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Okamoto: DS Market In Danger Of 'Atari Crash'
Okamoto: DS Market In Danger Of 'Atari Crash' Exclusive
May 2, 2008 | By Staff, Christian Nutt

May 2, 2008 | By Staff, Christian Nutt
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Talking as part of an in-depth interview published on Gamasutra, Game Republic founder and Street Fighter II creator Yoshiki Okamoto has issued a sharp warning on the glut of DS software.

Okamoto was a 20-year veteran of Capcom, creating titles such as Time Pilot and 1942, and also ran independent developer Flagship (Zelda, Resident Evil titles), before going on to create Genji and Folklore developer Game Republic in 2004.

According to initial comments from Okamoto, whose firm recently signed a deal with Brash Entertainment to work on a major Western movie license, Nintendo's success is still leading to problems in the market - firstly with first-party game software dominance:

"Looking at the way things are right now, it is a fact that first-party Wii games are the only titles selling well. But if the first-party titles are selling, third-party games should be able to sell too, so long as their creators have a good working relationship with Nintendo.

I think the problem is a lack of understanding between third-party developers, like us, and Nintendo, and this relationship needs to improve for the games to improve.

Also, as a developer, when you admit that Nintendo's games are selling well, you also have to face the fact that the games you've made that flopped haven't been good enough."

Later on, when asked for specifically about the Nintendo DS market in Japan and worldwide, Okamoto explains the concerns of some:

"...actually, and again, and this is those whispering voices saying this, but you've started hearing the phrase "Atari crash" pretty frequently. People are talking about how the second "Atari crash" is around the corner. And Nintendo is the one that has to figure out a way to stop it.

In Japan we often say that history repeats itself, and it's going to take some serious effort to keep it from happening this time.

Japan had its economic bubble in the late eighties, and that burst. I think some of the same things are happening in the American economy right now. Like, they're going to have to do something to prevent it. It's foolish to keep making the same mistakes people have already made.

So, Nintendo's going to need some sort of strategy to deal with this. I think it's a fact that the market blew up more rapidly than even they thought it would. And the faster something expands, the easier it is for it to deflate again, right? I hope they come up with a way to avoid this with the DS. But for one thing, there are way too many titles out all at once."

Finally, when asked about the expansion of the kind of companies making DS software - particularly true in Japan, Okamoto explains:

"[At least in Japan] all sorts of companies that have never made games before are getting involved. I mean, the cost of development is really next to nothing. And what about this flood of "brain training" games? Can they really keep that up?

Nintendo put a lot of thought into the original, and ran some really cool commercials for it. But some of these companies just slap something together, put the word "brain" in the title, and release it. There are a ton of them, and barely any of them are interesting."

The full interview with Game Republic's Okamoto is now available on Gamasutra, with a wealth of other information about the executive and designer's history with Capcom, his views on Game Republic's titles to date, and much more.

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Yes, another "Atari Crash" is very possible, but I would'nt call it an "Atari Crash." I'd say its more like the Multimedia heat-and-simmer of the 1990s. When you have too many games coming out from those who never made games before, they're squeezing out those who DO know how to make games. It's like multimedia in the 1990s, where everyone and their grandmother was trying to ride the wave by figuring if they made anything with jpegs, text, and sound they would be popular with their close circles, kinda like the "brain" thing. But those who did know were suddenly hushed to the corner by all the mass hoopla. It all went bust and now it's just those who know the product(s) who make an awful lot of money who are still going.

Mickey Mullasan
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Nintendo produces entertainment that is relevant to today's culture. It just also happens to make hardware as part of their "style". It mainains a brand like Coke, and until it fails to recruit younger fans, the people who support Nintendo now will probably continue because they "just like it".

Christian Nutt
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Okamoto wasn't drawing a connection between the American economy and Nintendo. He was saying that if you don't study history, it'll repeat itself.

He was drawing a parallel between the problems in the Japanese economy in the '90s and the US economy in the '00s. He's saying that just as that is a similar situation that could potentially have been avoided by studying what happened in the Japanese economy, so could Japanese companies avoid a potential "Atari crash" in DS games by studying what happened in America in the '80s.

Tommy Burns
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The parallels he talking about with "Atari Crash" and today's JP DS market are there.

One of the major reasons for the crash in the 80s was the flood of subpar games being released. Everyone and their dog were releasing 2600 games at the end. Atari didn't regulate quality control since they didn't have any licensing program set up, real developers weren't making profit with the increased competition. Nintendo today has relaxed quite a bit on QA and everyone is making DS games in JP, most of them sub-par. If consumer confidence and developers profits collapse again then we could see another bubble burst in the industry, which some people think is currently happening already in JP.

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I think the japanese are having an artistic metldown. They've spent so long trying to find kawaii that what they deem as new and exciting is actually very traditionally new and traditionally exciting based on their entertainment history.

What they need is a renaissance, something that affects all of the mediums, from b&w manga to next gen video games.

Monjoni Osso
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I would disagree about the dissimilarities between market conditions now and certain factors of the Atari crash. I do not believe Nintendo will do something like printing more copies of a game than they have consoles, nor do I believe that the company that essentially introduced QA on consoles will let any of their systems be buried under shovelware.

What is seeming to happen, however, is that Nintendo remains unreceptive to 3rd party developers by dint of their current userbase. There's no wonder that companies like Okamoto's are finding Wii development unfruitful when, simply put, only Nintendo software is moving in significant numbers on the platform. With the DS, things are different as the console is not solely Nintendo territory (mostly by virtue of the fact that Nintendo platforms have been and continue to be the dominant handheld consoles) so other companies can have big successes on the system. This is what Okamoto is talking about when he's discussing an 'Atari crash' for the system, I believe. Due to the DS's crazy popularity around the world almost any developer can get together and put something on the system, but it has to be Nintendo's job to make sure that games released on their systems are of a certain standard and quality.

Steve Watkins
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The above posts all have parts of the relevant whole, so all I'll add is that any "Crash" now would just "thin the herd" of the less serious companies (the quick buck ones - like we saw in the early 1980's) and refocus the industry.

Back then, you played games on consoles and in arcades, with limited game-specific hand-helds and a couple "all-in-one" portables like Milton Bradley's baby (Brain cramp... MicroVision?). Now, the biz is mature (or well on the path to it) and the reach is everywhere.

A good "thinning of the herd" would be good for consumers and the overall health of the industy. Nintendo learned important lessons from Atari which helped them become a powerhouse. The same would happen again - Victors emerge and the industry moves forward. Bring on a "Crash." :)