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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.

News by Mike Williams, .

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?

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Comments 10

  • Avatar for kyleyadlosky64 #1 kyleyadlosky64 4 years ago
    I'd say that Nintendo isn't in the business of making art, since they've been coasting on the same art assets and IPs since the Super Nintendo :P
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  • Avatar for BlueDiscoverer #2 BlueDiscoverer 4 years ago
    Sometimes a game is just a game.

    I play games because they are fun just as I read books and watch movies because they are entertaining.

    I do appreciate a good story and interesting art design. If that's what makes a game "art" then I'd agree that Nintendo's games are not art. But I gain as much enjoyment from them as from many other forms of entertainment I consume.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #3 Kuni-Nino 4 years 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 Kuni-Nino
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  • Avatar for --- #4 --- 4 years ago
    Eye of the beholder. Plain and simple.
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  • Avatar for docexe #5 docexe 4 years 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.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #6 pjedavison 4 years ago
    This, to me, has been the fundamental difference between Nintendo and other companies for a long time -- since we could start thinking of games as artistic works rather than, well, "just games."

    Nintendo, to me, embodies the attitude "remember when games were 'just fun?'" that people trot out when they get tired of industry drama or excessive chin-stroking. Because Nintendo games are, for the most part, "just fun" and don't aspire to be anything else.

    And that's fine! Not everything has to be a great work of art. There are plenty of other devs and publishers covering that angle, so sometimes it's nice to go back to a pure, unashamedly fun experience that isn't trying to communicate some sort of "message" to you besides "enjoy yourself."
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  • Avatar for kyleyadlosky64 #7 kyleyadlosky64 4 years ago
    I think I'm the only one who's mad about this. Not what Nintendo said--since they haven't allowed creative visions to overtake their games for some time. They're notorious for boxing people's ideas into their IPs. That's why Starfox Adventures happened and why they continue to find ways to make Kirby games. Chalk-outline Link doesn't even look like it belongs in a Legend of Zelda game, and I'm sure it doesn't.

    You can talk about how Nintendo just harkens back to when games were just games trying to be fun, but back then Nintendo made art. They didn't know what people wanted, so they had to make the games they wanted and hoped people would follow. Zelda was art; Mario was art; Metroid was art. The problem now is that they know what a "Nintendo game" is and what people want from that, and they're continuing to deliver that.

    Essentially, Nintendo is checking boxes, making the games people want without any care for what their developers might want to make. They release the same games every year with minimal improvements or tacked-on additions, similar to a Call of Duty or Assassins's Creed.

    I remember when EA said that they were trying to give all play-styles something to love with SSX, and there was a huge shitstorm, because the game was just heartlessly checking boxes, and it was no better than Call of Duty with snow.

    Now, Nintendo is essentially saying the same thing and they get nothing but praised for it.

    I guess companies only make soulless products, until you start to like their soulless products.
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  • Avatar for benjaminbeaumont20 #8 benjaminbeaumont20 4 years ago
    I remember reading an interview with the developers of dark souls who said that they wanted the gameplay to become the story, and for me, in that game it totally did. I remember first spending like hours trying to kill ornstein and smough that multiple tatics before giving up and figuring out how to summon other players then returning with some random guy and finally killing them both, it was such a rush and truly did become the narrative that I had constructed in that game, it will resonate with me for far longer that whatever lore was going on in the background.

    Also there seems to be a very obvious result when developers obviously spend vast amounts of resources on motion capture and voice and voice acting and script development, in that the actual gameplay takes a back seat. Take the last of us for example, I found that wartered down mix of stealth and cover shooting shockingly unsatisfying and under cooked. The promise of another plot development simply wast enough for me to continue on playing.

    Furthermore I find the kind of stories that modern plot driven games strive for to be quite lame in their transparent attempts to be gritty or edgy. I still feel the most interesting story told in a game was metal gear solid 2 because it wasn't some lame attempt to put you inside some idiotic hollywood India jones type story. And also it was actually fun to play and further developed the gameplay concepts from metal gear solid 1.
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  • Avatar for benjaminbeaumont20 #9 benjaminbeaumont20 4 years ago
    And finally the premise that the last of us is an example of art I feel needs scrutiny, the plot is essentially what you would find in a typical Hollywood post apocalyptic blockbuster. Do we consider 'I am legend' to be art also ? Does simply striving to incorporate the language of hollywood cinema into a game make it art no matter how derivitiave the plot or gameplay actually is ? There needs to be more discussion on the place narrative has in games in the first place, I really don't feel that the walking deads and braids have rely settled the point.
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  • Avatar for FakeKraid #10 FakeKraid 4 years ago
    The problem is with our definition of 'art'. Crafting a masterful product that is intended to evoke feelings of fun and enjoyment in its audience *is* art. 'Art' isn't only about creative vision, it's also about the crafting of experiences through skill and inspiration. Vision enters into art, but it is not the whole of art, anymore than graphics are the whole of games.
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