Satoru Iwata took over as chief executive of Nintendo in 2002. The 45-year-old top executive proudly notes in his speeches that he's an avid gamer and former game developer. Working at Nintendo's Hal Laboratory subsidiary, he created games such as "Super Smash Bros." and "Kirby." Nintendo's profits keep growing, but it is under constant attack from Sony and Microsoft, which are both launching new game consoles.
At this month's E3 conference in Los Angeles, Iwata introduced Nintendo's counterattacks, the Revolution game console and the Game Boy Micro handheld. Below are edited excerpts from a conversation he had with Mercury News reporter Dean Takahashi at the noisy Nintendo booth at the show.
Q What were your impressions of the console announcements by Sony and Microsoft?
A The direction that we are heading is completely different from the direction the others are going. They are spending enormous energies on specifications so they can claim an edge in computer graphics. But the result so far is the media and game fans are still not quite satisfied with the resulting graphics. I believe we need to refrain from announcing anything specific about performance right now. The graphics they can generate now are not to be trusted as the real thing. Once they can generate samples of actual machines and we can touch a real controller, that's when we may be able to give an assessment.
Q What was Nintendo's strategy behind not explaining the details about Revolution?
A We don't think it's necessary or very important for anyone to list technology specifications. We have unique ideas about the controller. But it's too early. If we showed them, the others would be able to steal our concepts. We have been through so many nightmares, including announcing the ``rumble pack'' controllers, which we announced first, but our rival introduced it before we did.
Q Nintendo lost market share with the GameCube. What are the lessons for you?
A We should not be too late starting to sell. Immediately after the launch date of the hardware, we need to constantly provide the market with new games. As far as getting games out at the launch, we were OK. But within six months of launching the GameCube, we were unable to supply quality software at a continuous pace. Another point is that people talk about the size of their game library. I don't think quantity is important. Quality is important. We will introduce quality games, one after another.
Q What are your thoughts on the timing of Revolution?
A I'm surprised by the thinking of the other companies. I'm not in a position to announce the dates. When it comes to Nintendo's console timing, we will talk at the end of the year about our plans for 2006. We need to make some more explanation about Revolution at that time. I think it is when you are able to show the actual machine and actual controller. Right now it's too early. Others are showing things that are speculation. They are working on an assumption that they can provide the same performance as what they show in a pre-rendered movie on a PC.
Q What is Nintendo's game development strategy?
A As the numerous examples in the past have shown, with the GameCube, we don't believe the first to approach game developers should win automatically. More important is to have an accurate, down-to-earth proposal about what we want them to do and what the machine will do. We will not be too late in doing so. When we can show them a very complete proposal, we are certain we can win over developers.
Q What is the target of the Game Boy Micro?
A To put it simply, the Nintendo DS (a handheld system with two screens, with a touch stick) is for those who want to experience a new kind of game. The Game Boy Micro is smaller and is most suited for those who want quick and handy game play.
A lot of people play games on their cell phones on trains. That kind of game is of limited quality. This can fit in your chest pocket, and the games are high quality.
Q ``Nintendogs,'' where you train and raise your dog on the DS, looks like a creative game. Beyond that, what will help with adoption of new games?
A We are doing a number of different things. We are co-developing a game, if you can call it a game, with a university professor who studies the brain. This game let's you work on your math skills on the DS. We tried this on people in their 60s and 70s, and they showed no hesitation in playing it.