Role-Playing: Nintendo's Satoru Iwata

In this month's roundtable we put the spotlight on Nintendo and its top executive

Last month, we kicked off the new "Role-Playing" feature series with newly hired Microsoft executive Phil Harrison. This month, we're switching gears and asked our panel of journalists to assume the big shoes of Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata.

While 3DS would appear to be doing quite well now, Nintendo is at an interesting point in its console business. The company is looking at a fall/holiday launch of the Wii U and the new system needs to get off to a strong start before Microsoft and Sony launch their respective new hardware.

Here's the question we put to our panel:

You're Satoru Iwata. Your company's current Wii console has been all but forgotten, you're feeling immense pressure from social and mobile, and there's constant talk about Microsoft and Sony's next-gen consoles. E3 is your opportunity to make a big splash and to make sure that consumers will want a Wii U this holiday, rather than wait a year for a PS4 or new Xbox. What do you do?

Stephen Totilo, Editor-in-Chief of Kotaku


People who didn't pay super-close attention (or read that awesome Kotaku site) didn't realize that the Wii U is a different console. Problem! Maybe it looked too similar, so it's time to either add fins or at least paint the thing a different color. Black wouldn't work. Red? Do people like red? How about blue? But people don't really care about that. They care about games, so games should be the thing for E3. The weird thing is that that screen controller is so alienating. It puts one player in the corner with their controller while everyone else waves Wii Remotes. Maybe it's time to ensure this thing supports two screen controllers.

Hey, maybe it's also time to show off an excellent touch-based download store all controlled on the screen controller. Surely people will prefer picking their next Netflix movies that way instead of waving their arms around in front of the Kinect sensor.

"I would shut my eyes and hope that with the original Wii we didn't just accidentally manage to bottle lightning"

Tim Clark

I think a Mario game that also has Sonic in it would get people's attention. And we're not talking about some Olympics game, but a sidescroller. Oh, and partner with Valve in some way. Gabe Newell and Miyamoto on stage together? That works. (Or put THEM in a sidescroller together.)

Wii Fit 2 would help.

One more thing: playing up the fact that you can keep playing Wii U games even when your wife or son or boyfriend wants to take over the TV. That would be good. Can't do that with any other console.

Tim Clark, Editor-in-Chief of Future Games


First, I would have a very thorough rehearsal of our press conference, and make sure that my colleagues watching that rehearsal are brave/smart enough to warn me if the presentation is likely to be so confusing that half the audience won't even be sure what we've actually shown.

Then I would put a call in to my R&D department to make super sure that, this time, our online 'strategy' was not comprised of the wispiest smoke and flimsiest mirrors. Next, I would re-read my presentation and (begrudgingly) put a red pen through any bits that sound snippy about 69p mobile games.

Finally, I would shut my eyes and hope that with the original Wii we didn't just accidentally manage to bottle lightning. Because that's the real question: Which Nintendo is the real one? The Nintendo that sparked a pop culture phenomenon with Wii? Or the the one that doesn't get online and left GameCube on a hillside to die?

Kevin Cassidy, Editor-in-Chief of GoNintendo


E3 is an opportunity for Nintendo to show why they always carve their own path.  At first, it's usually hard for the gaming press and analysts to see Nintendo's vision with their new hardware.  Nintendo absolutely loves to march to the beat of their own drummer, and it's certainly what they do best.  The problem comes when the direction they choose needs to be clearly conveyed to those outside of Nintendo.

We need to see why the Wii U tablet controller is going to be the next big thing in games.  We need to see how this type of control will both innovate with current genres and expand into new ideas.  If ever there were a time for a blowout of unique first and third party offerings, this is it.

The only other thing Nintendo has to do is clearly show consumers that the Wii U is a successor to the Wii and not an expansion.  Consumers were confused by the 3DS at first, thinking it was a lateral step instead of their next-gen portable.  Hearing from Nintendo at E3 on how they'll avoid this issue with the Wii U is pretty important.

Chris Grant, Editor-in-Chief of Polygon (formerly Vox Games)


One of the most surprising things about this last generation of console hardware has been watching many of Nintendo's most ardent supporters - the kind of audience most companies wish they had - transition from platform missionaries, preaching the gospel of Nintendo, to agnostics, doubting the very existence of their earlier beliefs. That failure to satisfy the Nintendo faithful is something the company needs to address. 

Satoru Iwata has to recognize and address the immensity of Nintendo's platform failures and not just celebrate its successes. Though not without massive faults of its own, Xbox Live continues to provide the best online gaming experience; Nintendo's muddled response at last year's E3, seven years after the launch of Live, was to suggest publishers handle all aspects of the online experience themselves. On the portable front, Apple sells bite-sized mobile games for a dollar, giving consumers an experience that, in retrospect, we'd craved all along; Nintendo still hasn't figured how to let consumers create a device-independent account that tracks their digital purchases. Related: I've had the same persistent eBay account since 1997. 

"Find a hot third-party publisher... and have it show off something for the Wii U that gamers won't be able to find anywhere else"

Dan "Shoe" Hsu

If Nintendo wants consumers to adopt the Wii U, it needs more than competitive graphics and another gameplay gimmick. Core gamers will already have their eyes on the Xbox 720 and PS4 while casual gamers already bought a Wii … and didn't play it much the first time around. Nintendo's "Blue Ocean" strategy was a one-time use option. Success for the Wii U will more resemble the traditional curve best typified by the PS2 and now the Xbox 360: Early adoption by core gamers and long-term adoption by casual gamers. Iwata and his colleagues at Nintendo need to convince core gamers that they understand what they want and part of that has to be a recognition that, at some point during the Wii years, they did not.

Dan "Shoe" Hsu, Editor-in-Chief of GamesBeat, Co-Founder of Bitmob


Number one on my list: Get rid of Miis. They were cute a few years ago, but enough's enough. Seeing them in Wii U demos reminds everyone that Nintendo only does "family friendly." The message from the company at last year's E3 was clear: We want the hardcore gamers back. That's great. But hardcore gamers want to be action heroes, ass-kickers, and possibly still space marines...not goofy Playmobil characters.

Number two: Find a hot third-party publisher -- preferably EA, Activision, or Ubisoft -- and have it show off something for the Wii U that gamers won't be able to find anywhere else. I don't mean some frivolous Wii U-specific feature on a multiplatform Battlefield or Assassin's Creed. I mean an exclusive title from a known franchise. Assassin's Creed 3: Wii U Edition isn't going to make a big splash, and that's just stealing a tiny bite out of the pie. But a next-gen, from-the-ground-up, totally revolutionary (sorry, bad pun) Assassin's Creed from Ubisoft's A team? One that clearly doesn't look like token leftovers (like the Wii's been getting for years now from third parties)? Now there's your splash.

Tom Bramwell, Operations Director at Eurogamer


When Satoru Iwata spoke to developers at GDC last year, the snap verdict was that he sounded out of touch and out of time, complaining about the low cost of gaming on mobile formats. When the 3DS initially tanked and Wii U received mixed notices at E3, a lot of people took that as confirmation that Nintendo was unravelling after a purple period at the start of this generation.

But Iwata's turned it around since then. He acknowledged the company's mistakes publicly, sold a lot of 3DS games at Christmas, and retook Japan with a very smart strategic deal on Monster Hunter. The 3DS Circle Pad Pro is a scar on the company's reputation until they inevitably scrub it out with a 3DS hardware redux, but the expectation is that they will do that presently.

So with that problem mostly solved, it's time to sort out Wii U. Last year's E3 showing was pregnant with potential but short on real software and hard facts, so I would try to deliver those at E3 this year.

Given Nintendo fans' loyalty and the expectation Wii U will cost less than its rivals, it may only take one truly amazing game to win people over again, along with something eye-catching and disruptive for mainstream audiences to fixate upon. Nintendo makes the best pure video games in the world when it actually gets round to it, and as Microsoft and Sony get caught up obsessing about movies and services, it would be good to remind people of that this year.

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Latest comments (5)

Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 6 years ago
I have to respectfully disagree with Shoe. Whilst the majorty of serious gamers (if that's the right way of putting it) will be watching E3 it is just as important for shareholders to be shown important things as well from Nintendo's point of view and that includes the fact that their console will sell to the wider crowd. That means Miis. Although I agree that it doesn't have to be as overtly done as before.

The appeal to the more casual audience can't be sacrificed otherwise Nintendo might as well be starting from scratch. Microsoft's actions on pursuing Nintendo's buyers should illustrate that very well.

If I were Iwata, I would be focusing on tightly packing in the herd of info that they are yet to reveal with high-res in game footage. Don't waste time on stage with things being played unless it is completely necessary as this can be summed up in a video and people will be able to play it on the floor.

Be tenacious, smash people with reasons why it's going to be the must have item this Christmas and tie it up in a bow with the consumer experience. And under no circumstances should there be any unpleasant surprises. That includes Cammy.
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Daniel Hughes Studying PhD Literary Modernism, Bangor University6 years ago
It's quite simple what Nintendo need to do with Wii U. Competitive price point (and be willing to take a small loss on each unit here), strong launch software (Mario Brothers Mii bundled with the hardware would be an excellent start), strong online offering from day one, strong third party support throughout the launch window, and make sure your marketing message is clear: this is an all new platform and successor to the Wii.

3DS's poor post-launch quarter is the best thing that could have happened to Nintendo on the back of an enormously successful 6 years. It's essentially shown them how NOT to launch a successor to a hugely successful machine. For all its slowing sales, let's not forget the Wii was hugely successful, particularly for Nintendo software. If Nintendo have New Super Mario Brothers, Mario Kart, Wii Fit, Wii Sports and more coming in the next couple of years, or even one at launch, AND they ensure the enormous Wii base knows their old peripherals work with Wii U, they could tap into tens of millions of consumers. Something like Art Academy making the transition from DS to Wii U could be another huge hit for Nintendo.

If they want the system to remain competitive over time, then obviously Nintendo need third party support. They need quality third party support. But ensuring this happens is the most difficult challenge Nintendo have: the Wii promised third parties most things that Wii U does, in a way. Lower development costs, lower risks with more familiar hardware, and before long, it had a huge install base. But not enough third parties pushed top quality software (with top quality advertising) onto the system. Too many third parties saw the system as a dumping ground for low quality shovelware, and then pumped the profits back into HD development. Too often third parties didn't attempt to come to terms with the control scheme--even though by late 2007, Nintendo had proved how well the controls could work with everything from party games(Sports/Party), to real time strategy (Battalion Wars), to platformers (Galaxy) and most impressively, first-person shooters (Metroid Prime 3). Nintendo simply didn't do enough to communicate and converse with third parties, and third parties (for better or worse) stuck with their initial investments on 360/PS3.

It might be out of Nintendo's hands, but they have a couple more advantages here that could convince third parties to stay on board. They have traditional controls for traditional console releases, as well as gyroscope and touch screen controls that lend themselves to downloadable titles doing the rounds on smartphones and tablets. And of course, Nintendo have the advantage of having proved twice over with DS and Wii they can build huge hardware bases. They're proving it again with 3DS--15 million in 9 months is unprecedented for traditional hardware. With gaming becoming so competitive, who wants to risk missing out on easy money, or any money at all for that matter? This time third parties have been included from the off: let's not forget it was third parties that leaked existence of the Wii U to the press 12 months ago. They'd had the kits for a couple of months by then. Let's not forget John Riccitiello rounded out Nintendo's E3 conference last year. Let's not ignore the fact companies like Epic and Valve (with no history of working with Nintendo) have publicly praised the system.

During transitional periods in console gaming, it's easy to lose perspective. It's startling that almost all the journalists ignored the work Iwata has already done to turn 3DS around; credit to Tom Bramwell for remembering. It's also easy to miss out on the biggest factor Wii U might have working in its favour, something that's at the heart of Nintendo's biggest successes of recent years: titles like Brain Training and Wii Fit encouraged you to come back every day, to have videogames a part of your daily routine, to make them less obtrusive and more socially acceptable. The benefits of being able to keep playing on your tablet, regardless of who wants to use the TV, might sell a fair few consoles. Time will tell, but like I said before this evolved into a wall of text: strong software from the off, competitive pricing, strong online, good third party support and clear marketing will ensure Wii U gets off to a strong start, and after 3DS, I bet Iwata's making sure he ticks all those boxes.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.6 years ago
Patrick, Cammie Dunaway left NOA 2 years ago after back to back media nightmares from E3. But I agree they need to fix all their other E3 missteps as well.

I'd almost suggest 2 media briefings this year instead of the usual 1. 1 for Nintendo general (including corporate data, Wii, DS and 3DS) and 1 for Wii U. This would ensure ample time to answer more questions than it raises.

I'd like to see them support more 3rd parties to obtain more 3rd party support.

Make the app store barrier of entry decently low, profit sharing reasonable and end consumer prices up to the developer.

Steam. Make it happen.

Software. Show us software that makes us want the Wii U and this must include new IP's from 1st and 3rd parties.

Mr. Iwata, if you'd like someone to supervise the production of your E3 media briefing to ensure shareholders, media and gamers are 'wowed' alike, I can be available for a consultation at your earliest convenience.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.6 years ago
I'm sure that was part of it but I've heard she was having a lot of trouble dealing with the negativity she received from her E3 appearances and I'm sure top brass wasn't happy with the way the media would focus such negative energy on her stage presence as opposed to talking about the games.
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Liam Farrell6 years ago
there's an E3 this year?
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