On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer. – Satoru Iwata
Don’t Forget Your Past, But Don’t Resent Either
When I was little, I was sick a lot and had asthma, and after I switched schools, I was bullied for a while. Through these experiences, I saw the world through the eyes of the weak. My first job happened to be at a small company that was weaker, by comparison, than larger companies. But seeing the world through the eyes of the weak was an incredibly valuable experience for me. Even after becoming president of Nintendo, which was far from a weak position, I could never lose sight of my earlier experiences, nor do I look back on those hard times and feel any resentment whatsoever.
I used to be on the programming side of making games. Now I develop new hardware and platforms. My work has changed tremendously, in volume and substance, but deep down, my mentality and stance are basically the same. I may no longer be a programmer, sitting down with everyone and writing programs, but I’ll always count myself as one of the creators.
What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? Management means figuring this out and leading the company in a direction that helps everyone’s strengths flourish and keeps their weaknesses in check.
Keep Your Doors Open
Sometimes people have the potential to excel but get in their own way, telling themselves, “I’m bad at this, there’s no way I can do this.” Nobody in the whole world starts off their career thinking, “I have a knack for management.” But time and again I’ve seen people who despise management, who say “I’m a creative, there’s nothing else for me,” change their point of view and realize, “Hey, teaching people stuff is pretty fun.”
These abilities had been there all along, but they simply hadn’t noticed. When they finally realized, they were able to expand in ways they never would have dreamed of.
Know Your Team
If everyone is dedicated and passionate, they all think, “I’m the one who’s right.” When everyone is going in different directions, what’s the best way to conduct things? Soon after landing my first job, I became responsible for development. In a certain sense, this was great practice for my work as a manager.
Being human means having potential. I see the role of the organization as making sure that everybody’s latent potential is fostered as effectively as possible. The organization will squander its resources if energy is wasted on irrelevant tasks, but if you can direct that energy to the right place, you can exert incredible influence on the outside world.
Set Goals & Communicate Them
I firmly believe in the importance of setting goals, even when the goals are without precedent. If you simply keep piling on features, one after the next, things get crowded and the end result is bulky. But if you have a clear vision for what you want, you can say “Let’s do it this way” and work your way backward from there. Granted, a president can’t just say “Let’s do it this way” once and expect everybody to share their vision. People need to hear the same thing over and over, but before long, something that you’ve said will stick. They’ll realize, “Oh, that’s what they mean.” One person will get the gist, and then two more, and so on, until everybody realizes: “Nintendo set this as a goal. That’s why we’re here.” That way everyone can share the same vision for the foreseeable future. Of course, this may mean sounding like a broken record for a while.
The fact that the Nintendo DS was such a hit and the Wii was hugely popular all over the world comes down to a matter of luck. The one thing I can say with confidence, though, is that, as a company, Nintendo works incredibly hard to make good fortune come our way. Then again, the world is full of cases where people tried just as hard but luck wasn’t on their side and things didn’t work out.
I’ve been thinking: people waste time worrying about problems that can’t be solved by worrying. If worrying would solve the problem, then I’d say go ahead and worry, but somehow we can’t stop ourselves even when worrying solves nothing and leaves us empty-handed.
Rethink When People Say It’s “Too Much”
Picture yourself at restaurant. A customer looks at their food and says it’s “too much.” When a person says “too much,” what makes them see things that way? At the root, the problem isn’t about there being too much, but rather about the food being unappealing. Plenty of times, things can look excessive when there really isn’t too much there. If you overlook the unappealing aspect, and simply reduce the portion, it won’t make any difference. If the problem is about it being unappealing, you need to fix the unappealing thing. At first glance, the idea of scaling back because it was too much may seem like a solution, but it solves nothing.
“Creating things that people can enjoy regardless of age, gender, or background,” the stance I take when carrying out the mission of Nintendo, has certain things in common with ideas like “The simpler the functionality, the better” or “Things should be easy to use” or “When a customer has too many choices, they get confused,” the corporate philosophy of Apple—or more specifically the value system of Steve Jobs. On the other hand, Apple clearly specializes in technology, while Nintendo focuses on entertainment. This results in massive differences in priority. Make no mistake, I would without hesitation choose to make a product sturdier over making it 0.5 millimeters thinner. And I don’t think Apple needs to subject the iPod to the sort of endurance testing where it’s dropped repeatedly from the height of a bicycle basket. If Apple and Nintendo have something in common, it’s increasing appeal through simplification. As you develop an idea, things begin to simplify. But on the whole, we’re different, because of differences in priority.
Know Your Priorities
When you’re making a game, at first there are so many things you want to do, but piling on all the features you want won’t make the game superior. When you figure out exactly “what is necessary for this game,” a world of possibilities will open up. So, rather than tossing in whatever you want, it’s good to remember the creative power of paring back.
When working on a project, I’ve found that what really counts is not what you add, but what you throw away and what you decide to leave out. What I find so fascinating is that whenever you’re making something, you have this steady stream of chances to incorporate all kinds of technical pieces. But for the most part, you pass them up, deciding “now isn’t the time.” I’m not sure whether this metaphor is good or bad, but designing hardware is like sitting down at a conveyor belt sushi bar, gazing at all of the different technical pieces making the rounds. Watching them go, you see a piece and say “That one!” and take it off the belt. That’s what designing hardware is like for me.
Learn To Work With Constraints
Some say that constraint is the mother of creativity.
A game doesn’t need to be like an encyclopedia. As long as you have a good idea and the right angle, it can be closer to a magazine or comic. When putting a game together, it’s fundamentally about “if I do this, I can’t do that” and “since these two things have that kind of a relationship, they make something interesting when combined.” Today’s games tend not to revolve around one interesting feature, but complicated combinations. This is what makes them unsatisfying. That’s what happens when the design is based on the idea of “more, more, more.”
Exchange Feedback Consistently
When people receive feedback about what they’ve done, they feel more motivated the next time around. But without feedback, nothing is sustainable. Feedback is our reward, what keeps us going. The world of video games uses this to its advantage and is fundamentally designed around the feedback people offer after an experience. This feedback might be pleasant or it might be unpleasant, but the real question is how you can incorporate it to keep these people with you, to keep them interested and excited. This sort of thing is always on my mind when I create.
It makes me happy when people have fun playing our video games, but I’m not hoping for other amusements to fall by the wayside. I want people to play video games, but I also want them to experience other kinds of games from an early age. When I was little, I had fun playing all kinds of different ways, and I truly value those experiences.
No part of my experience has turned out to be a waste of time.
I always want to find a way to be involved. In every case, I’d rather be involved than be a bystander. Whether that means helping somebody in need, or making someone smile, or making customers happy, I want to be involved, contributing to the solution. I cringe at the thought of acknowledging a chance to be involved but staying out of it, telling myself, “I know if I chipped in, things would get better, that I could make a positive contribution, but I don’t think it’s worth the effort.” That’s not the way I’ve lived my life. Refusing to turn down these chances has been difficult at times, but it’s also led me to all kinds of interesting things. My thought is that I want to live with no regrets, and use all of the energy I have.
Since way back when, my motto has been “Whenever I work with someone, I want them to say, ‘I’d love to work with you again next time.’” I’m deeply invested in making this come true. The last thing I’d want is for them to say they’d just as soon never see me again.