Gosh it was nice to see his grinning face on stage. I was right at the front, but next to some literally hysterical fanboi who was screaming like a gibbon. It was an interesting keynote - long, possibly partially lost in translation.. and no announcements. Just encouragement, inspirational motivation, and just a tinsy dig at MicroSony. You might not even spot it ;o)
As ever: just my notes. Most of what he said, but not verbatim. Sorry RSS people, you get it in one GIANT CHUNK.
Thanks for a very good time last night! I was amazed that it has been 8 years since we had a chance to talk and it seems you haven’t aged a bit … just like me.
I’ve brought the Wiimote to do my presentation. So I wonder what kind of a garden this is? The correct answer is that it’s MY garden. So maybe if we zoom in, maybe we can find some Picmin.
Of course in 8 years many things do change, and I’d like to begin by talking about one of those things.
Let’s got back a quarter of century when I started designing games, back then these were the games people were talking about: (pacman) and here's a stereotypical image of a videogamer (picture of a young lad). Here’s a wholesome image too (of Miyamoto) – guys in neckties played games back then.
Let’s skip ahead. In ‘98 the year before my last GDC keynote these were the top five: Goldeneye 007, Zelda, Gran Turismo, Banjo Kazooie, and Super Mario 64. At this time people believed that gamers were having harmless fun, there was no bad image. We were experiencing the latest in popular entertainment, but in the last few years, something has changed,
By 2004 these were the top five: GTA, Madden, Halo 2, Halo 2 limited edition, ESPN NFL. The reporters didn’t ask me about the games themselves, the journos wanted to know what effect games were having on people. Instead they somehow thought we were changing gamers into zombies, and this troubled me.
The stereotypical image of what gamers were turned into meant that as sales went up, our reputation went down. For most of us who are game designers, there seemed to be only one way forward. The players wanted only more of the same kind of game, so we had to make those games? I think to believe otherwise seemed naïve, we felt threatened, we had to make these games to sell more. So this is a period when Nintendo and myself found ourselves at a crossroads: follow our historic […] or not?
I had to reflect on my time as a designer, the essence of any game designer, the creative vision, and Nintendo’s vision. It’s important to understand no matter how clear your own personal vision, it must resonate with the vision of your company. I’m fortunate because what I believe matches to what Nintendo believes, so I’m going to explain the Nintendo difference with three elements of our corporate vision:
Maybe you’ve heard of the first one, maybe too much about it. The Expanded Audience. It’s taken forward our corporate vision of marketing to everyone: 5-95. I’d like to talk about a personal experience of [mine]: I have a personal way of determining if a product will be succeed with the intended audience, I call it the wifeometer.
This wifeometer measures one variable: the interest level of my own wife. Maybe some of you can remember when you played Pac-Man, or a game like Mario. And maybe you think that these were important moments in your lives. They were not important moments for my wife. But then Tetris came out. The problem was that, when I thought my wife would be interested in this game, she was not, but then when my daughter started playing Ocarina of Time at home, there was a little change. My wife had gone from complete disinterest to a background observer. She watched my daughter play. I thought, oh maybe there is hope!
Then came Animal Crossing. Now when this game came out I assured my wife there were no enemies to fight in this game, so she agreed to actually touch the controller. She was soon happy cutting down trees and exchanging letters with our children. The wifeometer went up a bit more. I thought I’d going to get that thing higher!
As some of you may know we have a dog in our house, and my wife loves cats but I’m a dog lover. We put a question out on the Everybody Votes channel recently. Cos she’s a cat lover and because she likes dogs too, but see... 63% of the world’s Wii owners agree with me, and only 36% prefer cats. What’s interesting is if you go into Latin America, in Guatemala, more than 90% prefer dogs. Do they have cats in Guatemala?!
This is our dog. He’s 6. He sleeps on a better mattress than I do. If you look at his face, he looks like a guitar pick. So we named him Pick. Now since Pick joined us, we’ve been studying dog training, and we made new friends through the other dogs our dog has met. He brought us new joys and discoveries. Getting back to my point today... this relates to growing the wifeometer.
I was watching our dog friends and my wife, I thought maybe if we could get these people and turn them into game players, if we could interest them, we could expand the user base, there were elements too of dog training that I thought I could turn into a videogame. So when I showed her Nintendogs, she finally saw a different perspective.
Then game Brain Age. This has turned her into a true gamer. She has accepted games as part of her daily life. She understands the unique interactive entertainment found in games. And today we have a Wii in our house. So last month, on Valentine’s Day, in Japan on Valentine’s Day women give chocolates to men, it’s very nice!
As usual I came home rather late from work, expecting her to be asleep. I opened the door and heard the sounds of the Wii, so I thought she waited up to give me chocolates, so sweet, but actually she was just casting her votes on the Everybody Votes channel. So she herself downloaded the channel and voted on her own, this is an incredible occurrence in my household, it would be more normal to get home and find Donkey Kong eating at my dinner table!
This is the second version of Brain Age. It has a mini Mario game in it. Now my wife comes to me and says, I can beat you at this game, anytime. She’s bragging! To me!
Looking at her scores, she’s right. She turned into a hardcore gamer much faster than I expected. Wifeometer has shot up dramatically. So there it is. Now she’s playing Wii sports. Not only that, she invites our friends over to play Wii sports. I don’t know if she’ll stop making Miis - she makes them for everyone in our neighbourhood. This is very lucky for me, see because now she’s getting a taste for what it‘s like to create something. I see this as a first step towards game design. I think we’ll be competing going forward, eventually she’ll come up with a unique idea, and when she does … I can retire!
So now the second key element of Nintendo’s division. Hard devotion to the entertainment business. We don’t have to worry about business diversification, and expanding into other business.
[Alice – lol! Ouch!]
Every employee is focused solely on entertainment. Engineers and software creators have a deep understanding of entertainment. We are very efficient at developing new products. Where our people are talking it’s good for making truly innovative products. They’re in the same building. They’re not separated by acres or miles or oceans. The chance to collaborate happens all day long – in the café, the corridors, even the bathroom.
I majored in industrial design. So I’ve been involved in the design of every controller since the NES. All of these people involved in the design have worked with me previously; a lot are in my dept. We understand each other. We work effectively as a team. I don’t want to say this so you think I created this controller – no one person created a controller. Doesn’t work that way at Nintendo, it’s a group collaboration.
So here’s the Wii. In creating the Wii this process was more intense than ever. We had different teams trying to reconcile their viewpoints. One team – they were focused on a brand new styles of play. Another team – the Zelda team – were concerned with allowing gamers to continue to play historic franchises. Third team – that third party games can be played with this controller. But overall, everyone wanted simple and accessible.
Engineers had ideas of how lots of technologies could be incorporated; software designers were excited about the new forms of game play. They didn’t want something so different that it would force us to turn our backs on everything we’ve invested in our franchises, for instance, so we invested in dozens and dozens of prototypes. Gradually we got closer and closer to the design you know now.
We’d test and the hardware guys would give feedback, and we asked: what shapes? What technologies? Which combination of elements would cerate the most entertainment for the most users? Any idea could be suggested, but we felt we were in a long tunnel with no light at the end. So we decided we would mimic the look of a TV remote. This final version is truly the result of a very widespread collaboration. We took these conversations to an extreme, balancing the software and the hardware until it became the Wii.
These kinds of ongoing collaborations are something only platform manufacturers can do. When we decided on this form of the wiimote, we felt we’d finally moved out of that long tunnel. It can do a lot, can’t it?
As a controller, the wiimote does a lot of what I have always dreamed of for many long years. It’s important for us to make hardware that’s compatible for software designers of other systems. But it’s important for our hardware to give opportunity to designers and developer that can’t be met by other systems, we’re committed to giving this to you. This is Nintendo’s mission and we’ll continue to try to give new and different kinds of entertainment to everyone as well.
As you know, tech progress often focuses on new forms of videogames. But we keep the same viewpoint for other stuff. This is my house. Hahha I’m lying. This is actually a museum: it’s Shiguriden, in Kyoto. It’s not shigeru-den, ha ha. It’s a museum for a game that entails playing cards and ancient Japanese poetry. Cards like these. Many companies make these cards and Nintendo is one of them. I was put in charge of producing the attractions for this many years ago. Many of you have, I’m sure (grinning) a poetry museum in your town, but I think this one is a bit different. We have the poems displayed on screens on the floor of the exhibition home. Everyone entering the museum gets a modded DS, and it knows where you are in the museum. You can press buttons on the DS to change the appearance of the cards at your feet.
Creating something like this was very fun for our team. Using this system you can do a lot of things. […] This was enjoyable for a number of reasons. It was a large scale form of entertainment that players walk around in. Because it wasn’t technically a game, we didn’t have to figure out how the game would end. But I think the most rewarding part of this whole experience was seeing how this bridges the gap between the generations. These poems are generally of interest only to the elderly. But by adding the DS, grandchildren are more than happy to come along. So our priority with this project was to provide young people the opportunity to touch and learn about traditional culture. This was more important than simply offering more detail to those who already had a good knowledge of the product on display.
Things are going well there, and we think maybe we’re expanding an audience in a new way, this leads me to the last element I want to talk about today and that’s risk.
We’ve always encourage employees to do things differently. When you take challenges, you take risks, the bigger the challenge the bigger the risk. We took on the challenging of questioning our own definition of what a game is. A good example of this is the DS and its touchscreen interface. Some of these games may be good for your soul, some may be practical, but our ultimate goal is to make them fun.
But in my experience, none of the risks has ever run the design of the Wii. The Gamecube was a half step. It was technically advanced but I wanted to appeal to a wider audience. The A button on the gamecube was bigger and a different colour, making it easier to pick up and start playing, but it was still complicated…
With the Wii – we wondered, do we give up, and carry on evolving or take the greater risk? We had concerns. We’ve been playing and creating controllers that required two hands. We’re used to that. And what, we’re just going to take it apart? So when development was going on, I was the evangelist inside our company. You have to think not about what’s going to be lost, but what’s going to be gained.
Gradually as we did this, I managed to give myself confidence. And of course I spoke to [the boss] many times, and we felt better, but then we’d separate and our concerns would return. It wasn’t until last spring at GDC, and the long lines and happy faces of people coming out of our booth, and that was the moment we knew this risk was worth taking. So corporate vision is essential.
But corporations don’t make video games, people do. So let me move from Nintendo vision to my personal vision. In interviews I’m often asked about specific elements in my games. Where did you get the idea for that character, that hardware? Why did you design that level in that way? Sometimes I can tell the people who are asking have spent a lot of time analyzing my games in very detailed fashion. But if you look harder at the detail, you’re further from the answer.
My initial focus and primary focus is not these individual elements of the game. When I create a game, I try to envision the core element of fun in the game. To do that, I imagine one thing, the face of the player when he or she is playing the game. As an entertainer I want them to be entertained. I was reminded of this recently when we launched the DS in Japan, and put the system out. We asked to tape the people... you can see at myfirsttouchds.
So as you can see not only is the person playing being entertained, but the people around are entertained too. That’s the reaction that I always want. My personal view as a designer is that I want that reaction, that emotion to be positive. Glee, surprise, happiness, satisfaction. Certain obstacles may raise suspense, competition, frustration, but we insert these elements in order to produce a new sensation that you’ve never felt before. And I want that final emotion to be a positive one. That’s what I have in mind when I create my games.
I understand other designers work with fear, horror, revenge, violence, and there is no right or wrong... but it’s what YOU want the player to experience. It’s up to you how you do that. In my personal case, the feeling I strive for is a positive. So I keep this picture of the players face in my mind until the very end of development. If I feel the team has lost sight of that image, or we’re not going to elicit the entertainment we desire, then I take the risk and upend the tea-table. What I’m doing really is making sure the game is as fun to play as possible. We often – as designers – repeat the same mistake, we’re too familiar. We know too much about our game. But players come in knowing nothing about our game.
To put it more simply, when we’re creating a game we have to force ourselves to make the software purely from the point of the player, this is the way your vision will be most clearly conveyed to the players who play the games. So if I feel so strongly, if I think we need to change, I’m willing to take that risk and upend the tea-table. Everyone who works in this building here, our HQ, if they hear my footsteps approaching towards the end of a project, they get nervous. Hehe.
So in any case, I believe my vision of a happy players face is also a good match for Nintendo. I should say that I believe these positive emotions are also successful in expanding the game experience to those who don’t play. When they see someone having fun and enjoying themselves, that’s when they pick up the controller and have a go themselves. We’ve seen this in Japan with Wii play. Initially it seems too elementary for core gamers, but what we’ve learned is that core gamers can enjoy wii play...because of the new value-add. They can play with nongaming friends. They can invite nongamers in. maybe you need to add a new category – as designer – how fun is your game for people who don’t play them?
So let me discuss a few more aspects of my personal vision.
I often say I like making games that players themselves can become more creative. Game players are encouraged to think about what they’re supposed to do in the game. The core of this element is communication. It’s a key topic, but as you know there are many wonderful and popular games that have nothing to do with communications – think Solitaire on a PC, or Tetris on a handheld. These games are popular because they provide a personal sense of enjoyment and fulfillment. When I created Zelda, I had a different idea in mind. Some people think the singleplayer game is one where you communicate with the computer. But I wanted to create communication centered round the game itself.
The first prototype didn’t go well in Japan. People were confused. They didn’t’ know the objective. They couldn’t solve the puzzles. So people said, why not make just one way through the dungeon? But of course I ignored them all.
I decided to take the sword away from the players at the beginning. Do that and you know what you’ve got to do. I did this because I wanted to challenge them to find the sword. They’d think about how they’d do this. I wanted them to talk to other Zelda players. Ask each other questions, exchange information. And this is what happened!
This was a real life collaboration. It helped make the game more popular. Back then there were no chatrooms to trade ideas in. But people had their ways, sometimes calling in the middle of the night to wake friends up. Zelda was the inspiration for something very different: Animal Crossing. This is based solely on communication and cooperation. No competition. It bumped up the wifeometer once again!
So our team was looking for elements that would make a player happy by moving them around the game world. But hardcore gamers also enjoyed this. So gamers aren’t always looking for the best graphics, or audio. Animal Crossing has sold to over 7m players. And they’ve invited new gamers into the forest….
Now I want to talk about prioritisation. The complaint of every developer on any game ever made has been: “not enough”. Not enough people, not enough budget. Not enough time. The more we’re dedicated to providing the maximum enjoyment, the more we have this feeling. We think we need more gorgeous graphics, more content. We don’t want the player to be disappointed with the decisions we’ve made, so of course as a developer I don’t want to disappoint these people; so I go to the boss with these same complaints. He responds: “too bad”!
What he really means is that I didn’t use my head a bit more. So: the baseball game in Wii sports: if there was a game I would want realism in, it’s baseball. But the Wii sports baseball only has one stadium. No licenses for real teams or players. You can’t even control the fielders. It’s not very realistic.
And then there are the characters. They’re super unrealistic. They’re based on a wooden doll – kokeshi. I think this approach shocked a number of developers – these characters don’t even have arms or legs – but we had these concerns, and we agreed our time could be better spent on making the game FEEL realistic. So we put all our efforts into two elements: pitching and hitting.
With the wiimote we could create a new kind of realism that people hadn’t experienced before. We did try using Mario characters at one point, but we found that people liked the kokeshi style better. Only by applying this strict prioritization were we able to complete this project on time. Even now, after we’ve put it out, many players are showing a great deal of surprise at how easy it is to play, and shocked at how they don’t even have to press a button.
But being a baseball fan myself, I am really hoping I get a chance to play a more realistic baseball game on the Wii. But right now in the meanwhile I’m happy that millions are enjoying Wii sports with a different kind of [experience?].
Now to the final aspect of my vision: tenacity. Some people at Nintendo say that when I have an idea, I can’t let it go. When my team came to me with their initial baseball experiment with the wiimote, I thought yes! Finally! We just waited for the right technology to come along. Here’s one more example. This is the disk drive for the Japanese version for the NES. At the time I thought it’d be a good idea to use a game machine to draw your own face, or the faces of others.
You could then animate these faces, and I thought this was great, but not many agreed with me. How could it be a game, they asked? So it was put on the pending list, and we left it behind. But I always thought it was a good idea. It awoke from hibernation in the 1990s with the n64... here’s a video of how we turned it into a product, in “Talent Studio”.
I thought no-one at Nintendo would resist this idea – but somehow they did.
Then came the Gameboy advance and the Gameboy camera. I thought we had the answer. I thought everyone would love it. It was obvious to me that this was going to be a huge hit. But inside Nintendo, they said, this wasn’t a game. And I couldn’t refute that. I thought maybe I should give up.
So when Wii planning began, we thought, how could we use this with the Wii? Iwata-san approached me one day, and said, are we still playing around with face creation? I said yes, but we had nothing significant yet, and he told me another team was working on something similar for a DS game, and they were making good progress. So I went back to my team and told them they were useless!
And I went and worked with this other team for a few months. Sometimes my team doesn’t appreciate me all that much (smiling).
But I got angry at my own frustration – we’d been working on this idea for 20 years, and had failed to turn it into anything. I thought this idea would be very popular with creatives, but it was too complicated, it would only frustrate the masses who weren’t so creative. There’s no way to make this into a game, and make it profitable. Players would like the creation process, but everyone questioned how long people would spend on creating. With the Wii we answered this. Creating the Mii didn’t have to be a game in itself.
The real breakthrough came when I reminded myself of the Expanded Audience. I had been seeing things backwards. Over the years, by insisting that with every advance in hardware we make the graphics more complex, it turned into less of a game and more of a … utility. We were creating something that the average person would look at and see ‘too complicated’. Once we started to reconsider the program to appeal to the widest possible audience, all the problems were solved.
My tenacity finally paid off. But it was only when I was willing to take the risk of looking at the problem from a different perspective. Pursuing the latest tech is one way to create something revolutionary, sometimes it’s about waiting for the new tech to come along to make the dream come alive, but this time [..] people are so taken with the Miis around the world that we’re working on a new Wii channel. With this channel we’ll have Mii contests with people all around the world.
So finally let me use an old friend of mine to describe one final example of tenacity. [picture of Mario] He came from humble beginnings. He’s been in so many games. Maybe too many. But one question I’ve always been asked is, what happened to Mario 128?
We showed a tech demo once, to show how the new tech of the gamecube could dynamically change the nature of Mario games. I’m at a loss as how to answer the above question, because most of you have played it, but you played it… as Picmin. One element of Mario 128 was the advanced AI that allowed lots of characters acting independently. But if I say, it was Picmin, I think you’ll all be quite annoyed at me. So you’ll be experiencing Mario 128 pretty soon: in Super Mario Galaxy. Have a look.
You’ll be able to play that this year.
My main message to you today is that creative vision is not one element of game design, it’s the very essence of game design. But your vision does not have to be my vision. I’m only one person. The future of our industry depends on how successful you are in applying your vision to your games. Seeing the indie games at the awards last night, you’ve given me a lot of faith about the future of our industry!
For me success is when something becomes a social phenomenon. Like a hit movie, when it becomes part of the cultural [..]. But it’s not enough to just please those of us who already love videogames; we must reach out to those who don’t care or those who fear it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful? With our tools, vision and the courage of our conviction, I know we can do it.
We are human and our job is to entertain humans, to do that we must remember the human touch. I believe because Wii sports is a hit that we can succeed at this. Consider how many new gamers it has already brought in. And if we can convert my wife, I believe we can convert anyone.