SAN FRANCISCO--In January, the organizers of the Game Developers Conference announced the keynote speaker for this year's event. The name was a familiar--and important--one: Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, who has keynoted GDC three times in the past six years. In 2005, he gave the first details on the Wii--then called the Revolution. In 2006, he returned to announce the DS debut of the Legend of Zelda series with The Phantom Hourglass and offered first details of the Virtual Console. In 2009, he unveiled another Legend of Zelda DS game (Spirit Tracks) and expansions to the company's downloadable catalog with Virtual Console arcade games and high-capacity SD card support with which to store them.
This time around, Iwata will be looking at gaming's yesteryear--and its tomorrow. In a presentation called "Video Games Turn 25: A Historical Perspective and Vision for the Future," the executive will "talk not only about how video gaming has evolved, but also, more importantly, he will offer his views on where we go from here." The title of his speech refers to the 25th anniversary of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which saw a staggered North American release in 1985 and 1986.
[9:04] After some brief introductory remarks from GDC organizers, Iwata takes the stage.
[9:05] He offers humble thanks and then talks about how he talks all the time for work.
[9:05] But he says speaking at GDC is special, because he gets to speak directly to his colleagues.
[9:06] He says that it's a confusing time, and that everyone is vulnerable. "We are all playing gambles, and it's getting scary."
[9:06] He reminds the audience that content is king.
[9:06] He says no matter the time, the need remains the same--content.
[9:07] He tells the developers in the audience that they are the center of the video game universe.
[9:07] Now Iwata segues to a review of the past 25 years of gaming.
[9:08] He talks about how he started programming in college, and he posts a picture of himself from that era.
[9:08] He and some friends started a company called Hal Laboratory.
[9:08] He then started to become familiar with Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto, who also gets a college-era pic flashed on the screen.
[9:09] Iwata was initially a competitor of Miyamoto, but the latter's game far outsold Iwata's.
[9:09] "He taught me a lesson--content really is king!"
[9:10] "And imagination is more important than engineering."
[9:10] Iwata now talks about wearing many hats back in the day and shows hats for game designer, artist, and sound engineer.
[9:10] He jokes about scraping by to pay the rent, and how primitive games were back then.
[9:10] "We were video game cavemen."
[9:11] He says that graphics and memory are much bigger today, but the cost has also gone way up.
[9:12] He says a development cost of $1 million was unthinkable back in the day; now $50 million is common.
[9:12] He said that this massive cost has been offset by the number of gamers.
[9:12] And Nintendo's strategy has been to expand the base even more with the DS and Wii.
[9:13] He said to get more insightful data than NPD, Nintendo has been conducting surveys since 2005.
[9:13] In the US, they surveyed 5,000 people aged 6-74.
[9:15] 45 percent of people played dedicated video game machines in November 2007--by October 2010, that number had jumped to 62 percent.
[9:16] Now he's discussing social network games versus social games.
[9:16] He believes they are two different things.
[9:17] He said that video games of a social nature go back 50 years, all the way back to Spacewar in 1962.
[9:17] By the 1970s, people were already playing text-based games online.
[9:17] Home console machines brought people playing together in the same room.
[9:18] The Atari 2600 had two controllers out of the box.
[9:18] The NES had two controllers as well, and the N64 had up to four.
[9:18] The Wii does as well.
[9:19] Back then, social just meant competing.
[9:20] But Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen introduced a new kind of social gaming in 2004.
[9:20] He says that Nintendo isn't taking credit for everything.
[9:20] He gives Call of Duty, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Network all props for expanding online gaming.
[9:21] He said the big lesson over the past 25 years is what motivates gamers. "In America you have a term for this: 'must-have.'"
[9:21] He thinks the first Game Boy was definitely a must-have, since it allowed portable gaming.
[9:21] But he thinks that technology itself doesn't make something a must-have.
[9:22] He says games can also be must-haves. Examples are Grand Theft Auto, Guitar Hero, Zelda, and Just Dance.
[9:22] He also says that another kind of must-have comes from the players themselves--namely, their desire to stay connected.
[9:23] He holds up World of Warcraft's 12 million subscribers as an example.
[9:24] He says the way to make a game a must-have is to look at the top franchises from the past 25 years.
[9:24] The top franchise? Mario, naturally.
[9:24] He said that when Mario made his debut in Donkey Kong, he was brand new.
[9:24] But he has evolved with each new game to stay fresh.
[9:24] The number two franchise? Pokemon.
[9:25] He said the exchange of Pokemons helped boost its popularity due to its social nature.
[9:25] Number three franchise? Tetris.
[9:25] He said it was the first game to attract a female audience.
[9:26] Number four? The Sims.
[9:26] He said that there was some skepticism since there was no way to win or lose--Sims games have sold 125 million units to date.
[9:27] So the lessons are: Constant improvement, Social Connections, Expanded Audiences, and…Universal Appeal.
[9:28] He now talks about his own personal experiences at Hal, where he helped create Kirby.
[9:28] After disappointing initial orders, they took the first Kirby game to Miyamoto at Nintendo.
[9:28] They suggested some changes and offered to publish the game.
[9:29] The original title for Kirby was Tinkle Popo, which didn't translate so well in the West.
[9:30] To help the game sell in the West, they also changed Kirby's color to white on the box.
[9:30] The game ended up selling 5 million copies.
[9:31] Changing gears, Iwata says that development is the same at Nintendo as it is everywhere else.
[9:31] "If there is a way to make it easy, we haven't discovered it yet."
[9:32] Now he returns to the subject of must-haves, saying he hopes the next must-have will be the 3DS.
[9:33] He says the games that come preinstalled on the unit--Face Raiders, Mii Maker, and the AR games--are designed to make owners show their friends the 3DS.
[9:34] Now Iwata says the WiiWare and DSiWare aren't operating as well as they should have.
[9:35] To talk about new connectivity plans, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime takes the stage.
[9:35] He emphasizes that the 3DS is a game machine, first and foremost.
[9:35] He says two words are key: content and location.
[9:37] He is discussing Netflix on the 3DS, which will be available this summer.
[9:38] He said 3D movie trailers are also coming to the 3DS, starting with Green Lantern this summer.
[9:38] He also said a short-form video service is coming to the 3DS as well, which will be curated by Nintendo.
[9:39] The 3DS will also be able to record 3D video.
[9:40] Now Reggie is talking location, location, location.
[9:41] After talking StreetPass, he segues to SpotPass.
[9:42] He talks about how the SpotPass demos caused sales in nearby stores to increase sixfold.
[9:42] In late May, more than 10,000 AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots will be 3DS hubs.
[9:42] They will be in restaurants, bookstores, cafes, and airports.
[9:43] 3DS will automatically connect to the Internet and will allow for online play and all other 3DS connected functions.
[9:44] He said all this will allow for maximum distribution for developers' content.
[9:44] Now he's talking the Nintendo eShop.
[9:44] It will include the existing DSiWare shop and will have Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Gear, and TurboGrafx-16 games.
[9:45] The eShop will also have 3D-remastered classic Nintendo games.
[9:46] In late May, a system update will add the eShop, a Web browser, DSi store, and the ability to transfer DSi content to the 3DS.
[9:47] Reggie turns it back over to Iwata, who again says the 3DS will be the next must-have.
[9:47] Now he is going to talk about new games.
[9:48] There will be a new Super Mario for the 3DS, from the creators of Super Mario Galaxy.
[9:49] It will be a true 3D title, letting players jump forward and backward.
[9:49] He promises more details at E3 in June.
[9:49] Now he is talking about Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in 3D, which will arrive in June.
[9:50] He is now updating about Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which is shaping up very nicely with the Wii MotionPlus.
[9:51] Cut to a trailer that shows Link slicing and dicing opponents with his sword.
[9:51] Yes, there will be puzzles as well.
[9:51] Iwata is back, and now he will offer some thoughts about the future.
[9:52] He is discussing industry concerns, foremost of which is craftsmanship.
[9:53] He says that the nature of game development today has led to a loss of craftsmanship.
[9:53] Huge projects allow for small details to be lost in the process.
[9:53] He said back in his early days, all developers were generalists, not specialists.
[9:54] This is part of his second concern, talent development.
[9:55] He said the culture of specialization prevents people from seeing the totality of a game.
[9:57] He said that competition is getting stiffer and stiffer and that apps are making it even harder to make games that are profitable.
[9:58] He says the tens of thousands of games generate little revenue and make high-value games less visible.
[9:59] He said that at Nintendo, hardware is just a means to give consumers software. He thinks that Sony and Microsoft think the same way.
[9:59] He said that mobile games, social networks, and app stores have no interest in quality software, just quantity.
[10:00] Since high quantity is how they generate profit.
[10:00] He says that Nintendo's software creates value, and he wants to protect that value.
[10:00] Iwata offers some tips for a game to get noticed.
[10:01] He said the game's appeal must be self-evident immediately, or players will get bored.
[10:01] Second, he said the game's idea must be simply understood so people can recommend it to others.
[10:02] If both conditions are met, then the game will sell itself.
[10:02] He said that this can all be summed up in a single word: innovation.
[10:03] At Nintendo, they ask themselves the question "Is there something impossible we can make possible?" to keep themselves from getting complacent.
[10:04] Wrapping up, he urges developers to "trust their passion" and "believe in their dream."
[10:05] "For 25 years, game developers have made the impossible possible. Why would we stop now?"
[10:05] And that's it!