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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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James Brightman avatar

James Brightman


James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.