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Nintendo’s President on Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire

A bi-weekly financial magazine for “top executives,” Zaikai (check the website here) recently conducted a lengthy interview with Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Nintendo Japan and the man in charge of all things Nintendo.

Yamauchi has always believed that a game needs to focus on gameplay rather than graphics. He said in the answer to the first question, “There really are just an overwhelmingly huge number of people out there that know nothing about the business of games.” He went further by saying that venture capitalists “give money to people that really should be unemployed, and they in turn round up some friends, start a company and begin creating software.” Obviously he’s not a big fan of start-up companies.

But he might just have had a point when he said, “The more amazing graphics and sound you put into a game, the longer it takes to finish. Not just a year, but now, more like a year and a half or two years. So then your development costs balloon, and when you finally put it out you have zero guarantee of it selling. That’s what the game industry is today.” So many games today focus more on the beautiful graphics than the gameplay. Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire keep getting more and more gorgeous — but most of the basic gameplay is as old as the first game released for the 3ds.

Yamauchi had some predictions to go with this focus on glitz rather than quality: “I’ve been saying since last year that this industry will undergo a major shakeout between now and next year. The general public doesn’t realize it yet, but most people in the industry know it’s happening. I’ve just been saying that pretty soon, even the public will be forced to recognize what’s going on.” It’s already happening in the states — game websites like Gamecenter and Gamers.com are losing people (or just shutting down), and that’s just a symptom of the larger problem — the tech industry (which includes games) is suffering right now.

The killer thing about the game industry, though, is that it hinges purely on non-essential entertainment. Yamauchi said, “The thing with this industry is, no one actually needs what it produces.” As much as we’re all addicted to videogames, you have to admit — if we had to live without Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, we could. It’s not like we require games in order to survive (although it does feel that way sometimes). Yamauchi continued: “We produce entertainment — and there’s a million other kinds of entertainment out there. If the game industry went away, it’s not like people would keel over and die on the street. If it came to pass that people started saying ‘These games are all stupid, I gotta stop playing them all the time,’ then what do you think would happen? You don’t need games to live, after all, so the market could fall right out. It could even shrink to a tenth of what it was.”

That’s a scary thought, and not just because we’d all be out of a job. Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire have become a big part of our culture, and as much as we hate to admit it, it’s possible for that culture to pass by like the reign of the hippity-hop. But it won’t happen anytime soon. Check the latest updates on Pokemon ORAS roms if you haven’t yet at.

Yamauchi did show that as much as we might bash him for saying things that are out of control, he really does have a good head for the business. He said, “The average Pokemon gamer’s perspective has gradually shifted over the years. They’re getting sick of games that are nothing but graphics and force; they want something to play that’s actually fun. So why are companies still aiming for nothing but graphics and force?” That’s a very good point. Many people hammered the N64 because of its lack of FMV and its inability to produce games along the grandeur of games on the PSOne. But Super Mario 64 is still an all-time favorite of many. The Game Boy Color is based on a system that’s 12 years old, yet it still accounts for almost half of all consoles sold — nearly more than all other systems combined. And the graphics and sound are really not that great; it’s really the games (and its portable nature, of course) that make it popular.

Yamauchi also has some strong feelings about multiple platforms — that is, he thinks it’s a horrible idea because it means users don’t have to get a particular system; they can just get the cheapest one in order to play the game. He says, “In the game business, software is our lifeblood. If that software becomes the same everywhere then there’ll be zero difference between companies. The marketplace will just turn into a giant hardware war.” It’s already something of a hardware war, but many people forget that it’s also a software war. Which game is better — Metal Gear Solid 2 for PS2 or Shenmue for Dreamcast?

Yamauchi understands the reasoning for porting Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire to other platforms — to sell more copies and therefore recoup losses due to high production costs. But he has a grim outlook on the results. He said, “If the software was the same no matter which system you buy, then the only point we’d be able to sell on is price. This industry is based on producing fun, innovative games, but if that goes away then we’re all done for. That’s why, even though I understand where software houses are coming from, I think ultimately it could break apart the industry.”

Nintendo’s Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire only run on Nintendo’s consoles, and no one else’s. Our aim is to get people to think Nintendo’s games are the greatest, the best in the world. We’re devoting all of our effort to that right now, and we’ll be able to show our efforts to the world this year.