TIME Magazine: Why Nintendo president Satoru Iwata mattered…

TIME (by Matt Peckham):

Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata has died at only 55 years old after battling cancer for over a year. His unexpected passing marks the end of a wildly inventive and broadly celebrated 13-year stretch helming the iconic Kyoto video games company.

Iwata, born in Sapporo, Japan in 1959, was only the fourth person to lead Nintendo since its inception as a playing card company in 1889, and the first president unrelated to the founding Yamauchi family. His ascent to the topmost Nintendo position in 2002 was unusual as it followed a career in software engineering, making him one of the industry’s only corporate luminaries with substantial hands-on game creation experience.

In an exclusive interview with TIME this spring — Iwata’s last with a Western media outlet — he talked about how personally involved he remained in helping drive and evaluate the company’s hallmark unorthodox inventions. He called Nintendo “a company of Kyoto craftsman” and joking “this is where my background in technology is quite helpful, because it means that the engineers can’t trick me.

At Tokyo-based Nintendo affiliate HAL Laboratory during the 1980s and 90s, Iwata helped develop some of Nintendo’s most memorable games. That list includes Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64, the opening salvo in a critically lauded and financially lucrative fighting series starring Nintendo characters like Mario and Donkey Kong that’s since sold in the tens of millions for the company. After he was promoted to president of HAL Laboratory in 1993, he continued to work personally on the company’s products, including several titles in Nintendo’s wildly popular Pokémon series.

Iwata’s move to Nintendo came in 2000, when he assumed management of the company’s corporate planning division. Just two years later, then-Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi, who had helmed the company since 1949, decided to retire, allowing Iwata to step in and steer Nintendo through its most inventive period yet.

It was under Iwata that Nintendo ushered in the Nintendo DS, a dual-screen gaming handheld that succeeded the popular Game Boy, eventually going on to challenge Sony for the title of “bestselling games platform of all time.” Nintendo’s wildly successful Wii, now arguably the most recognizable video game system in the industry’s history, arrived in 2006, another Iwata-led gamble that paid incredible dividends following the company’s lackluster GameCube, which launched in 2001. And while Iwata’s critics often accused the company of reacting too slowly to industry trends, Iwata wasn’t afraid to enact radical change: after years of financial downturns (exacerbated by the company’s poorly received Wii U game console), he unveiled plans this March to develop games for smartphones and tablets. The world will now remember Iwata as the Nintendo leader who tore down the wall between the company’s heavily guarded iconic IP and non-Nintendo platforms.

But it was Iwata’s playful, almost mischievous and refreshingly candid personal style that so endeared him to the company’s fans. In 2011, he helped launch a video series dubbed Nintendo Direct, personally emceeing the company’s biggest surprises, often with quirky framing twists, like an effects-laden mock kung-fu brawl with Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé for E3 2014. At Nintendo’s E3 2015 presentation last month, he appeared as a Muppet designed by The Jim Henson Company.

Iwata’s other significant public relations innovation was “Iwata Asks,” a remarkable series in which Iwata interviewed members of Nintendo’s many development teams, delving into the anecdotal history of some of the company’s best loved projects. It was a Nintendophile’s dream come true.

Above all, Iwata established and maintained a decorous tone often at odds with his competitors. In lieu of visually splashy, clamorous stage-led events at annual game shows, Iwata chose charmingly simple, almost dignified presentational vignettes. When fans responded negatively to a new Nintendo idea, Iwata’s reaction was often swift and direct: after an upcoming Nintendo DS game built on a hallowed Nintendo franchise was waved off by fans at E3 last month, Iwata tweeted his thanks to fans for their feedback and promised to meet their expectations.

Iwata’s health problems were first aired just before E3 in June 2014, when Iwata, who had been planning to attend the show (I was scheduled to meet with him), mysteriously backed out. At the time, Nintendo said Iwata’s doctors had warned him against travel, but didn’t say why. A few weeks later, the company disclosed Iwata was battling cancer, specifically a tumor in his bile duct. At that point he’d had surgery, and his prospects sounded hopeful because the doctors had apparently found the tumor early. When he resumed appearing in Nintendo Direct videos following E3, he was clearly thinner, but seemed otherwise unfazed. Though he again missed this year’s E3, he remained publicly active to the end, participating in Nintendo’s last shareholder meeting just a few weeks ago.

WIRED: Everything you’re thinking about Nintendo is entirely wrong

Illustration: Dylan Boelte

Wired:

The entire internet has weighed in with what it believes is the answer to Nintendo’s financial woes: Go mobile, immediately. But the entire internet is wrong.

Nintendo’s announcement that it’s facing a third straight year of losses prompted pundits to say the company must swallow its pride and put Super Mario on smartphones. I’ve argued against this in the past, to little avail. The opinion that Nintendo should “go mobile” has become such conventional wisdom that it has moved beyond gaming columns and investor reports to the straightest of straight news stories.

“Resisting Mobile Hurts Nintendo’s Bottom Line,” read a New York Times headline over the weekend. “Nintendo Refuses To Make The Radical Change That Could Boost Sales,” Reuters declared. This is begging the question, beginning from the presumption that obviously Nintendo should put its games on iOS and going from there.

The conventional wisdom is wrong. It is not an inevitability that Nintendo must put its games on rival hardware or die. It may even be a bad move.

Having been at least convinced that it would be too risky for Nintendo to jettison its hardware business entirely, many analysts and commentators are now staking out what they imagine to be a more moderate and sensible position: Nintendo should put some of its games on others’ platforms. This, too, is a logical fallacy, namelyargumentum ad temperantiam: the idea if one is faced with two opposing arguments, the correct position must be somewhere in the middle. But suggesting that Nintendo “dip its toe” into mobile app stores is like suggesting that a couple pondering parenthood consider getting just a little bit pregnant.

Before Nintendo would ever put any content onto the App Store, it would first have to be ready to compete in that environment and sell its games on a platform where race-to-the-bottom pricing and aggressive freemium money-making mechanics are the norm. It must be willing to learn how to design its products in a way that would make them competitive on that platform. This is not so easily done. And that’s a fundamental problem with the conventional wisdom: It is based on the premise that a strong enough brand can make the App Store a glorified ATM: Old games go in, piles of money come out.

If I was working my ass off making mobile games, I’d take the “Nintendo should put Mario on iOS and make tons of money” idea as an insult. Not only does it slight the hard work being put into great mobile games, it’s an outdated strategy. Clunky ports of old games might have had early success, but you have to scroll deeply into the Top Grossing Apps list these days to find an old game. The only ones I saw were various versions of Grand Theft Auto, but they aren’t quick and cheap ports — they have high-definition graphic updates and customized touch controls.

THE IDEA THAT NINTENDO SHOULD JUST DUMP ITS OLD GAMES ON IOS FOR FREE MONEY IS UNDERPANTS GNOMES LOGIC.

Speaking of which, that’s an issue, too: Super Mario Bros. 3 is an amazing game, but would it be as much fun on a touch screen with virtual buttons? No, it would not. And before you argue, but you can hook up a Bluetooth gamepad to your phone, think about how that changes the situation. If Nintendo is designing mobile games for the tiny number of people who go to the trouble of using an external controller with their mobile device, it’s no longer going after the millions upon millions of casual consumers that presumably are the entire reason it would go mobile in the first place.

The idea that Nintendo should “just dump its old games on iOS for free money” is Underpants Gnomes logic. It takes time, effort, talent and care to create successful mobile games. It’s not free money, it’s a significant diversion of resources from Nintendo’s platforms.

Moreover, while “mobile” may be an effective shorthand for describing Nintendo’s current problems, the company’s hardware is not the fundamental problem. It’s not as if the tablet is an incredibly attractive gaming form factor that is manifestly superior to 3DS or Wii U. “Nintendo should go mobile” is a profoundly unimaginative statement. Videogames, man-machine interfaces, are evolving rapidly in countless ways. With all of the many, varied things Nintendo could attempt in order to change how we play games, why would we want to railroad it into slavishly following the current trend?

Nintendo doesn’t need to go where its customers went; it needs to get them back or find new ones. Not having games on iPhone is not Nintendo’s problem. This is Nintendo’s problem: For the last few years, it has been attempting to use ~$250 game platforms on which you must pay $40-60 to play a game to compete with ~$250 game platforms that give you infinite games for free. Nintendo cannot win this fight. When consumers look at a 3DS and a Kindle and decide they want to play games on the Kindle, it’s not because of the hardware, but because that hardware is a magic portal to a world full of free entertainment. For Nintendo to stay relevant, it must develop a strategy that can legitimately compete with that reality.

I don’t know what such a strategy might be. The possibilities are endless. But if Nintendo were to decide that everything it has resisted so far — cheap game prices, an open platform one which everyone can create games, swimming in the same pool as “garage developers,” free-to-play mechanics — are in fact desirable, the most likely outcome would not be Nintendo entering a competitor’s app store, but Nintendo creating its own app store.

Although software sales have been sluggish, there are 40 million Nintendo 3DS units out there. Why not change the eShop already on these units from a walled garden where only Nintendo and a few selected partners can play and open it up to everyone? Instead of dripping one or two games per week onto its classic game download service Virtual Console, why not launch a full-on push to get as many games from its catalog and the catalogs of every other classic console onto the service — and use variable pricing to sell premium games (think Super Mario World) for $8 and more obscure ones for a buck?

YOU SHOULD WANT NINTENDO TO RUN ITS OWN PLATFORM.

Heck, why not make the thousands of games for the original Nintendo DS available on the eShop? Licenses would have to be re-negotiated for many third-party titles, sure, but that would be as close to free money as you can get because 3DS already runs DS software natively. Nintendo itself has a huge back catalog of DS games that it owns the rights to, free and clear. It should begin selling these games to its own customers before it starts selling anything to Apple’s and Google’s customers.

Moreover, if you like Nintendo’s games as they are, you should want Nintendo to run its own platform. I wonder if any of the Underpants Gnomes understand why, exactly, Nintendo’s games are so unique. Nintendo has the freedom to create games unlike anything else in the world precisely because it has always controlled the entire gameplay experience from hardware to software. It doesn’t have to rely on the success or failure of another company to continue to deliver its products, which is not the case with other software makers. The idea that Nintendo could simply shift its games to another platform and we would continue enjoying the same content is magical thinking.

But if Nintendo wants to keep its own platform, it does need to tackle the cost problem. Its first plan was to attempt to shame game publishers into backing its vision of the future by suggesting that Apple’s business structure represented a dire threat to the long-term health of the videogame industry. Once that didn’t work, Nintendo made some long overdue but still conservative tweaks to its own digital games store while doubling down on the content and appeal of its own software. No one would suggest that 2013 was anything less than a slam dunk for the Nintendo 3DS in terms of the sheer quality of games; Nintendo was able to push its teams to churn out hits like Animal Crossing, Pokemon and Legend of Zelda. If customers were resistant to the idea of paying $40 for a new game, Nintendo would make games that were so damn good they’d have no choice but to pay up.

Nintendo is excellent at staving off the forces of gravity, which can have the result of delaying the inevitable. The kicker quote of that New York Times piece is from Greg Richardson, former head of EA Partners, who opines that before Nintendo can “disrupt itself,” it needs to “fail against [its] own playbook fundamentally.” Buzzword-heavy but correct: If the old ways still deliver some results, it’s harder to throw them out. Nintendo is Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill, but in this case it is exceptionally good at pushing the rock. It can push the rock like nobody’s business, really, really far up the hill. Almost to the top.

Nintendo has a reputation of being “too conservative,” which is true in some ways but not others. The Nintendo 64 machine is the archetypal example. While the entire rest of the industry moved to cheaper, safer CD-ROM technology, Nintendo stuck with the expensive ROM cartridges that it knew and loved. This was a huge mistake, causing practically every game publisher to shift its business to Sony’s PlayStation — and yet Nintendo, through producing its own best-in-class software, actually turned a profit every single year of the N64’s life. The same thing is currently happening with 3DS (not even the game franchises have changed) minus the profit.

But on the other hand, Nintendo 64 revolutionized 3-D videogames by introducing the analog stick, force feedback and other innovations, not to mention the waySuper Mario 64 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time practically wrote the book on how to make 3-D videogames. Nintendo can be a phenomenally deep stick in the mud about some things, but also willing to go all in on crazy new ideas. Sony and Microsoft, in their entire histories in the game hardware business, have never done anything half as crazy as Wii.

Just as eventually Nintendo was forced to put its games on discs, so too will it eventually come around to the reality that it is possible to run a more open and agile digital games store without ruining the entire videogame industry in the process. If that doesn’t work to fix Wii U and 3DS, then Nintendo will likely at least release another generation of hardware and see if that can do it.

And if that doesn’t work, well, then maybe Nintendo will get out of hardware. Nothing lasts forever. But it’s likely that there will be many, many steps between now and then. Nintendo will have to give up something that it holds dear, if it wants to go on. But it doesn’t have to give up entirely.

Gilded Gaming: 24-karat gold gaming controllers by Colorware

 

Mario Kart 8 to feature vintage cars from Mercedes-Benz

Image of Mario Kart 8 to Feature Vintage Cars from Mercedes-Benz

 

Forget about the latest sneaker collab, Nintendo’s mainstay Super Mario franchise has teamed up with German carmaker Mercedes-Benz on the eighth installment of Mario Kart. For the new video game, players can download three different automotive classics from the Mercedes-Benz archives, including the 1936 W125 F1 Silver Arrows, the 300 SL Roadster from the 1950s, and the currently model GLA SUV in a convertible form.

What’s more is that this package will coincide with the launch of the “Mercedes Cup” – an online tournament in which players can race one another for world supremacy. The DLC is slated to release August 27 for the Wii U console.

 

Image of Mario Kart 8 to Feature Vintage Cars from Mercedes-Benz

Image of Mario Kart 8 to Feature Vintage Cars from Mercedes-Benz

Image of Mario Kart 8 to Feature Vintage Cars from Mercedes-Benz

 

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Sony to launch a Glacier White PS4 this fall

 

Image of Sony to Launch a Glacier White PS4 This Fall

Fresh off announcing PlayStation TV’s impending North America launch (seen here), Sony took to the web earlier this week to reveal the special edition Glacier White PS4 and its anticipated fall release. In North America, Latin America, and Europe this new console will be sold as a bundle with Destiny and 30 days of PlayStation Plus for €439 EUR or $449 USD, while Europe will be the only region to also sell the console separately for €399 EUR.

As for its accessories, Europe is currently listed as the only region to release the matching white vertical stand, although all countries will sell the DualShock 4 controller for €59 EUR and $59 USD respectively. Stay tuned for an official release date.

 

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Sony to launch a Glacier White PS4 this fall

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Sony and major Chinese investor rumored to be in talks to bring PlayStation 4 to China

 

sony in talks

It was perhaps inevitable that games industry giants should start taking an interest in China the moment the country’s laws changed, permitting the production and sale of video games consoles for the first time in almost a decade and a half, but tech sites and analysts in China are now suggesting that talks held late last year between the Shanghai Oriental Pearl Group and Japan’s Sony Corporation very likely herald the official arrival of PlayStation 4 in China.

Gaming site Games in Asia cites a report stating that officials from Shanghai Oriental Pearl, including board chair Ms. Niu Wei Ping, travelled to Japan to meet with Sony Computer Entertainment’s Hiroshi Kawano late last year. Although the purpose of the visit was allegedly for the Chinese company to learn more about the games industry, tech sites are now reporting that the two companies are likely working together to bring the PlayStation brand to China.

The Shanghai Oriental Pearl Group, a state-owned enterprise, is perhaps best known for its Oriental Pearl Tower, the fifth-tallest broadcasting tower in the world, but the group also has a number of significant media investments and advertising experience, making it more than capable of handling the kind of venture that tech industry analysts are currently speculating.

▼The Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 11.56.45 AM

As Games in Asia takes care to point out, however, tech sites in China are not known for their reputable reporting, and a number of the sources they link to offer scant detail. We suppose all we can do for now is wait and see, but one thing is certain amidst all of this rumour and speculation: with China finally saying yes to games consoles, there is potentially a vast amount of money to be made by staking an early claim to the “new” territory. We’re sure that Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are all watching the country very, very closely right now.

Source: Games in Asia

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Sony and major Chinese investor rumored to be in talks to bring PlayStation 4 to China

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Xbox One to hit shelves in China by September 2014, ending China’s 14-year game console ban

xbox one

The Xbox One will be released on the Chinese mainland September next year, according to Funshion CEO Luo Jiangchun. Shanghai-based media company BesTV bought a majority stake in Chinese video portal Funshion in August.

In September this year, BesTV and Microsoft announced they would launch a joint-venture in Shanghai’s free trade zone to bring an entertainment console to the mainland. Together, BesTV and Microsoft sunk $79 million into the project.

Back then, the mystery device was dubbed Bestpad, and it was said to be based on Xbox technology. But Luo specifically mentioned the Xbox One, and even offered a specific time period for launch.

China’s game console ban has been in effect since 2000. Government documents issued by China’s State office in late September suggest the 13-year ban will come to an end, but we’ve heard many false alarms before. As we noted earlier, approval could still be denied by the Ministry of Culture, MIIT, and other relevant government departments.

The Xbox One’s emphasis on being a home multimedia platform and less of a pure gaming machine could help it bypass the ban. But even if Xbox makes its way into the Chinese market, that doesn’t mean it will be successful.

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Xbox One to hit shelves in China by September 2014