If you're anything like me, you probably grew up in front of a TV playing the latest games the day they came out. I was practically raised in front of my Nintendo Entertainment System, and while I'm sure it didn't benefit me much in terms of popularity as a kid, I owe much of my otaku-hood to that grey box that I spent so many years blowing dust out of. In fact, I'm not even sure I'd be here writing this today if it weren't for the hours I spent defeating dragon lords, rescuing princesses, or killing vampires with holy water and whips.
As you can imagine, when I was approached to review the book, Nintendo Magic: Winning the Videogame Wars, I lept at the chance to learn more about one of my favorite companies of all time. While the company may have fallen out of favor with me in recent years, no doubt due in part to their focus on casual games and inability to pander to my lust for violence and slightly more mature content, I've continued to be amazed by their ability to flourish in an industry so seemingly consumed with the power of their own processors, and next-generation appeal.
So how did they do it? Nintendo Magic has all the answers and more. Learn all about it after the jump.
Nintendo Magic: Winning the Videogame Wars
Osamu Inoue (Author), Paul Tuttle Starr (Translator)
If you were to simply pick up the book and start reading, Nintendo Magic and seem rather daunting -- that is to say, you'll likely encounter paragraph after paragraph of numbers and statistics throughout the forward. In fact, it might even come off as a bit boring, much akin to sitting through one of those dreadful GDC presentations that every press member has come to know and love -- you know, the stuff they usually talk about before you get to see any footage of upcoming releases. Perseverance pays off though, as the author, Osamu Inoue, actually keeps it fairly light on statistics from the first chapter on.
After the, dare I say long-winded forward, the first few chapters deal with the challenge of developing the DS, its fantastic sales figures and how Nintendo's priorities differ from that of their rivals. One example of this being the reason for Nintendo President, Satoru Iwata's, absence during the launch of the Nintendo DS in Japan due to a business meeting regarding the development of Brain Age, while a week later, Ken Kutaragi was handing the first PSP to customers waiting in line, rather than focusing on developing his product. From what the book claims, this is just one of many examples of Nintendo's focus and dedication.
That chapter was followed by another, detailing the ten year battle with Sony and its domination of the market following the success of its Playstation and Playstation 2 consoles. While the author tends to credit Sony for the successes that it had experienced, his notes regarding the failures of Nintendo during the later half of the 90s, and during the early part of the last decade, tend to omit a few potential contributing factors, while praising Nintendo for the ingenuity of their consoles of that era.
Inoue doesn't hide the fact that the Nintendo 64 was crushed under the weight of its own power -- or as some might argue, lack there of -- or that the Gamecube was a victim of an ever shrinking audience of Nintendo loyalists, but glossing over the fact that the Nintendo 64 was incredibly expensive to develop and publish games for, or that the Gamecube failed to clench the exclusivity of many third party developers was a definite oversight on his part. Still, it is interesting to see how Nintendo decided to take a whole new direction, effectively increasing its market share by creating a market of its own after having realized that it would never be able to steal the existing market from Sony or Microsoft.
Subsequent chapters of the book detail Nintendo's structure with an emphasis on its business practices. It does an excellent job of profiling the individuals in the company, such as Iwata and Miyamoto, who've contributed to its success in light of what was, at one point, a diminished market share and the subsequent financial recession that threatened the global economy as a whole. Inoue attributes much of the success to Iwata and his accessibility -- a trait that his predecessor apparently lacked, or at least didn't feel was quite as necessary.
There are also some other interesting sections of the book such as a chapter that compares and contrasts Nintendo with Apple and another discussing the ruggedness of Nintendo products and their ability to withstand quite a bit of punishment. An example of such would include the charred Game Boy on display in Rockefeller Center that survived a bomb explosion during the first Gulf War, and if you can believe it, it still works -- it's currently displaying a demo of Tetris. A few more chapters deal with Nintendo's concepts of originality, their interesting priority of software before hardware, and the roots from which the company sprang -- Hanafuda cards and the like.
Finally, the book has a few tidbits on the threat of the iPhone and the casual gaming market. Inoue points out that Apple has effectively beaten Iwata at his own game by encouraging more developers to enter the market. Still, he doubts Nintendo is worried -- their sales figures alone may be more than enough to warrant their indifference -- especially taking into consideration factors such as quality control and profitability.
In the end, I certainly recommend giving the book a read. Inoue provides us with an interesting and unique perspective on the inner-workings of Nintendo and given their propensity to remain silent about their practices, its a perspective that you'll likely find nowhere else. If you're interested, the book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, and should be in stores as early as next week.
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