5 Things I Learned From Nintendo
I'm reading a book that compiles thoughts and writings of the late Nintendo CEO Satoru Iawata called "Ask Iwata". I just finished a book by the former COO and President of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aimé called "Disrupting the Game". In addition to their wisdom, I would add things that the company has done since its inception and the philosophies of its brightest designers and leaders as influences for this list. Please enjoy. 🙇♂️
1. A Delayed Game is Eventually Good, But a Bad Game is Bad Forever
This is a quote attribute to legendary Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, but it's unclear if he coined the phrase or if he just repeated it with his own spin. Either way, his point is that you spend the extra time to work on something that you want to get right. If you release a product with blemishes, it makes a bad impression on your customers. This is true even in the era of day-zero patches, errata, reprints, and upgrades.
2. Blue Ocean Strategy
This isn't something Nintendo came up with, it was popularized in a book written in 2004, but they applied it wholesale to the development and release of their record-smashing 2006 console, Wii. Red oceans are filled with competition - you have to work extremely hard to position your product above the field with so many players in the marketplace. Blue oceans are untapped niches, new customer bases, and markets where products like yours have never been introduced. Nintendo went after the blue ocean filled with non-traditional gaming customers (casual players, more children, senior citizens) with their TV-remote-like Wii controller.
Blue oceans eventually become red oceans. After Nintendo hit big with Wii, Microsoft released their own motion-controlled peripheral called Kinect and Sony put out the Move.
3. Make Business Your "Game"
Iwata's many passages draw from a common theme which I've identified as, "Make business your 'game'". By that I mean that Iwata spent much of his time "playing" at work: finding ways to improve his interpersonal communication skills, thinking through the game theory of his marketing and product decisions, using playful techniques to challenge his employees to produce more thoughtful output.
He doesn't seem to have spent a lot of time "grinding" mindlessly. Every action was in pursuit of some new achievement that he could use to improve the core Nintendo business.
4. Squeeze Gently
Another interpretation on my part. Nintendo is a family-oriented brand and has been since they started manufacturing toys and games for all ages in the 20th century. [We'll talk about their non-family-oriented origins shortly.] They're well-known for taking safety and security to the extreme. After the 1983 video game crash, they instituted an approval process for every game developed for their NES/Famicom hardware. This was an approach that would help build consumer confidence in the wake of the glut of horrible games that took down the industry.
In the online era, they would institute policies like limiting voice chat (or excluding it altogether) and proactively ban and lock out accounts suspected of lude or flagrant behavior. Their matchmaking and friend systems were designed to prevent predatory behavior, but the antiquated approach meant customers labored to connect with real life friends and love ones. These overbearing choices forced some gamers off of the systems entirely or prevented some otherwise stellar titles from taking off because of the limited connectivity involved.
They achieved their standard of security by squashing modern standards to their detriment. They've since reversed some of these decisions and joined the future in some regards, but the perception of being "backwards" is hard to shake to this day.
5. There's Always a Solution
Nintendo was founded on an opportunity to capitalize on the Imperial gambling and playing-card ban instituted in the 1800s. They made colorful "flower picture" cards, called hanafuda, that circumnavigated the restrictions on gambling and gaming devices and allowed customers to enjoy card games under the auspices of distributing beautiful imagery instead.