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Nintendo: Quality games will move the needle for us
Nintendo: Quality games will move the needle for us Exclusive
June 14, 2013 | By Christian Nutt

Nintendo stayed out of the fray at this year's E3 -- showcasing its new games via a Nintendo Direct video presentation the day after Microsoft and Sony had their press conferences, and throwing a low-key show-floor shindig for the press while analysts and retailers got a business-focused presentation at another venue.

"Our focus coming in was really to concentrate on games because we didn't have the hardware news that the other console makers had," Charlie Scibetta, Nintendo of America's senior director of corporate communications, tells Gamasutra.

"For this year, it was the right move for us," Scibetta says. "We didn't have hardware news. We decided to focus on our strength, which is gameplay."

It was obvious that the company decided to stay out of the fight -- but it also put it out of the limelight. Scibetta says that the company has "changed the way we talk to people about the games" thanks to its increased focus on direct outreach to fans.

"We feel good about how our games have shown"

And games are what Scibetta spoke about in conversation with Gamasutra. Evasive about the Wii U and 3DS hardware businesses -- he said they're company president Iwata's territory -- Scibetta is confident that software is what will move the needle for the company's Wii U for the back half of the year.

In truth, Nintendo has a packed 2013 slate between its two platforms. Both systems get a Zelda game; there's a new Pokemon title, a new Mario for the Wii U, and that's not even the half of it.

If anything, this year, Nintendo might be in danger of competing with itself. Not so, says Scibetta. "We think there's plenty of rooms for all of our franchises and games that we're bringing to market. If they're compelling experiences, consumers will find time to play them."

But that barren first half of the year had to hurt the Wii U -- right?

"We won't ship a software title until we can really feel that it's up to the Nintendo standard," Scibetta says. "We would sacrifice short term profits every time, for long term protection of the brand, and that's what we did in 2013."

"We would have liked to have more titles come out in the first half of 2013," he says, but they needed longer in development to reach Nintendo's quality bar. And that has already paid off, he says: "We feel good about how our games have shown this year at E3."

Scibetta seemed more excited in some ways by its partnership with Best Buy to get its E3 game demos onto in-store kiosks than even what happened at the show itself, and he has a good reason for that: "We found that's where our games really shine. The ability to have immediate hands-on allows the consumer to understand what the magic is."

Why Nintendo Must Stick to Hardware

And if consumers understand the quality of its titles, he says, "we think we have the games between now and the holiday that can really jumpstart the momentum with the Wii U."

"Software sells hardware," he says. "We're optimistic and confident that the hardware sales will follow."

This despite the fact that, thus far, the Wii U will not drop its price, even in the face of fresh competition from Sony and Microsoft. In fact, Scibetta doesn't see them as direct competitors -- any differently than movies, TV, or internet use are. Nintendo is in competition with "anything that can be done seen or used other than us -- so we want to try to get the largest percentage of people's time."

Scibetta is also adamant that Nintendo needs to be in the hardware business -- no matter what some analysts might say.

"Our software best comes to life when it's used on our own hardware," he says. "When Mr. Miyamoto designs software, he thinks not only about the software, but what are the control schemes that can bring this software to life best."

"Mario would not run and jump and feel the same way that he does on a smartphone or a tablet," he says. "You really need those Nintendo controls... The way the timing is perfect only comes from years of experience and focus on detail that only Nintendo is known for."

As far as criticisms that the company is leaning too heavily on existing IP, he dismisses those, too. "When you have all the dynamics of new features that we're putting in these games... New dynamics and new features with beloved IP, that's the best of both worlds."

A First Party Run by Developers

"Nintendo always feels pressure to make sure that we're giving consumers a great gameplay experience. That doesn't change from one platform to the next, and one game to the next. That quality bar is always there. That's our North Star: doing right by these games, and characters, and consumers that have helped build those franchises in the first place."

This may be because the company is run by game developers: president Satoru Iwata comes from subsidiary HAL Laboratory, creators of the Kirby franchise, and of course Shigeru Miyamoto drives its overall vision.

"I would agree that our decisions are made by developers," Scibetta says. "Mr. Iwata and Mr. Miyamoto, being developers, approach this question first and foremost whenever they make a decision: 'Is it fun?' Most executives don't ask that question first, in terms of all the considerations they have. If a game is going to be shipped by Nintendo, it has to be fun."

And that may mean a franchise has to change drastically just as much as it might mean that it changes little from year to year, Scibetta says.

"We think that bringing innovation and new gameplay mechanics to the experience is the way to go." Zelda series lead Eiji Aonuma has repeatedly left the door open for significant changes to the franchise -- most recently in an E3 interview -- and Scibetta says it's this "creative freedom" that's important to the company's developers -- alongside a preservation of the "original creative vision that evolves over the years."

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Rosstin Murphy
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It's definitely true that Nintendo puts the heart and soul into their games. They're at a strange point between innovation and cautious traditionalism, always striving for novel game conceits like motion control and rumble, but at the same time sticking with traditional IPs and established gameplay styles.

<3 Nintendo

George Menhal III
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"We won't shift a software title until we can really feel that it's up to the Nintendo standard," Scibetta says. "We would sacrifice short term profits every time, for long term protection of the brand, and that's what we did in 2013."

I want all of these so-called "analysts" to remember this quote well into the distant future. Profits come and go, but the brand is what stays with consumers--in our hearts and in our minds. Nintendo is such an unbelievably smart company. I love them, pure and simple. I love what they represent.

They have incredibly unrivaled integrity.

Dane MacMahon
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How much brand loyalty exists in the mass of casual consumers who purchased a Wii, however?

We have seen the sales numbers the Nintendo faithful drive with the Gamecube.

Jonathan Jou
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Look, a list of Miyamoto quotes!

More pertinently:

"A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad." ~ Shigeru Miyamoto

Jonathan Jou
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I never really understand the "not enough new IPs" criticism leveled at Nintendo. It's always seemed to me that Nintendo's value proposition has centered around innovative gameplay mechanics, rather than new faces and unfamiliar back stories.

Everything I know about Nintendo's development process suggests that they do the exact reverse of what other companies do with sequels: where other developers take series staples and try to work in new ideas, Nintendo experiments with new ways to play and interesting mechanics before adding in series staples. Wind Waker was about sailing, and how the cel-shaded graphics could better depict the ocean. Skyward Sword was (almost to its detriment, really) focused on 1:1 sword combat. Twilight Princess was about wolf Link. Super Mario Galaxy was about planetoid platforming, and Super Mario Sunshine and Luigi's Mansion were an attempt to use the variable-input shoulder buttons (resulting in FLUDD and the Poltergust 3000).

This isn't to say all of the Nintendo Franchises are quite so novel. Pikmin's core mechanics are largely unchanged, and the New Super Mario Bros. series was more or less a return to former glory. Mariokart and Pokemon are instantly recognizable. But even when Nintendo doesn't overhaul their interpretation of the genre, they work in improvements and changes big and small to deliver something other than more of the same. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was jam-packed with ideas that took the mechanics established in its predecessor and turned them right on their head. From my perspective, there's frequently more innovation between two Nintendo games in the same franchise than there are between two games from different developers in that same genre.

Would the world have complained less if we'd seen Super Maria Galaxy, The Chronicles of Helga: Groundbound Blade, and Rubio Kart? Is this really a meaningful criticism? I'd really like it if the naysayers could sit down and offer solutions instead of observing that Nintendo's stable of mascots is, well, stable. Do they want one company to (and they are, they always are) experiment with new gameplay ideas just because it's already known for being so good at coming up with new ideas? Or are they literally just tired of plumbers, triforces, and go-karts?

I just don't understand why people seem so forgiving of other one-trick ponies, but Nintendo is ridiculed because it sets its games in established franchises. Why were people excited to hear about Diablo 3, Grand Theft Auto 5, Final Fantasies 8 through 12, and the 10th Call of Duty game? Is a narrative nose job really worth that much more than a different way to play?

If someone can articulate this without sounding dismissive or somehow trying to suggest that for Nintendo to deserve respect they need to make as many new narratives as multiple independent studios, I'm all ears. It would clear up a lot of confusion in my mind.

George Menhal III
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GTA V is the least exciting game all year for me. Every time I try to watch a piece of media on that game, I simply lose interest and tune out. I just don't care about those games anymore, and random ultraviolence is not the same as game design. I wish people could understand the difference.

Joe Zachery
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I may desire for GTA 5 has nothing to do with game, and everything with the online mode. Similar to games like Call of Duty!

Joe Zachery
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Nintendo's revisiting their mascots. Is like a anniversary celebration episode of Star Trek, Leave It to Beaver, The Cosby Show, or Friends.When People care about something, and someone who touched them at a point in their lives. You want to see how they look now. You want to know how they grown, and matured. At the same time hope they are just like you remember them to be. That's what Nintendo, and their characters mean to me. Being part of the 1st generation before the NES took over the world. These characters, and I have grown together. This also shows in games like Super Smash Bros. Yes it does have great gameplay, but their something else that helps it sell 11 million copies. Sony tried to do the same thing with their characters, and a whole bunch of cool 3rd parties. That poor game die a sad death at retail, and the company was closed.

Patrick Davis
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@Jonathan Jou

I wonder about this myself quite a bit. I think there are many factors.

Overall, I think that most of it still has to do with the fact that Nintendo is still being seen as a company that makes games for younger ages by the US. Because of this, people who enjoy ultraviolent games will downplay Nintendo every chance they get, even if they might enjoy Nintendo's games too. In short, liking Nintendo is not the cool thing to do. Shooting people in the face apparently is.

Instead of embracing what Nintendo does best, people are mad that Nintendo is not growing up with them. They are screaming for Nintendo to release new IPs and experiences, when Nintendo IS releasing new IPs and experiences. The IPs and experiences just aren't what these types of gamers are wanting, so they just complain about established franchises. There is such a deep love for the Nintendo from their childhood that people feel betrayed that they won't make games that are even remotely realistic.

America is just too addicted to ultrarealism that has invaded gaming. Even if people are playing the same FPS game over and over, they don't care because their friends are playing it, and it's generally accepted. I don't think there is a way to change people like this unless there is a huge shift in US gaming norm.

warren blyth
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I think third party sequels have trained a lot of consumers to think of sequels as cash ins. So these people then turn around and poo-poo nintendo franchises - as if they were also simple cash in sequels.

Look at Geoff Keighley's interview with Reggie this year. Geoff says there was nothing new announced during Nintendo's video. Reggie counters that Donkey Kong Country Returns Tropical Freeze was their bombshell. You can see that Geoff can't understand the words coming out of Reggie's mouth. it just doesn't compute for him (and for most mainstream/harcore gamers). But I played Donkey Kong Country Returns, loved it, and am thrilled that Retro has made another in under 3 years (and HD this time, and no doubt with some unique support for the gamepad).

I mentioned this very game to my main Xbox co-op buddy at lunch today, and (he laughed and) he pointed out that the name itself is emblematic of everything that is wrong with Nintendo. To him, it just sounds like part 16 in a franchise he's never started. As if he'd need to go play DK Country Returns, and DK Country, and DK.
I think he has this misconception, because he's been trained by movie-esque malarky of Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect and Fable, etc.

warren blyth
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P.s. I'd also argue that NSMBwii innovated by adding 4 player co-op to the tired 2D platformer aspect. And NSMBwiiU further innovated on this, by adding the single (asymmetrical) gamepad player - who creates platforms for the other co-op players. Both of these had interesting innovations.

Also, the new Pikmin3 will support 3 more astronaut characters, which you can set to different tasks around the map. A major innovation for that franchise's weird spin on "RTS gameplay for consoles."

(... maybe people recognize these gameplay innovations, because other games have tackled them. Like : we've all jumped around a map in an RTS game, managing different tasks. but the key is that Nintendo hasn't done this before, and they're really good at designing tight enjoyable experiences - so it will be worthwhile to check out their use of the mechanic). (or so says me). (maybe this is just a core disconnect between the Nintendo diehards and other gamers).

Jonathan Jou
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As a stout supporter of Nintendo, I can attest to the fact that Nintendo platformers make most platformers feel rough and rushed. The multiplayer chaos that comes from NSMB Wii and NSMB Wii U is absolutely great, and with each iteration there are an endless amount of smaller, very interesting variations on the established ideas. But I don't see that as holding up as strongly as evidence of deep innovation on Nintendo's part, since they also released Super Mario Galaxy on the very same console, which very much experiments and changes the way we think about platformers.

I'm with you, I think. I'd even go so far to as to say that Nintendo polish is more than a fresh coat of paint—if they don't have a salvo of new ideas big and and small, it's probably the case that the game never gets released at all. That's why Skyward Sword took so long, that's why Twilight Princess got pushed all the way until it became a Wii game, that's why Pikmin 3, 4, and 5 aren't out yet offering little more than new levels and more targets to throw pikmin at.

Of course, I'd say that these are examples of Nintendo playing it safe. The list of technologies and gameplay ideas they've brought into gaming are so impressive that the sorts of things that would make for an award-winning sequel seem like child's play. Even when they're not changing the fundamental formulas, they're still trying to more than just more of the same.

Dietrich Bowar
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@Jonathan Jou:

I too am loyal to Nintendo and you bring up some valid points. My issue is that during the 2011 and 2012 E3, Nintendo really emphasized 3rd party support. Now look at the Wii U. I have pre-ordered most of the AAA 3rd party games coming to it, and it might be the last time I can do that. I will always play the Nintendo IPs, even enjoy some of their newer ones on the 3DS, but I am aware from a consumer perspective that even though they ARE the best game publisher, they cannot tackle every genre. I love Zelda, but I want to throw a touchdown or shoot a bad guy in the head with a gun every so often.

There is "magic" in these games. There still is the most critical component of any form of entertainment that Nintendo emphasizes: Laughter and FUN. This was evident watching people's reactions at the Best Buy demos this past week. Everyone was happy, smiling, content. Can you name any other form of entertainment that can do this? I cannot.

I personally believe after reading and seeing the issues with the gaming press and "hardcore" gamers toward Nintendo is that the press has always felt slighted because Nintendo has kept their cards close to their chest. Then, a little over a year ago Nintendo began showing what's behind those doors with their Nintendo Directs, and the vast majority of the press say idiotic things because they do not watch the NDs. Nintendo is controlling their message. I also feel there is lots of collusion, behind the scenes favors, etc. which is why you see certain companies really pushing certain games. Nintendo will not financially compensate others for press or exclusives, while a company like Microsoft has spent over US $1 billion on exclusive content for the Xbox 1.

The analysts dislike Nintendo because they are a very conservative company that has been in business for over 125 years. Investors cannot make money on them because Nintendo is not after quick money grabs, but rather focuses on the quality of the franchises they have created. Hence, investing in Nintendo via shares means you will not see quick growth, but Nintendo's board of directors is not after this. Nintendo is happy making money and turning a profit, and they have enough money and the stable of franchises to continue on this path for decades.

People neglect to look at Nintnedo's financial reports. They sold over 1 million copies of Mario Kart Wii in Fiscal year 2012. Most companies would love to get 1 million, let alone the 34 million for that title (no other game this generation sold more, except Wii Fit).

Tim Hesse
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After attending E3 and seeing what they have to offer in the coming year, I'm not the least disappointed that I sold my WiiU weeks ago.

Mario Kummer
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Tastes are really different :) I did not buy a WiiU yet because I don't see to much that I liked but SuperMario 3D World, DK Tropical Freeze, MarioKart 8 and Pikmin3 convinced my to buy one when the Games are out.

Rebecca Richards
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That's funny, I attended E3 too and made the decision to buy a Wii U once the next cycle of titles hits.

Oh yea, but you don't get gaming hipster cred if you don't brag about selling your consoles, do you?

Ron Dippold
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Quality software sure would move the needle for the Wii U. It certainly is for the 3DS.

The worrying thing is that there's only two hints of anything good even on the horizon, and that's Pikmin 3 and Mario Cart Again. Okay, and maybe the MonolithSoft RPG. 3DS started off slow too, but this is even a worse drought. I sure hope the 3DS can carry them through, because we need them as a spoiler in the console war.

Michael Brodeur
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Hear hear. :)

James Yee
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You know, there's nothing wrong with not liking the games that Nintendo makes. If they're not your "thing" they're not your "thing." For instance, I have never been a fan of Nintendo, but what doesn't make me a "hater" is that I don't have to go and insult those who do or dump all over Nintendo with every article. I just don't like those games or get the fandom. *Shrugs*

Dane Warnick
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I think Nintendo quality can be good but one small facet of reality I noticed was missing is that there appears to be a lot more shovel-ware on Nintendo systems(more so in the modern era), but naturally every console has shovel-ware, but kind of going along with the "lack of new IPs" there is also more risk taking with new ideas but more often than not it seems like they fall flat. However being that Nintendo is largely a children's game maker I may be jaded because recently there have not been as many universally appealing games.

Jakub Majewski
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The tone of this article just begs for ridicule - "we feel good about the games we have shown" sounds like the game industry equivalent of "that F doesn't matter, son, we love you just the way you are". However, in the case of Nintendo, there's a lot of sensibility behind their laid-back attitude.

The simple fact is that Nintendo is the only console manufacturer who is in the comfortable situation of not having to concern themselves with third-party developers. Nintendo could get by comfortably with only first-party titles. Yes, they would have difficulty expanding their market - but even the twenty million units that Gamecube sold are comfortably sufficient to earn them money. Would Nintendo like to become the dominant console manufacturer of this generation? Well, of course. But do they need to? Not really...