Easy does it for Nintendo chief
Keep it simple, stupid. That's Nintendo supremo Satoru Iwata's message on video games. Greg Thom reports
NINTENDO chief Satoru Iwata has never been to Australia.
He plans to change that this year, but looking at kangaroos and cuddling koalas will be the last thing on his mind.
While holding its own in the cut-throat global video games market, Nintendo's GameCube console is running a very poor third Down Under, behind Xbox and PS2.
Iwata wants to know why.
"First of all, I am most sorry that the GameCube's performance is bad in Australia among any area in the world," he says.
"One of the biggest things I feel unfortunate about is that I have not been to Australia. I am looking forward to learning more about Australia."
Some facts he knows already.
GameCube's late arrival on the market meant it conceded an important headstart to its competitors, ground it has been unable to recover among consumers.
It's a situation Iwata is determined not to repeat, promising the company's yet-to-be-determined next-generation console will not only arrive on time, but hit the ground running.
In his only Australian media interview at the recent E3 games expo in Los Angeles, Iwata offered Connect his views on a range of topics, from the headlong rush to take games online, to his belief in a back-to-basics approach to video game design.
"In Japan for example, games are becoming more complicated, more difficult and more time-consuming. Accordingly, more and more people are shying away from gaming.
"Unfortunately, the games industry in Japan is not growing at all, but rather shrinking. I am afraid the same thing that is happening in Japan might be happening in the rest of the world as well".
While priding itself on being an innovative company -- it was Nintendo that invented standards such as the A/B button on games controllers -- Iwata would like to roll back the clock to a time when all gamers were equal and games much more accessible.
"At the very beginning, everybody was at the same start line. But in the past 20 years, the gap between the avid games fans and novice game players has been widening."
This has prompted the company to break new ground and deliver the innovative new DS hand-held gaming device.
Officially unveiled at E3, the dual-screen DS represents a new way of gaming. For the first time, players can play a game from two perspectives at the same time, in 2D or 3D. Other features include a touch screen, voice recognition and wireless connectivity.
"We really wanted people who have become tired of the current way of gaming, to be fully entertained, even with simple game-play," Iwata says.
The fact that companies such as Nokia and Sony, with their new PSP multimedia device, are entering the hand-held games arena doesn't worry Iwata.
"For Nintendo's part, our mission is to try to provide customers with a machine that lets players play unique and unprecedented games," he says.
Iwata says rival companies appear to see things differently.
"They seem to believe that their machine can sell only if they can add to the functionality . . . it can do this and it can do that.
"We have to make great and unprecedented games if we are going to sell new gaming devices to customers," he says.
"If people want to listen to music on the go, then they should purchase (an) iPod.
"That's my own opinion. The final decision has to be made by consumers."
Iwata is also less than enthusiastic about the headlong rush to embrace online console gaming and services, believing they simply can't generate revenue.
"One million Xbox Live subscribers? We don't say that is successful. If it were a console, that's a total failure," he says.
"However, I believe networked platforms will become a very important part of gaming. When the time comes, that will be a very important way of Nintendo doing business."
As for the next generation of consoles, Iwata is sure of one thing: companies can no longer rely on simply raising the technology bar to keep consumers interested.
Until recently, changes from one video game console to the next were obvious, but now the level of photo realism is so good that future incremental changes will hardly be noticed by most players, according to Iwata.
From now on, companies must dare to be different in order to capture the audience's imagination, he says.
"Nintendo created 20 years ago the standard of how video games were going to be played. There is the TV set, here is the controller, (held) in both hands
"We should not hesitate to crash through the system Nintendo itself created," he says.