Nintendo's Decision Making Process Too Slow, Too Safe, Ex-Exec Says

Ex-Nintendo employee Dan Adelman outlines the reasons why firm's "traditional" setup might be hurting the company.

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In a new interview with Dromble, Nintendo's former indie boss Dan Adelman explained why he believes the company's "traditional" nature might be partly to blame for a corporate culture that he said can be "inefficient" and "time-consuming."

"Nintendo is not only a Japanese company, it is a Kyoto-based company," Adelman, who left Nintendo after nine years last summer, said. "For people who aren't familiar, Kyoto-based are to Japanese companies as Japanese companies are to US companies. They’re very traditional, and very focused on hierarchy and group decision making. Unfortunately, that creates a culture where everyone is an adviser and no one is a decision maker--but almost everyone has veto power."

Adelman (left) alongside Super Meat Boy co-creator Tommy Refenes
Adelman (left) alongside Super Meat Boy co-creator Tommy Refenes

Adelman went on to say that even Nintendo's chief, Satoru Iwata, is "often loathe to make a decision that will alienate one of the executives in Japan." As a result, Adelman said getting anything done at Nintendo "requires laying a lot of groundwork," including speaking with all major stakeholders to confirm they are on-board with a proposal.

This issue is even more apparent at Nintendo's subsidiaries, Nintendo of America and Nintendo of Europe, Adelman said. On top of that, ideas can be shot down if someone isn't thrilled, which can lead to the suppression of "bolder" proposals, Adelman explained.

"All of this is not necessarily a bad thing, though it can be very inefficient and time-consuming," he explained. "The biggest risk is that at any step in that process, if someone flat-out says no, the proposal is as good as dead. So in general, bolder ideas don’t get through the process unless they originate at the top."

Nintendo, as a games hardware designer, is renowned for its bold ideas, fro the Wii controller to the dual touch-screen DS.

Adelman outlined two further problems with Nintendo's business makeup, the first of which has to do with aging executives not fully grasping the current gaming landscape. This could be one of the reasons why Nintendo lags behind the likes of Microsoft and Sony as it relates to online gaming and features such as unified account systems, Adelman said.

"At the risk of sounding ageist, because of the hierarchical nature of Japanese companies, it winds up being that the most senior executives at the company cut their teeth during NES and Super NES days and do not really understand modern gaming, so adopting things like online gaming, account systems, friends lists, as well as understanding the rise of PC gaming has been very slow," he said. "Ideas often get shut down prematurely just because some people with the power to veto an idea simply don't understand it."

Finally, Adelman said Nintendo's corporate culture does not do much to reward those who come up with new ideas.

"There is very little reason to try and push these ideas. Risk taking is generally not really rewarded," he said. "Long-term loyalty is ultimately what gets rewarded, so the easiest path is simply to stay the course. I'd love to see Nintendo make a more concerted effort to encourage people at all levels of the company to feel empowered to push through ambitious proposals, and then get rewarded for doing so."

Prior to joining Nintendo in 2005, Adelman worked at Microsoft, where he helped launch Xbox Live Arcade. Adelman quit Nintendo in August 2014 and now works as a business consultant for independent developers.

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