Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata 'We Understand that People Were Disappointed'

Nintendo has managed to capture new audiences with its DS and Wii gaming consoles. But the old hardcore fans are getting restless and feel left out. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Nintendo chief Saturo Iwata talks about his fear of failure and the dilemma of catering to both "core" and "casual" gamers.

Satoru Iwata at the 2008 E3 conference: "We can't announce a new 'Mario' or 'Zelda' every year."

Satoru Iwata at the 2008 E3 conference: "We can't announce a new 'Mario' or 'Zelda' every year."

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Iwata, the games market has fundamentally changed in the five years since you became president and CEO of Nintendo. People who didn't care for video games before have been buying consoles.

Satoru Iwata: I always believed that more people would be playing video games if the barrier between them and the game was much lower than it was, and in many cases, still is. In my first year as a president, my ideas were met with skepticism. My predecessor, Mr. Yamauchi, always said that you should change things in the entertainment industry -- that you should do the unexpected when the market is declining in order to survive. I was sure that if we continued down the path in which we were heading, Nintendo would have died a slow death. At that time the market had been in decline for six years -- not only for Nintendo, but for the games industry in Japan as a whole. So we had to change things and attract new customers.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were you sure you would succeed?

Iwata: I was lucky that it worked so fast. For a long time I was not sure what would happen first: Would success come or would I get fired?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: After all the innovations you presented in recent years, the announcements you made at the E3 (games conference) this year disappointed a lot of people.

Iwata: We understand that people were disappointed. You have to understand that E3 is always a good way to reach new audiences, to deliver a message to the mass audiences, because there is a extensive media coverage. So we focused our presentation on the games that were made with new customers in mind. We wanted to show software that was launching this year and in early 2009. We have never neglected our core games and we still have development teams working on these games, however we need longer to complete these games (two to three years) and we are not launching them in early 2009. So we couldn't show them at E3 this year.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Has Nintendo lost its edge?

Iwata: It was only two years ago, that we presented a revolutionary product, the Wii. Since then it has done an effective job and we have expanded the number of people playing video games.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Have you forgotten the hardcore gamers?

Iwata: No, we just didn't show a lot of new games for them. You have to understand that it takes some years to make games like "Zelda" or "Mario." We can't announce a new one every year, but we certainly have teams working on the new games. Core gamers are very important for us because they are enthusiastic about games and encourage others to play.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: "Wii Music," one of the biggest games you presented, seems to follow in the footsteps of games like "Guitar Hero" or "Rockband". Are you following trends now, instead of setting them?

Iwata: "Wii Music" has been in development a long time. You may remember that we showed parts of it at E3 two years ago. So no, we are not following trends. It is just a fun game we developed and one which we think is very different from the others and much easier to play. It is a good game for families to play together.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Both Microsoft and Sony have announced plans to strengthen their online businesses. They are selling movies through their consoles or charge for online play. Is Nintendo behind in all these areas?

Iwata: No, we don't have plans to do anything like sell movies online, that's not our business. We are a games company and don't have the infrastructure it takes to build a huge online service. That would also be too expensive. We do have online experiences in our games, but only when it intensifies the gameplay itself. Then it helps us to sell more games and consoles and it keeps customers satisfied.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Nintendo's game consoles have a reputation for being difficult for third-party publishers. That the only software that's being sold on them is Nintendo's own.

Iwata: That is not true anymore. A game like "Guitar Hero" has sold more copies on the Wii than on any other platform. If you look at the numbers that market researchers NPD just released, more third-party games were sold on the Wii than on any other platform. Publishers like to work with our platforms now. But they were a bit cautious when the Wii first went on the market. I know the image of Nintendo platforms and obviousy we have to work on it. But the image is no longer true.

Interview conducted by Carsten Görig.


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