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Nintendo Doesn't Make Art, It Tries to Resonate With Customers

President Satoru Iwata believes a creative vision shouldn't be shoved down players' throats.

By Mike Williams. Published 8 months ago

Supposedly, the gaming industry is driven by creative people who work with teams to bring their pure, untainted creative vision to audiences everywhere. They work their craft to bring the art to you. Sure, there are definite cashgrabs in gaming, but this is the ideal that developers strive for and espouse in countless interviews.

Except Nintendo doesn't agree.

In an interview with Toyo Keizai Online (translated by Kotaku), Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said the company doesn't seek to make art. Instead, Nintendo tries to find out what games will resonate with the masses.

"Nintendo developers are extremely insatiable when it comes to whether what they make resonates with customers or not. They'll do anything to achieve it." said Iwata. "Both Miyamoto and I repeatedly say, 'It's not like we are making pieces of art, the point is to make a product that resonates with and is accepted by customers.'"

"Creating is like an expression of egoism. People with a strong energy to create something have a 'this is the strength I believe is right' sort of confidence to start from. Their standpoint is that 'this is the right thing to do, so this must be what's good for the customer as well.' But the final goal of a product is to resonate with and be accepted by people. You can't just force your way through. By saying 'the point is to be accepted' I mean, if you go to a customer with your idea and you realize they don't understand it, it's more important that they do and you should shift your idea."

For Nintendo, games are a product to be sold to people; if they happen to be art as well, that's a side effect of creating a product of the highest quality. It's a mindset that tends to be found in hardware design, not game design. Of course, the millions of copies of Nintendo games sold points to the company doing something right. Which side of the line do you stand on? Art or product?

The best community comments so far 10 comments

  • Kuni-Nino 8 months ago

    Ever since Ebert (RIP you wonderful man) dropped that line about games not being art, I found myself constantly questioning the medium of videogames. At first I was offended, so my natural reaction was to defend and look for examples of games that could stand up to those great pieces of art. I became sort of obsessed with the idea of storytelling in games, the writing, the way mechanics are used to convey emotions in the player. It was interesting seeing the discussion go as far as it did and while I was thankful for the illuminating points people would bring up, all the intellectual analysis got in the way of what makes games 'fun' for me.

    After that whole Ebert debacle, it seemed like the focus of the media and various devs was to prove the masses wrong. They framed Ebert's playful little rant as an indication of what mainstream intellectuals thought of video games. Wanting to be taken seriously, videogames and the talk surrounding videogames became a little bit more nuanced, a little more intelligent; the criticism became a little bit more complicated and that demanded a different type of game. Cinematic games were already gaining traction before Ebert's rant (they might've been the source too) but after that, they seemed to be the answer to Ebert's assertions. Suddenly NaughtY Dog came out with Uncharted and the focus to craft great stories in videogames had begun: Heavy Rain, Braid, Limbo, Journey and now the Last of Us became the benefactors.

    Now, cinematic games are great. I can play them and appreciate them, but over the past few years I've kind of grown weary of them. This includes the artsy indie games like Braid and Limbo. I've noticed that these games like Last of Us are a far cry from the games I grew up playing. It's really kind of jarring because it makes me wonder if games like Link to the Past would be seen as the masterpiece it is if it were released today. LttP doesn't try to tell a grand story. It's not fixated on getting you to cry or relax. It's more focused on giving you a challenge and a world big enough for you to explore and solve. It's so fun to just play it.

    Upon that realization, it all of a sudden dawned on me that Nintendo is one of the few gigantic developers pursuing the kind of game design that is just "fun". The kind of design where you master abilities and find interesting ways to use them.

    I love them for that. It's why Kid Icarus: Uprising is my favorite game of the last five years along with Skyward Sword. Nintendo wants you to have fun by pushing you as a player. They're not trying to make a grand statement about the human condition. That's a fine goal to have, but Nintendo's approach to games is one I think I prefer these days. A game like Kid Icarus means so much more to me than a game like The Walking Dead.Edited August 2013 by Unknown

  • docexe 8 months ago

    Well, Nintendo has always been a toy company at heart more than anything else. Their philosophy for game design has always been about creating things that are fun to play with. Sometimes their games do carry a deeper meaning on them or can elicit strong emotions (particularly some of their more story driven games, like some instances of the Zelda and Metroid series, or a few of the Mario RPG’s) but such things seem to happen always as a byproduct. Their primary objective is always to create a fun game first and foremost.

    This comment from Iwata is just another reflection of that ethos. And honestly, that’s perfectly fine. While I do appreciate more artful oriented games like Journey and Shadow of the Colossus, as well as more story driven and cinematic like Uncharted, Metal Gear Solid or Grand Theft Auto, the truth of the matter is that there is no universal statement that says those kind of games are more valid or better than games that just aim to be fun to play, neither that they can’t coexist on the same space. It’s the same with movies, books and other forms of media.

    I have to admit that I do wish at times that Nintendo tackled more mature or complex themes on some of their games (or at the very least, that they commissioned more second and third parties to produce that kind of content for their systems, like they did with Rare, Silicon Knights and Retro Studios and are currently doing with Monolith Soft, Mist Walker and Platinum Games), but… well, considering that when I played it for the first time, Super Mario Galaxy was the most fun and addictive experience I have had in gaming in 5 or so years, I can’t say there is anything inherently wrong with their approach to making fun games first and foremost rather than art.

  • Alpha Unit 8 months ago

    Eye of the beholder. Plain and simple.

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