GDC 06: Nintendo rallies the faithful

President Satoru Iwata lays out strategy for developers going forward; next-gen console talked about but not shown. Full presentation coverage inside.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--With Sony having just revealed a slew of PlayStation 3 details and Microsoft not slated for a keynote address at the 2006 Game Developers Conference, much of the focus leading into the three-day convention in San Jose was on Nintendo.

Though most hoped for some solid Revolution news to come from Nintendo president Satoru Iwata's keynote address, the publisher's head honcho seemed more interested in discussing Nintendo's approach to the development process. This was GDC after all, a convention targeted at game designers.

Product announcements were minimal, with the DS debut of the Legend of Zelda series being the keynote's biggest surprise. The main news about the company's next-generation console was of the partnership with Sega and HudsonSoft to include portions of their Genesis and TurboGrafx-16 back catalogs as downloadable offerings for the system's virtual-console feature. A price, release date, and rumored name change of the console were noticeably absent from the keynote, as was the system itself.

The theme of Iwata's keynote was "Disrupting Development," an apt topic for the innovative company and one-time leader in the gaming market. As the attendees filed in to the San Jose Convention Center Civic Auditorium, indie rock blared through the PA system, and PR reps scrambled to make sure everything was orderly. The informality of the session was clear as Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo's vice president of marketing, mingled with the crowd, even spending time to chat up an adoring teenage fan.

The scheduled 10:30 a.m. keynote got off to a slow start, with the most exciting part of the wait being an accidental preview of what one would assume was the impending PowerPoint presentation. Among the slides were pictures of the Brain Age game's logo, and surprisingly, some American snack food, including bags of Cheetos and Fritos.

While some joked that Nintendo's big announcement would be the company's decision to leave the gaming business and join the ranks of junk-food providers, the real answer came shortly after the keynote's 10:47 a.m. start.

After a brief introduction by GDC director Jamil Moledina, Iwata took the stage to thunderous applause. After poking fun of the good old days known as the 1980s, Iwata reiterated Nintendo's idea to "reconsider strategy," "redefine business," and "expand the market"--three topics that would repeatedly be drilled into the heads of the attendees.

Iwata used the example of PepsiCo, which had the gargantuan task of competing against market heavyweight The Coca-Cola Company. Rather than ask, "How can we (Pepsi) sell more cola?" Iwata stated, the people at Pepsi asked, "What else do people want to drink?" A slide on the center screen then showed Gatorade and Aquafina, as well as the aforementioned bags of Fritos, Cheetos, and Doritos, which the affable Iwata jokingly called "the three basic food groups."

It was PepsiCo's disruptive thinking that Iwata chose as a model for Nintendo's current path in the gaming industry.

"Pepsi demonstrates how thinking differently and holding to a strategy can disrupt the market in a good way," he said, and then declared that the gaming industry was ready for that same disruptive thinking.

Nintendo's bread and butter is the handheld industry, which it has dominated since the release of the Game Boy in 1989. Iwata was happy to tell the attendees that the trend is continuing, pointing out that the Game Boy Advance sold 6 million units in its first 21 months on the market.

However, Nintendo's latest offering into the handheld market has surpassed even its GBA. The Nintendo DS, first released in late 2004 in Japan, sold 6 million units in two-thirds the time as its elder sibling, reaching the milestone in just 14 months. The reason for the DS's success wasn't just that games looked better on the machine, Iwata said, it was how the software took advantage of the innovative hardware to attract new customers.

The best example of Nintendo's ability to reach nongamers and casual gamers is the Brain Training series, which has been a top-seller in Japan. Iwata outlined Nintendo's out of the box thinking by telling the story of how the Brain Training games came about, much to the delight of the audience.

"Where did this idea [for the Brain Training games] come from? I'm sure you could guess. It came from where all great ideas come from: our board of directors," Iwata half-joked.

The elder statesmen of the board sought a game that they could play, something that Japan's rapidly growing senior population could latch onto and be entertained by. Nintendo then turned toward one of the more popular books in Japan at the time, Train Your Brain: 60 Days to a Better Brain by Dr. Ryu Kawashima. Iwata thought that if Nintendo could somehow build a game around the book, players would be eager to compete against each other and compare scores, and so he became determined to meet Dr. Kawashima.

However, the doctor wasn't as easy to get a hold of as Iwata had hoped. Kawashima agreed to meet with Iwata for one hour--on the same day as the DS's launch in Japan. Iwata had no choice and made the journey to see Kawashima. The two exchanged ideas, the one-hour meeting turned into a three-hour brainstorming session, and when Kawashima brought out a device that "looked like it was from a sci-fi movie," Iwata knew he was on to something.

While the two were excited about the idea, Nintendo realized that the public and retailers wouldn't readily take to it so quickly.

"The idea came from the belief that people wanted something new, and it took the form of a treadmill for the mind. The only way to get people to like [the games] was for the people to play them." Thus began Nintendo's grassroots campaign. Employees of the company were told to bring the game home, and show it off to friends and family.

Iwata then invited Bill Trinen, the head of Nintendo America's localization team, onto the stage to show a demo of Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day. Trinen ran through the game's features, which include more than 100 Sudoku puzzles. Though he dazzled the audience with his quick thinking in a demonstration of a memory exercise, he used the available star power in the audience to show how rookies fare with the game.

Trinen asked Moledina, Maxis' Will Wright, and G4 TV's Geoff Keighly to join him onstage, where four stations with DSes were. The four played through a few mathematical Brain Age minigames, and each player's screen was shown on large projections for the audience to see. Trinen smoked his competitors in the first round with a Brain Age score of 20 years old (Moledina scored 37, Wright 41, and Keighly 66). A second round of demos proved that experience helped the rookies, as each of their scores improved dramatically.

Iwata returned to the stage, and after piquing the interest of the crowd with the entertaining demo, began to talk about Japan's reaction to the problem-solving title. Though the game got off to a slow start in the country, Iwata's idea clearly worked. The initial retail order for the first game in the series was only 70,000 copies in Japan. When the second edition came out, it was greeted with an initial retail order that ballooned to about 850,000 copies.

"The same thing might work here in America," Iwata said, looking toward the game's US launch next month. "As you leave, please take a copy of Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day and show it to your friends." A stunned audience sat still for a moment, before registering that Nintendo was giving every attendee a copy of the game and applauding enthusiastically.

Iwata then went on to hype the success of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, claiming that the service has netted 1 million users and 29 million sessions. His attitude toward developing the online service was simple--"The experience must be easy and fun," he said.

After a brief demo of the multiplayer mode in Metroid Prime: Hunters, Iwata moved on to the day's biggest announcement for Nintendo fans--The Legend of Zelda is coming to the Nintendo DS. Subtitled "Phantom Hourglass," the game will (naturally) use both screens and the stylus. The game is scheduled for release "later this year," but Iwata did not reveal what region the release date was for. Regardless, it will be playable at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in May.

Next, Iwata turned the discussion toward the Revolution. Clearly speaking to the developers in the audience, Iwata talked about the origins of the system's much ballyhooed controller. He reiterated what he had previously said about the controller: that it should be wireless, approachable, sophisticated enough for complex games, and "revolutionary."

The rocky road to the controller's development (two employees did nothing but sketch ideas for its design for months) was a lesson from Iwata to developers: take your idea and stick with it.

The keynotes second biggest news came next, when Iwata revealed that games featured on the Sega Genesis and HudsonSoft's TurboGrafx-16 console would be available for download on the Revolution. "New is good, but there is also an appetite for old," he said. There will be more than 1,000 games from the Sega partnership alone, but he noted that "not all of the games will be available, but the best will."

Iwata, who by this time had won the crowd's affection, wrapped up with a serious request for the industry.

"The most important story of all is still to be told. I hope you all, the creative force, will help us write it...It should be our goal, each of us, to reach new players. It should be our goal to convince people of one thing...video games are meant to be just one thing--fun."

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Discussion

150 comments
dillon_o4
dillon_o4

Yay now I know the same thing we have known sence they announced the Rev............ nothing YAY!!!! Anyone else notice the only news there has been about it sence the announcement they were making it is the controller period. That's It.

LanceK17
LanceK17

GO IWATA!!! GO NINTENDO!!!

roonagraphics
roonagraphics

nintendo has ther ups and downs remember the hype recieve but hey who cares nintendo rules with innovation and simplicity, yea go NINTENDO

LUIGI205
LUIGI205

And this was just GDC...I can't imagine what they will show at E3!

dounowhatiam
dounowhatiam

i so excited about zelda(s) (as in more then one) the rev e3 games that are going to come ds lite all my most fav game ever in one console all the new ways to play and genres and games there is no way ms and sony can ever top this unless there giveing there console out for free. watch out world Nintendo is takeing over!! Viva la Nintendo

IhateMario
IhateMario

The last thing he said touch my heart, Viva Nintendo!

Bengameaholic
Bengameaholic

All very interesting. Zelda on the DS is fantastic!

nintensivo
nintensivo

nintendo is taking the control of the videogame bussines

Warfust
Warfust

Great news for those of us that grew up with the old systems! It does seem that Nintendo is going to come back in a big way, the innovation should outshine the mass marketing of MS and Sony.

roonagraphics
roonagraphics

thats frickin awsesome hurray for me and nintendoo.

manicfoot
manicfoot

Yaaay new Zelda. I'm glad they've gone for the cell-shaded look. It really suits the DS. As for Revolution, we'll obviously have to wait until E3 and I seriously can't wait. I just hope it's out in the UK before Christmas.

Blacksamurai87
Blacksamurai87

Did anyone else notice in the Revolution display video that there was a component signal port on the back of the Revolution? Yeah, it's the same port that the Gamecube has, and I assume that Nintendo will allow High Definition on the Revolution.

Chilling_Fire
Chilling_Fire

Wow, the Revolution sounds like it's going to be the greatest thing to ever happen to video games. And that was before the GDC announcement. Also, a Legend of Zelda for DS is awesome. I have seen the trailer about 20 times and sucked all the information I can out of it. It looks fantastic. Can't wait for the end of the year!

Taegukki
Taegukki

This makes me even more excited about E3!! Only a little over a month to go!!!

darkpaladin99
darkpaladin99

well Nintendo is just making a better gameplan. First Twilght Princess on the Rev. A Zelda game for the Ds and 1000 sega games. I do not see how Microsoft will comete with those numbers. Oh dont forget the Ds Lite. So they just made alot of money that way. Hey and what does Sony have... Warhawk for E3. THat game stinks and should not be played ever again. WOw and what about the 360... all they got is Halo. Yay its Halo. But to break it down for you; your going to need alot to beat what Nintendo is doing. Man why does E3 have to be so long from now. Cannot wait for the better graphics and the more levels in Twilght Princess. i see best game ever in the future no doubt about it. Another awesome thing is the Rev is going to have its own exclusive games because of that controller. Sony or Microsoft cant play some of Nintendos new games because their controller is insignifcant to the Revs

kaziechameleon
kaziechameleon

i'm so happy i might just go buy a ds. nintendo brings a tear to my eye, i hope they rock in the next gen, microsoft looks to have gotten its footing, and nintendo is garnering great critical acclaim i hope that the revolution will be atleast if not more successful than the ds.

gatsbythepig
gatsbythepig

amazing. I'll buy a ds just to get the game.

Warrior1991
Warrior1991

the zelda ds game is going to be cool!

thano85
thano85

i cant wait for the Revo! Its gonna be so sweet! I never had a chance of playing Sega consoles growing up, the first one was the DC (which was great!). This will be a great opportunity to play some classic megadrive/genesis games!

Da_Mainman_3
Da_Mainman_3

Reading this reminded me of something important; Nintendo were rumoured a while back to be asking second and thrid-party developers for the rights to reproduce their old games in the Revo catalogue. Now, people took that to mean that there was a good chance that even Rareware's old games would be brought back into the limelight, and that Europe could finally see the likes of Earthbound and Crono Trigger. And now we hear that former rival consoles are jumping into the BNR (that's the Big Nintendo Revolution, people), the prospect of seeing the best of the non-nintendo games re-released is something that will be on everyone's mind at least until E3.

GCN49
GCN49

i cannot wait for the Revoluion!!!!!!! ... it'll fit nicely in my entertainment center, about 6 inches to the left of my XBox 360... oh yes... and BOTH for the price of one PS3... heh heh... alllright........ the end of this year is gonna be so sweet... oh yeah...

Lupus64
Lupus64

Awesome, can't wait for all the retro goodness! Iwata is such a legend, he really understands the two things that occupy our minds besides games: Cola and Corn Chips. Viva the Big N!!!

MgunHunter
MgunHunter

I want a free copy of Brain Age! lol. Oh well, its cool that Nintendo's being so generous.

alienseamonkey
alienseamonkey

Revolution + XBOX 360 same price as the PS3! I'm not strictly a Nintendo, Microsoft or Sony fan but I am a fan of getting the most for your money. I bet for the cost of one PS3 (when it comes out) you could get an Xbox 360 PLUS a Nintendo Revolution. To me that simply sounds like the best of both worlds. Retro gaming at its best and next gen gameplay.

1sean
1sean

Comment yahmean.

mista_saki
mista_saki

god bless nintendo, curse sony and microsoft and make iwata a GOD!

phillycheez
phillycheez

trust me lageasy311, a lot of older people actually like playing games that make you think. just think of all the people that like to do crossword puzzle or word games that are on the internet. hell even freaking Scrabble. also there was a series from a while back called You Don't Know Jack. it actually sold pretty well too and had multiple iterations. by releasing this brain game, Nintendo is branching out from the core demographic of 16-24 year olds. seriously though, if that core demographic actually played some of the brain games more often though, there would be less name calling on game forums because some noob can't spell worth a damn :p.

lageasy311
lageasy311

no matter what who wants to play gmes that make you learn?? It might seem fun for a minute, but cmon we play games for entertainment not to learn......still might be kinda fun but still, i just don't see this dominating....I'm not knocking nintendo im just thining right now.....Japan DOES like weird games (at least to us there weird) but who is going to be like "mommy mommy get me that brain training game" not on america's freedom if you ask me.

Berem
Berem

Oh and also, just to give you an idea of Revolutions "graphics" compared to 360: Rev graphics is 2x that of gamecube. There is not one game on xbox 360 that is 2x better looking than halo 2 on xbox... not even close.

Berem
Berem

Whoever said the revolution was going to have the graphics of an xbox 1 is not very smart. They said the power of the Rev will be 2-3 TIMES the power of the gamecube, which in my opinion has better graphics than xbox.. look at Resident Evil 4. If you have been paying any attention to Nintendo at ALL, you should realise its not about graphics anyways, its about GAMEPLAY. Nintendo is Revolutionizing the way we PLAY games, not just the way you LOOK at them. Microsoft couldnt think of anything besides making the graphics better.. thats why you leave it to Nintendo to think of the ideas, and everyone else to copy them. Every system out there that isnt Nintendo has copied Nintendo on something. Every. One.

dadesigner
dadesigner

Satoru Iwata just became my hero. I have been a faithful Nintendo fanboy since NES and will remain one till the end. The Revolution in retro spective is a combination of old and new and the future of Nintendo. Nintendo is all that and a bag of chips.

MadonnaProject
MadonnaProject

Yes of course the xbox 360 is a souped up xbox. What the hel do you people expect a more powerful iteration of the console to be? what should it include? dishwasher? clothes dryer? or maybe it should have a bug killer?Sure the xbox 360 shares the xbox name, but the INSIDES are completely different to the original xbox. Graphics chip and the main processor....why do you people B*TCH about the xbox being the same? If being the same is an issue then 20 years of nintendo gaming, and basically remakes of mario kart, super smash bros, and whatever theyre going to come out wiht on the revolution should have you running for the hills in arms. The two most powerful consoles of next gen would be the 360 and the ps3, with the ps3 theoretically being slightly more powerful.The revolution is supposed to be as powerful as the xbox 1. the only thing thats so friggin "special" about it is the damn controller. That can be easily adapted in a similar version for the 360 and the ps3, and it probably is happening as we speak. Where does that leave nintendo? when the one thing theyre doing different is taken away as well? ill tell you where, it leaves them with a weak last gen xbox console, with a huge brute force margin, atracting small publishing houses, and making gimmick games like WHACK A MOLE REVOLUTION. besides does anyone in here even know that nintendo is probably going to come out with a more NORMAL controller as well?

niels200683
niels200683

Mariokart64fan wrote; 'wow bout time 4 players out of the boxbut graphical update alone wont help and with no more free online 360 makes ps3 look like a toy' Well... it is a toy... But I also agree with Ninty being first in everything (bar gamecube). First shoulder buttons, first actual gamePAD, first analogue controller, first TRULY analogue shoulder buttons... first and only 3d imagery (virtual boy... flopped but still...) first portable game device etc... I still liked the gamegear better than gameboy, too bad it had only few great games (go sonic!.. 3d sonics suck though...) But come on, how can anyone bash this machine? It'll probably be sold under 150 dollars, has full motion controller capabilities, all the retro classics you can swallow and need & the return of the greats (zelda, mario, metroid & smash bros.) I can't wait...

MrPuzzlez
MrPuzzlez

NIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINTENDO, WOOO-HOO!!!!

mhder
mhder

I wish people would stop dissing Nintendo. They basically brought the industry back to life. All the developers that exist today have been somehow influenced by Nintendo. I think every major game developer out there would credit Nintendo to some extent yet there are people out there who want to see Nintendo fail. They've created the industry, created the developers whose games you play now and people still diss them...

Steelerfan526
Steelerfan526

madonna project you are sreiuosly wrong first off nintendo invented the industry not microsoft get your head out of the clouyds nintendo is making real progress when microsoft next gen is basically a suped up xbox im all for xbox but microsoft did not make real oprogress long live the revolution

Steelerfan526
Steelerfan526

nintendo is still in it long live the revolution

megabig
megabig

Nintendo thx for making sega come bvack man there are raw oh can't wait to play jet force gemini

mariokart64fan
mariokart64fan

madonna thats so not true about a policy that dont exist , look at gc it had mariokart doubledash and fzero gx in the same yr and even marioparty5 so thats 3 aaa titles in one yr , ds is no different last yr we saw nintendogs and mariokartds and whether you liked the game or not yoshi touch and go all in one yr

mariokart64fan
mariokart64fan

drkill09 nintendo was never behind , its 64 over powered that of the ps1 plus while ps1 still had 2 controller ports nintendo went and doubled to 4 same with this gen sony kept the worst thing ever 2 c ontroller ports and still lagged behind the competition graphics wise , nintendo is pulling ahead next gen for sure free online dvd playback and maybe even cd playback sony does that (well not free online any more) and revolution updates the gcs graphical capabilities like ps3 and x360 does for their prodecessors so with all that name anything other then hdtv required bs that revolution doesnt do- you can not name nothing since i named every single thing it cant do , so shut up and stop complaining , its sony thats been behind the times but you played so much ps all your life to even realise that look at psp did that do anything to revolutionize handhelds no a big screen , 128bit graphics dont revolutionize nothing nor does the flopped umd disc format psp 2 will never come ds lite as if ds isnt already ahead of psp will make ds more and more ahead same for ps3 , wow bout time 4 players out of the boxbut graphical update alone wont help and with no more free online 360 makes ps3 look like a toy

MadonnaProject
MadonnaProject

Big deal. The guy blew hot air out of his anus about changing everything. Then compared gaming strategies to cola. Only some japanese chump could get away with somehting like this. If this guy was from Microsoft people would have labelled him an american idiot. It would be a miracle if the upcoming zelda for the ds is going to be released thsi year. It would topple the recent nintendo policy of releasing ONE, or TWO tops, big name games for their consoles per year.My guess is mario bros this year, zelda hourgass the next.

jono128
jono128

"It should be our goal to convince people of one thing...video games are meant to be just one thing--fun." Amen.