Social game developers need a wake up call: Why Nintendo’s Iwata is (partially) right

Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata is under a lot of fire for devaluing the plethora of social games and mobile games. He said that these platforms don’t maintain the quality of video games in comparison to those created for consoles and that quantity is replacing quality.

I don’t know why people are upset about this statement because it is, for the large part, extremely true. However, Iwata is going down the wrong path if he wants to use quality and quantity as indicators of good games, because now and then, you see a really innovative social game. Nintendo tries to make 5 good games a year, while there are thousands of app-based games developed in a year,  two or three of which become very successful and a few dozen that are “okay.” It’s hard to compare. We shouldn’t be making comparisons to begin with.

The potential problem that I see is that it takes a lot of resources to make a successful, creative game. By resources, I don’t necessarily mean money, although money can help. I’m talking more about human resources- brainpower- and creativity. Despite Zynga’s huge success, the problem about Zynga is that its games are extremely uncreative. Their goal is to take good ideas from other games and mash them together (the company explicitly says so; the executives were proudly saying this at the Casual Connect conference earlier this year).  So if you look at Farmville, for example. it’s a Facebook adaptation of Harvest Moon. To give Zynga credit, it has been extremely successful in (forcefully) integrating mechanisms of social interaction into the game, but the original idea of the game is not novel. Cityville is another example. It’s basically a Sim City game for Facebook.

I don’t think there is anything wrong about adapting old, popular games for new media. Angry Birds is practically a remake of social missile games such as Fortress (This network game, which was hugely popular in Korea in the late 1990s and led to Fortress 2, but is now closed) but it is a different take on the missile game for a new platform.

However, we can’t keep recycling old stuff. Who’s going to make new, innovative games? Given that Nintendo played a pivotal role in developing some of the most inventive games, I think it is reasonable that it feels threatened by the fact that the industry norm is no longer fixated on creating new games, but repurposing old ones.

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