still the key relationship for all developers.

"Ultimately for Mr Iwata to be able to sit there and say that we're losing craftsmanship, we're losing skills... at the same time that Minecraft comes out, sells millions and makes one man lots of money and creates a huge public buzz, is a shocking indictment of his view of the world that we all see."

Baverstock posited that we are in the "second great age of independent development" - the first being the late Eighties - and developers now need to rise to the challenge, and broaden their skills so they don't need to rely on the support of publishers and platform holders.

"We're not very far away now from the beginnings of next generation [of technology] from Sony and Microsoft. I don't know when that will come, but at that point... the idea that there are going to be many independent developers with either their own money, or even publishers money, making games on those platforms there are going to be very, very few."

Developers must take advantage of the opportunities offered by the internet and social media to independently manage the PR, community management and marketing of their games the sort of services that used to be done "forcibly" by publishers.

The real message of Iwata's talk, he claimed, was one of control, an attempt to preserve the system that allows platform-holders and giant publishers to exist.

"In the end, once you get past that preachy title of why developers need to change, the reason why I'm so riled by Mr. Iwata's point of view is that fundamentally it's smack talk: 'You, Mr. Developer, stay in your box, you stay down there, we'll do with this other stuff, you just carry on making games.'"

More importantly, the opportunity is there for developers to do a better job of these aspects than a company like EA was able to do.

Baverstock venerated a more personal approach to the marketing, and suggested that developers begin to look at their content as just a facet of an ongoing relationship with the consumer. The truth is that the games Iwata claimed were hurting the industry have created enormous new demand, but it's a demand that Nintendo is not well placed to satisfy.

"I think that, fundamentally, Mr. Iwata's view of this market from a value creation and number of title point of view was skewed entirely to his interests as a successful platform holder, and is in no way a reflection of what ordinary consumers want."

Baverstock believes that the games industry is at the forefront of dealing with consumers in "intangible goods", something that an enormous number and variety of industries want to know more about.

"That... personal relationship [with consumers], the games industry is absolutely leading that. Everyone you talk to in a marketing department wants to talk to game developers, because they want to understand what we know about this."

"To come back to my Mr. Iwata point, it's shocking that he can't see that we're leading the world - off the platform he has created - in this way. There is a lot going on; it just hasn't happened in his space, and realistically can't."

25 Comments

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,282 2,488 1.1
Do I need to pull aside everyone in the industry one by one and explain to them what Iwata meant?

This is getting ridiculous.

Posted:3 years ago

#1

Matthew Eakins Technical Lead, HB-Studios

49 27 0.6
I think Mr. Baverstock missed the point. I believe that craftsmanship speaks toward quality and you can't deny that there are a lot of low quality titles flooding the market on iOS, Android and Facebook.

Yes, minecraft and angry birds sold a bazillion copies but they are by far the exception and not the rule. The only reason those two titles have succeeded is because they did create a 'huge public buzz'. Without that buzz they would just be more of the same chaff that is flooding the market.

Retailers don't go with titles because they have the biggest booth at E3, they go with the titles that are going to have marketing dollars behind them because like it or not those are the titles that sell. Even a crap game (or movie, or music, or vegetable slicer) with great marketing will outsell a great game without marketing. Retailers are not your problem, your crap game is the problem.

As a consumer it actually makes me angry that I have to sort through so much garbage in order to find the gems (btw, free plug for the current gem I'm playing: Terraria). We would all be better off if those new platforms had a higher barrier to entry. Say something like first party approval like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. I'd even include Steam on that list because they do have a modicum of quality control.

Posted:3 years ago

#2

Gary Lucero QA Analyst, Advanced

28 7 0.3
So glad to see someone state this out loud. Nintendo is so intent on preserving its profit margins, it is ignoring a trend it cannot stop. The 99 cent app has significantly affected its handheld game sales, and platforms like the Xbox 360 and PS3 with large and diverse stores are clearly showing how far Nintendo is with concepts like the Wii and even the upcoming Wii U.

Does Nintendo command a market of people who grew up with the NES and SNES? Of course. And kids who grew up with Gameboys and DS's, playing Pokeman, will undoubtedly still buy their products. But why is Nintendo unwilling to admit that the market is changing and will never be what it was again?

Posted:3 years ago

#3

Gary Lucero QA Analyst, Advanced

28 7 0.3
Matthew Eakins, I agree that approval processes like the ones Microsoft has in place for XBLA games is great for consumers, as long as you take the time to try out the demos or read reviews, or at least buy from developers you trust. There is still a ton of crap on the download services from the three console makers, so it won't protect you completely.

But it sounds like it can still be terribly difficult for developers to make money with XBLA or XNA, for example, and iOS has definitely given them another market. For us as consumers it's very low risk; even a $5 game is nothing compared to what might cost $10, $15, or $60 on the Xbox 360. We need all of these platforms, but for one platform holder to say that another platform is somehow ruining games is just crazy.

Posted:3 years ago

#4

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,194 1,169 0.5
@ Jimmy... Yeah, you do, it would seem (and that's too bad for those that still didn't quite get it)...

Posted:3 years ago

#5

Matthew Eakins Technical Lead, HB-Studios

49 27 0.6
@Gary Lucero, part of the problem is that iOS and Android have not really given developers a new market. They have given hobbiests a new forum (which in and of itself is not a bad thing). There is an old adage I swear by 'You get what you pay for". The fact is that it is incredibly difficult to make a compelling game on a small budget but it's almost impossible to do a large budget title on one of the developing markets because the price point is so low. No one is saying that facebook games are ruining games, in fact these days that is probably one of the areas where you are seeing some true innovation.

Also, after watching the keynote address on youtube I can say that in no way did Mr. Iwata say that 'craftsmanship in game development was dying due to the abundance of smaller, less expensive games on new digital platforms' or anything even close to that. In fact when he is talking about craftmanship he is talking about large projects that don't have the flexibility to change directions in order to improve the title. When he speaks about the new platforms he is simply pointing out that the new markets are devaluing our product. It's one thing for someone in their basement to make a title and sell a hundred thousand copies at a dollar, that is a success! But it is highly unlikely that we will ever see a Halo or GTA or other large budget production title succeed on those platforms and without platforms where those titles can succeed then our industry will suffer.

[link url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyatBt1cy3U&NR=1
]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyatBt1cy...[/link]

Imagine a world where theaters subdivided all of their cinemas in to rooms that only seat 10 people, and they only show home movies, and because the margins are higher on the home movies they never show Hollywood blockbusters any more, well soon enough Hollywood would stop making those blockbusters. Bejeweled is a great game but I believe the world would mourn the loss of the Bioshocks and Assasins Creed's.

Posted:3 years ago

#6

Taylan Kay Game Desginer, Nerd Corps Entertainment

60 104 1.7
The last two decades the industry has been up to its eyeballs in craftsmanship. What did we get in the name of gameplay innovation? Not really much. The core mechanics of many things we are playing have been the same for years and years. The reason is that people focused on technical craftsmanship and neglected design originality. It is not god's decree that the ultimate objective of the industry should be building better looking games with bigger budgets. The thing that keeps anyone in this industry going is the gamer enjoying the games that you make. Ultimately if a F2P game gives me as much joy as GTA or Assassin's Creed (if not more) then maybe those development dollars are not being spent in the right place.

I for one am very glad to see the recent rise of indie devs and smaller budget games, bringing fresh ideas to the table. Instead of complaining about them, I think the big devs should look to them for inspiration on new ideas and new ways to entertain the customer.

Posted:3 years ago

#7

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,282 2,488 1.1
Iwata never said there is anything wrong with iOS or low budget games themselves. Some of you guys need to get this through your heads. Including some of you high paid CEO's, analysts, investors and media. You guys are finding a straw and trying to bake bread with his keynote speech.

Posted:3 years ago

#8

Taylan Kay Game Desginer, Nerd Corps Entertainment

60 104 1.7
Jimmy, you might be missing the counter-point yourself. It is not so much what he said but rather what he did not say. He said that mobile and social platform owners "have no motivation to maintain the high value of videogame software." What he failed to acknowledge is the fact that those platforms offer a low barrier to entry for devs who want to follow their own dreams and creative ideas, unlike the traditional platforms that are haunted by chronic risk-aversion which stifles creativity and innovation. Those platforms offer something that they (Nintendo, Sony, MS, EA, etc) failed to provide: creative freedom. This is a direct result of the big corporate strip-mining of developer talent, and I cannot think of anything more natural than devs wanting get away from that in search of new models. Social/mobile gaming might not be it, who knows, but that search in itself is good. I would expect Iwata to acknowledge that and actually name the one thing that needs the most innovation: business model.

Posted:3 years ago

#9

Adam Campbell Studying Games Technology, City University London

101 0 0.0
I disagree with Iwata more and more these days. I think Nintendo are the ones missing the point..

Posted:3 years ago

#10

Terence Gage Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
I think Nintendo's reluctance to embrace the small downloadable game scene (for want of a better term) is a mistake - Iwata seems to think that the two cannot coexist, whereas the likes of Steam, Live and PSN would seem to prove otherwise. I think both types of game can offer differing and excellent experiences, and recently for instance, I've been playing the likes of Cut The Rope, Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess, Mass Effect 2, Limbo and Blue Toad Murder Files.

Not that I am claiming to have more acumen about videogames software or hardware than Mr. Iwata, but to offhandedly ignore a growing and increasingly important sector of the market just seems a little close-minded.

Posted:3 years ago

#11

Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments

309 398 1.3
Er, I thought Iwata's point was about dev's being able to make a living off revenues, and him being concerned that wouldn't be possible with free/nearly free titles?

Posted:3 years ago

#12

Gary Lucero QA Analyst, Advanced

28 7 0.3
I guess my biggest problem with game developers and publishers that resist change, whether it's downward pressure on game prices, used game sales, or the changing dedicated handheld gaming market, is that there's little they can do to prevent it.

I find myself spending $60 for new games less and less, taking less risks on those games and more on the $1 to $5 games I can play on my iPod touch. That means a game like Fallout New Vegas or Mass Effect 2 gets played over and over again, and I keep them fresh with DLC. And while I'm not a Nintendo customer; I don't play their games; I do enjoy casual games. On the iPod touch!

It might be the right of the big console makers to resist these market forces, but I don't think there's really anything they can do to stop the gaming market from changing. And I do realize it's not all for the better, but as long as I as a consumer keep spending my money where I want the market to go, at least I'm doing what I can to keep it relavent for me.

Posted:3 years ago

#13

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,282 2,488 1.1
Head meet wall. Wall, this is head.

Neil Young understands it.

Taylan and Terrance, do you two know much about WiiWare, DSiWare or the Nintendo eShop? They are services much like PSN and Xbox Live that enable small developers to pump out very small titles. Do you really think he'd berate a concept that his own company provides on 3 separate consoles?

What Iwata was getting at is that some games can make you big money but they are so few and far between that if every developer started chasing the next Minecraft and Angry Birds, they'd all go broke selling their games for 99 cents or free. He's not saying that small app games are evil and can't co-exist with large budget titles at all.

Posted:3 years ago

#14
Jimmy Webb - I know what you mean.

Iwata's point is that Apple and even more so Google have no reason to protect game pricing and therefore prevent a race to the bottom as they don't make games but rather the hardware so they ultimately don't care if developers will find it difficult making money. There will always be new startups looking for gold in them hills and Apple are selling the shovels.

However the counter argument is that high value games will still sell at reasonable prices and in huge numbers. Even with MMOs it's the same. WoW for example doesn't need to move to Free To Play, it's only the games that can't survive using subscription model that need to.

Ultimately it's a scary time of transition for a lot of developers and publishers and he was just speaking from Nintendo's perspective.

The other point he made about craftsmanship is that in the past developers polished and tweaked their game until it was pefect following a single person's vision before releasing it however now it seems with Social based games and the ability to update digitally that is more and more being done after release using anayltics by essentially giving the player what he wants.

I think the latter removes some of the soul of the game.

Again who knows which will produce better games but it certainly isn't the Nintendo way.

Posted:3 years ago

#15

Taylan Kay Game Desginer, Nerd Corps Entertainment

60 104 1.7
@Jimmy: Once again, it is what he is NOT saying: which is what drove devs to mobile and social platforms in the first place. Which is how to make the other end of the spectrum attractive to devs again. Which is the inequality in distribution of profits in the high end market. Which is how to reduce the risk for the consumer in their purchases.

You think those social/mobile devs are not aware of their slim odds of success? Their attitude is basically "better to rule in hell" than go with the status quo tyranny of publisher/platform holder. I suppose what people would appreciate more would be Iwata saying something like "this is how we are making things better for devs, and this is how we make our own model more competitive for attracting talent." Instead he just threw out the word innovation, without naming what needs to be innovated.

You can argue up and down as to what he meant, but the tone of the message also matters. Put yourself in the shoes of someone going indie and then listening to Iwata about the perils of your chosen path. It's not that difficult to understand them.

Posted:3 years ago

#16

Taylan Kay Game Desginer, Nerd Corps Entertainment

60 104 1.7
@Jimmy: Once again, it is what he is NOT saying: which is what drove devs to mobile and social platforms in the first place. Which is how to make the other end of the spectrum attractive to devs again. Which is the inequality in distribution of profits in the high end market. Which is how to reduce the risk for the consumer in their purchases.

You think those social/mobile devs are not aware of their slim odds of success? Their attitude is basically "better to rule in hell" than go with the status quo tyranny of publisher/platform holder. I suppose what people would appreciate more would be Iwata saying something like "this is how we are making things better for devs, and this is how we make our own model more competitive for attracting talent." Instead he just threw out the word innovation, without naming what needs to be innovated.

You can argue up and down as to what he meant, but the tone of the message also matters. Put yourself in the shoes of someone going indie and then listening to Iwata about the perils of your chosen path. It's not that difficult to understand them.

Posted:3 years ago

#17

Terence Gage Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
@ Jimmy

Perhaps I have misunderstood Iwata's comments. Perhaps his concern really is for small independent studios struggling to survive, and not for Nintendo's handheld titles maintaining their perceived value with consumers relative to smartphone games. But I still think Nintendo aren't putting nearly as much effort into WiiWare or the like as Sony and MS are with PSN and Live - a quick look over the Wikipedia WiiWare games list for instance shows that outside a few Pokemon games and something called Art Style Nintendo have released or announced almost no games on the service at all, and then you have comments made by Reggie saying they're not interested in working with the small-level indies as well as some developer feedback saying their dealings with WiiWare have been frustrating and un-supported. I just think it seems like Nintendo are being too resistant to embrace what is an increasingly relevant and important part of the industry.

No trying to be belligerent; just putting my opinion across.

Posted:3 years ago

#18

Mario Tommadich Technical Requirements & Compliance, Keywords International

32 28 0.9
I think Iwata's definition of craftsmenship goes far beyond being able to make a game where players fling birds at obstacles. There is more to making games than only having a one hit wonder on the market(which by the way just copied the concept of a hundred predecessors) and using that as proof for the success of low budget, low content low cost games.
Making games is about arts and story telling. It involves all aspects of human culture. A fact that some people in Publishing/Marketing seem to be unaware of nowadays. I agree there is a broad audience for whom games are nothing more than cheap time wasters they can play when waiting for the bus, but the vast majority of them is going to hop onto something better when it comes along. E.g. mobile movies on demand/tv flatrate for mobile phones etc.
Game developers that can actually make fully fledged AAA titles will become an endangered species if these talents are not honoured. I can only speak for myself but i personally don't feel any joy from flinging birds around.

Posted:3 years ago

#19

Taylan Kay Game Desginer, Nerd Corps Entertainment

60 104 1.7
@Mario: I agree with you in honouring AAA class talent. The problem is, the AAA class publishers and platform owners have not made that a priority to date. How many games can one count where the title bears the designer's name, aside from some old names like Sid Meier? On the other hand how many AAA titles can one count where the developers complained about harsh and toxic working conditions? Talking about preserving craftsmanship and talent just when the said talent have found an alternative way to access the market is kinda suspicious to say the least. It is within this context that Iwata's speech is getting negative reactions.

Posted:3 years ago

#20

Bill Garrison Studying Student, DigiPen Institute of Technology

69 89 1.3
I don't understand how Nintendo, the Grand Majesters of shovel-ware, can argue that cheap games are reducing craftsmanship in the industry. That's just all around absurd.

Posted:3 years ago

#21
i cant believe people are still getting the message wrong but then again i shouldnt be surprised as it seems everyone wants to take there shot at Nintendo

Posted:3 years ago

#22

Mike Chapman Game Designer, Codemasters

1 0 0.0
@ Devin

Nintendo the grand majesters of shovel-ware? Really? Nintendo consistently put out some of highest quality software. It's third party publishers that have seen the Wii as an easy avenue to pump out rushed to market low quality titles. Nintendo originally set the bar for what to expect quality wise in a AAA console game in my opinion.

Posted:3 years ago

#23
Amen to that, Mike. Nintendo proved time and again that they put more effort and innovation into one segment of a game than the whole torrent of FreetoPlayVilles managed so far.

That this doesn't co-relate to commercial success and shareholder wishes is just testament to the cynical state the industry is in.

Iwata picked a really bad way of saying "Where is the love?" in my humble opinion. I'd more than interested in seeing Nintendo churn out a piece of FTP or iOS software, just to prove their point.

Posted:3 years ago

#24

Michael Perez Student - Game Blogger

3 0 0.0
There is plenty of crappy games in the $1-15 digital-media sea.... Even angry birds is a piece of crap that I can find for free on the miniclip website. I hate digital media because it is creating so little great games that are incredibly hard to find. I also hate it because I think that ripping off newcomers to the game industry is only going to come and bite us (consumers and developers) in the ass later. "If the masses want crappy games... that what they'll get" is the keynote I heard in this article.... damn I hate to see that happen

Posted:3 years ago

#25

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