Quantity muscles over quality for the likes of Apple and Google, Nintendo president claims

GDC11: ‘Game development is drowning’ – Iwata

For a man who hadn’t once used the word iPhone in his hour-long GDC lecture, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata still managed to publicly tear into the Apple smartphone empire.

“Rather than offer you a rosy picture of our industry, I would like to discuss three concerns,” he said at the concluding stages of his keynote speech.

Iwata glided through his first and second concern, but the final one he embellished on with the kind of provocative language that, at times, seemed extraordinary for a leading Japanese businessman.

“Game development is drowning,” he declared.

The Nintendo boss recalled that in his 2005 GDC keynote, the audience were developers of many systems, but not commonly mobile devices.

“But today, it may be the majority of you developers who are making mobile games,” he said.

“It gives me concern.”

And, just a stone’s throw from the venue of Apple’s iPad 2 press conference, Iwata exposed his long-harboured dislike of the mobile gaming market unequivocally.

“These platforms have no motivation to maintain the value of the gaming,” he said.

“Quantity is how they profit. The value of software does not matter to them.”

By “them”, he wasn’t simply referring to Apple. Google and Facebook were too the target of his attack.

Speaking to the packed crowd of industry professionals, he claimed that the business of game design is more perilous than ever.

“With so many consoles to publish games on, it is already so hard to attain visibility and status,” he said, before explaining that mobile market is only making life harder.

Citing Forbes data, Iwata claimed that 92 per cent of mobile app downloads are for free content. He said that, in the oceanic smartphone games market, the chance to be visible – and the opportunity to make a living – is remarkably low.

It’s a very confusing time for people. There’s not much stability, he said.

“It confirms for us that our world is changing.”

But Nintendo insists that one defining value remains – “Content is king.”

Quality of product is still distinguishes success from failure, he said.

“But will that still be the case moving forward?” he asked. “Is maintaining high-quality games a top priority, or not?”

Iwata said the only constant in a shifting games industry should be the primary need for quality content.

“Without content, there is no industry,” he said.

This was, make no mistake, Iwata’s declaration that the firm will not join the smartphone race or the $0.99 business. It will not spend three months building a game and then add to it thereafter.

“We really want consumers to appreciate the premium value of content,” he said. “What we make is valuable, and we should protect that value.”

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