The unremitting growth of development teams, cost and risks has led to bloated triple-A projects with little time to add in the magic, Nintendo’s president has said.
Satoru Iwata believes that, to this day, it is the little touches that can distinguish a great product from a good one.
“It's in the very final moments of the video game creation that will dictate if we can include the magic that will enchant game players,” he said.
“That kind of craftsmanship under today's development circumstances might be lost.”
That claim follows Iwata’s remarkable speech at the Game Developers Conference last week – where he said “game development is drowning” in the oceanic smartphone market.
In a follow-up interview with USA Today, Iwata revealed that, just six months before launch of New Super Mario Bros in 2008, he had “heard from the development team that the game was not going to be really fun”.
He explained: “But during the very final completion period of New Super Mario Bros, what had been changed are very minute details.
“That is not something very notable for the gamer, but for example, it sometimes had to do with level design, in other words, where the enemy characters should be positioned in the stage and specific changes in the movement of these enemies or total terrain of these levels.
“In interactive entertainment, a very small thing can make a very big difference in the end, especially when you are at the final completion stage of the entertainment software application.
“Whether or not you will be able to brush up on some minute details may dictate the final joy of the product. I think one of the reasons why Shigeru Miyamoto's software tends to be appreciated by many people around the world has something to do with this particular point. It is very important.”
But the triple-A games sector doesn’t usually have time to add in the magic, said Iwata.
“Looking back at the history of 25 years in the video game industry, when we started these projects were very small, and because of that we were able to take care of very minute details, and then we were able to brush up on some things to the very end.
“Today, circumstances have changed around video game creation. Many have become huge projects that require huge amounts of money. That does not necessarily mean high-quality software, necessarily.”
He admitted that Nintendo was in a unique position with a pure developer at the heart of its business.
“Luckily Miyamoto is not only a game designer but also one of the management,” he said, “so if he himself knows that a game is unfortunately not ready to go onto market, he can say, ‘No, sorry the schedule has changed’.
“Of course in a lot of companies if the creators are not the business people there tend to be arguments.
“Business people must think primarily about the financial aspect of the company, while the creators want to always brush up on the quality, so there have got to be conflicts all of the time.”
In the full interview, Iwata goes on to lament the specialisation of the game development workforce. He suggested that the common dev studio is these days filled with factory-line workers than skilled carpenters.
“The industry tends to have a less amount of people who can see the overall project, and unfortunately we have not had the general tendency to create the circumstance where each person is able to do that,” he said.