At a keenly awaited keynote at Game Developers Conference on Wednesday, Nintendo's president and CEO Satoru Iwata presented a global view of the world's currently dominant game hardware company.
He started by noting that, since 2006, "The global video game market has changed a lot... it's even beyond what we possibly hoped for." He then revealed that, while they already announced 100 million DS consoles sold, there are now 50 million Wii consoles sold worldwide.
Thanking the GDC attendees, Iwata then commented: "When veteran gamers and new consumers make the purchase decisions, one rule always remains the same... software sells hardware."
Next, the Nintendo executive noticed that, in a time of change, people are asking "what kind of games can reach" this expanded market. He noted that some developers believe that they can't compete with Nintendo due to the amount of money Nintendo puts into software.
But he then discussed his history at developer HAL Laboratory, and thought back to a time in the mid-'90s when the company "had entered a death spiral", because they needed to release the game that fiscal year, and couldn't polish it. At that time, he believed that the reason that Nintendo could make better games than HAL was because they had more money, and therefore more money means more time.
Iwata went on to talk about how Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto works now with a discussion on "Miyamoto's Way", suggesting that current developers can learn from this. "More than anyone I've known, he sees game development opportunity where others don't."
Miyamoto's core inspirations are that "ideas are everywhere", according to Iwata, referencing how Miyamoto's hobbies, such as gardening and getting a puppy, are parlayed into games like Pikmin and Nintendogs. He then works on a large series of tightly focused prototypes.
Iwata showed the prototype boxing game in the bundled Wii Sports title, showing it as a series of simple boxes, with no detailed graphics. The teams are very small, as small as one programmer, and there are multiple projects in development at the same time. 'Trial and error' is the key to creating fun at this point in development. Sometimes the prototype phase lasts more than two years, and sometimes they scrap the prototypes.
Then the game can go into full production with a better idea of how things work. This is not always true, and sometimes things don't work, but concepts can be set aside for other games. Some of these elements can appear "years later" in totally unrelated games.
He noted that disruption in full production can be bad, commenting that Nintendo hoped that Nintendogs would make the DS launch, and Super Mario Galaxy would make the Wii launch, but they eventually didn't. He that was okay in the end -- especially since Wii Sports did make the Wii launch.
Iwata ended by explaining that Shigeru Miyamoto did "random employee kidnapping" within Nintendo, essentially getting random employees to play the game and see if they understand it. This, he suggested, worked differently than targeted focus groups, as no checkmarks or questions were presented to players, and developers could not give them input on how to play.
Instead, Miyamoto would stand over their shoulder, watching to see when the kidnap victims enjoyed the game and when they seem bored with it.
He then discussed the history of Rhythm Heaven, pointing out that only three people worked on the DS prototype for the game, and that 1.7 million sales were for Japan alone
In America, 20 percent of Wii households had no other games in their homes when they bought the console. He also revealed that, for Nintendo DS, 47 percent of DS buyers last year were female.
He says that the conception that Wii third-party developers can't have success is wrong. He did say that Nintendo took things seriously by launching Mario, Zelda, and Virtual Console swiftly. But he says that, last year, more third-party games were sold with Wii than any other platform, and the second-biggest was DS.
Iwata then pointed out that the Wii Balance Board accessory has an installed base almost as large as the PlayStation 3, worldwide. A Nintendo rep then got on stage to showcase Rock and Roll Climber for WiiWare, which used the Balance Board to climb a rock wall, with a rock and roll ending.
Discussing WiiWare, he revealed that 90 percent of all games are from independent publishers in the U.S., but noted that the lack of Wii memory was indeed a problem. Bill Trinen then came on stage to reveal the solution for the Wii storage issues -- the ability to save directly to the SD card, load off a SD card, and the ability to use high capcity version of the SD cards. He explained: "Your games will no longer be competing on space for system memory."
Iwata announced that the new Wii system build -- Wii System 4.0 -- has launched already on the system, and also presented a series of Final Fantasy-related debuts, including My Life As A Darklord: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, and Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, both available for WiiWare in 2009. Plus Final Fantasy for Virtual Console -- FFI and FFIV -- more details from Square Enix this week.
Iwata next introduced Bill Trinen, who showed Moving Memo for DSiWare, which creates flipbook-style drawn animations, and uploads them to a server. He also showcased WarioWare: Snapped for DSi, which uses the camera for mini-games and records your silly effects.
There are now 2 million DSi systems sold in Japan. In the United States, Amazon.com announced that DSi pre-orders are the biggest ever in the history, and GameStop says that it's double the DS Lite pre-orders.
He also announced Virtual Console Arcade, with titles like Mappy, Space Harrier, Gaplus, and Star Force available worldwide (different in different territories), and is also available today.
He ended on a discussion of satisfying "Nintendo loyalists", and revealed a new Zelda title -- The Legend Of Zelda: Spirit Tracks", with green-capped hero Link piloting a train -- available later this year.