One Reason Nintendo Has Such A Hard Time With New Ideas

One Reason Nintendo Has Such A Hard Time With New Ideas

Over the past few decades, we've come to learn two important things about Nintendo. One is that they make brilliant video games. The other is that they make absolutely baffling decisions.

Whether it's the lack of a unified account system or their persistent Virtual Console stubbornness, Nintendo's choices are frequently questioned by even its most loyal fans. People always wonder: why does the company behind so many smart games seem to make so many dumb decisions? Why does it seem like Nintendo is always in its own world, where they're steps behind their biggest hardware competitors in terms of online infrastructure and other features they should have gotten right by now?

Dan Adelman, the former Nintendo indie champion who left last year to do consulting for independent game developers, has some insight into why Nintendo is so... Nintendo. And it's really interesting. In a newly-published (and fascinating) interview with Nintendo fan and reporter Emily Rogers, Adelman gives us at least one reason the company does what it does.

Here's a big explanation (emphasis mine):

Nintendo is not only a Japanese company, it is a Kyoto-based company. For people who aren't familiar, Kyoto-based are to Japanese companies as Japanese companies are to US companies. They're very traditional, and very focused on hierarchy and group decision making. Unfortunately, that creates a culture where everyone is an advisor and no one is a decision maker — but almost everyone has veto power.

Even Mr. Iwata is often loathe to make a decision that will alienate one of the executives in Japan, so to get anything done, it requires laying a lot of groundwork: talking to the different groups, securing their buy-in, and using that buy-in to get others on board. At the subsidiary level, this is even more pronounced, since people have to go through this process first at NOA or NOE (or sometimes both) and then all over again with headquarters. All of this is not necessarily a bad thing, though it can be very inefficient and time consuming. The biggest risk is that at any step in that process, if someone flat out says no, the proposal is as good as dead. So in general, bolder ideas don't get through the process unless they originate at the top.

There are two other problems that come to mind. First, at the risk of sounding ageist, because of the hierarchical nature of Japanese companies, it winds up being that the most senior executives at the company cut their teeth during NES and Super NES days and do not really understand modern gaming, so adopting things like online gaming, account systems, friends lists, as well as understanding the rise of PC gaming has been very slow. Ideas often get shut down prematurely just because some people with the power to veto an idea simply don't understand it.

The last problem is that there is very little reason to try and push these ideas. Risk taking is generally not really rewarded. Long-term loyalty is ultimately what gets rewarded, so the easiest path is simply to stay the course. I'd love to see Nintendo make a more concerted effort to encourage people at all levels of the company to feel empowered to push through ambitious proposals, and then get rewarded for doing so.

Too bad, right? On one hand, this conservative decision-making is undeniably one of the reasons Nintendo has survived for over 100 years now; on the other hand, come on. Go read the rest of Adelman's interview, too — it's full of interesting nuggets for anyone who's curious about Nintendo's motives and decision-making process.


Comments

    The really good ideas do seem to make it through though. For as slow as they are to adopt industry standards, they make new games, and even new genres, with more regularity than anyone else.

    I hope they push their experimentalism a bit more, their safe, moneymaking franchises are doing well and more daring titles like splatoon are looking promising.

      The really good ideas that we know of. We will never really know how many possibly innovative and boundary-breaking ideas have been shot down behind closed doors. And I wouldn't say that Nintendo is churning out new ideas all that much. Sure, they create something new every so often, but the majority of their games aren't new ideas at all but sequels or additional installments of their existing franchises. That said, I love most Zelda games (not Skyward Sword), even though they are re imaginings of the same basic story.

        But that's the thing, their sequels aren't usually by the numbers sequels. A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker. The reason Skyward Sword sucked and Twilight Princess was just ok is because over the course of two generations they were told to knock off the crazy stuff.
        Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario 3D World... even if the last one is an attempt to go back to it's roots those are still pretty radically different games. Even Mario Kart tries to mix things up pretty frequently. Smash Bros remains the same but similar to Mario Kart it's a game that people genuinely want to keep playing over and over and the new version is just making sure the game runs on the latest hardware.

      Yeah. People tend to get hung up on the fact that technically their new game is another Mario Game even though it's an entirely new genre that happens to feature Mario as the lead character. If Nintendo had of released a third person Portal game starring Mario in the GameCube or Wii era there would have been a solid chunk of people claiming it was just another tired, safe, by the numbers Mario Game.

    Can't find the article now, but there was a great post mortem done on doing the Wii U support for a game and the hurdles they faced. Apparently the devs at Nintendo didn't even scope out the competition (PSN, etc) to see what features people expect. Also since the Wii U engineers are Japanese, its a really convoluted process to get them to resolve bugs for Western companies.

      Yeah, I remember that article too. It was a good insight into the way Nintendo work. Can't remember where it was either, maybe on Polygon?

        I think I found it through Gamasutra, they always post dev oriented things like that. :)

    might also be the reason they do not make as many crazy asshat decisions or problems as the other companies too.

    I always liked the fact that Nintendont didn't jump on the DLC/FTP/Patch requirement bandwagon......wait.

    Dammit! You ruined it!

    I have a feeling that whilst Nintendo will continue to plod along with the occasional flash of brilliance, there will always be a Nintendo in some form, even if it shrinks down to Japan-only and everything has to be imported by us foreigners. The company is too conservative to get itself into real trouble. This can be seen in its software prices. It doesn't reduce prices and just drip-feeds the supply as necessary. With the Amiibos, there is no real danger of Nintendo having large piles of unsold Amiibo sitting around, because it used conservative demand estimates. Very frustrating for the consumer, but quite responsible for corporate management.

      They're not THAT conservative!

      This a company which put out the Virtual boy, the power glove, the ds, and the wii. It gets slaughtered sometimes, but the big risks have paid off for them before. They've been laughed at numerous times by the "industry" only to garner ridiculous public support/cash flow.

      And their games might not devalue like others, but then they've always had amazing sales tails IN SPITE of that. At least they're releasing their new games at reduced RRP, and some of their eshop sales have been pretty good by console standards (gotta keep them retailers happy).

    Because no one buys the new ideas?

    because people want the same shit over and over again, zombie shooters, War shooters, ect...

    Because people are fucking stupid!

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