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Should the Gaming Industry Heed Shigeru Miyamoto's Advice?

Leo is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

When I think of the current state of the video game industry, which is characterized by declining hardware and software sales being propped up by endless refreshes of tired franchises, I like to reminisce about the good ol’ days of gaming, when video games resembled games more than Hollywood movies.

Perhaps it’s because I’m not a kid anymore, but the recent releases of Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Xbox One and Sony’s (NYSE: SNE) Playstation 4 did little to capture the imagination that Nintendo’s (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY.PK) magical franchises of Mario and Zelda effortlessly did in the past. So in this article, I’d like to revisit some of the core  philosophies of Nintendo’s legendary game maker Shigeru Miyamoto, the man who created Mario, to see how his ideas can be applied to today’s struggling industry.

Producing a console for the untapped masses

Miyamoto once stated that his wife was a big inspiration for the creation of Nintendo’s best-selling console, the motion-controlled Wii. He explained that his wife was not very interested in his work, since many video games were too difficult for non-gamers to pick up and play. Therefore, Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo’s design team created simple, motion-controlled games that toddlers to grandparents were able to pick up and play with ease. In doing so, he tapped into a previously unreached market that led to nearly 100 million Wii consoles being sold worldwide over the past seven years.

Today, Microsoft and Sony have two approaches to this market, and it appears that Microsoft is appealing to the masses much more than Sony. To aim its device at a non-gaming public, Microsoft produced the Xbox One as an “all-in-one entertainment system” designed to be both a gaming system and a home media device, sharing characteristics with Apple TV and Google TV devices. It features gesture and voice controls, as well as apps that bring Skype, Internet Explorer and multimedia applications into the living room. Meanwhile, Sony is focusing on gaming first and media consumption second with the Playstation 4, which features cloud-based gaming, video and music streaming services.

Power isn’t everything

Miyamoto once stated, “Too many powerful consoles can't coexist. It's like having only ferocious dinosaurs. They might fight and hasten their own extinction.”

This is one of Miyamoto’s more controversial statements, since both the Wii and its successor, the Wii U, were considerably weaker under the hood than Microsoft and Sony’s consoles of the same generation.

This disparity has been troublesome for some video game companies, which often port a single title over comparably-powered platforms, such as the XBOX 360, Playstation 3 and the PC. To reach Wii gamers, publishers have to create new titles that can run on lower-powered Wii consoles, with specifically modified motion controls. This is particularly true of the eighth generation Wii U, which has a slower processing speed than both the Xbox One or Playstation 4, and uses a proprietary second screen interface. This lack of horsepower and the use of proprietary controls has frustrated major publishers such as Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA), which recently stated that the Wii U “just isn’t a priority.”

Therefore, I think that Microsoft and Sony are right to create the highest-end gaming hardware possible to remain on even footing with PCs, and to retain similar control schemes that allow publishers to easily port their titles across all three platforms without drastic modifications.

<table> <tbody> <tr> <td> </td> <td> <p><strong>Playstation 4</strong></p> </td> <td> <p><strong>XBox One</strong></p> </td> <td> <p><strong>Wii U</strong></p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p><strong>Hard Drive</strong></p> </td> <td> <p>500GB HDD (upgradeable)</p> </td> <td> <p>500 GB (HDD)</p> </td> <td> <p>32 GB Internal flash memory, Deluxe Set; 8 GB Internal flash memory</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p><strong>Memory</strong></p> </td> <td> <p>8 GB GDDR5 (unified) (7 GB available to games)</p> </td> <td> <p>8 GB DDR3 (5 GB available to games)</p> </td> <td> <p>2 GB (1 GB available to games)</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p><strong>CPU</strong></p> </td> <td> <p>Semi-custom 8-core AMD x86-64 CPU (integrated into APU)</p> </td> <td> <p>AMD 8 core APU (2 Quad-Core Jaguar modules)</p> </td> <td> <p>Multi-Core IBM PowerPC “Espresso”</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p><strong>Graphics</strong></p> </td> <td> <p>Semi-custom AMD Radeon GPU (integrated into APU)</p> </td> <td> <p>AMD Radeon variant (inside of APU)</p> </td> <td> <p>550 MHz AMD Radeon GPU “Latte”</p> </td> </tr> <tr> <td> <p><strong>Price</strong></p> </td> <td> <p>$399</p> </td> <td> <p>$499</p> </td> <td> <p>$299</p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table>

Therefore, I have to disagree with Miyamoto’s “dinosaurs” comparison - power matters in the video game universe, especially when publishers are concentrating on producing games for both PCs and consoles. Lastly, since the Playstation 4, Xbox 360 and higher-end PCs all sport similar CPU and GPU architectures, it will be much easier to create games across these three platforms.

A rushed game is forever bad

Miyamoto once stated, “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” That’s some sage advice that EA and Activision Blizzard, the two largest American game publishers, should heed more often. 

Over the past few years, EA and Activision have been obsessed with milking popular franchises, such as Mass Effect, The Sims, Call of Duty and World of Warcraft down to the last drop through rushed sequels, expansion packs and DLC (downloadable content). Some gamers consider this change of pace in the industry, with the development cycle of games being shortened from years to months, to have reduced the quality of some major titles.

The result is a more predictable revenue stream for EA or Activision investors generated by the sales of mediocre titles. EA’s Mass Effect 3, for example, was rushed to the point that it was released with an incomplete ending which had to be rectified via a DLC. SimCity, the company’s long-awaited update of Maxis’ 24-year old franchise, was released with a required online social component that overloaded the company’s own servers and made the game unplayable offline.

These major mistakes, among many others, have caused many gamers to lose faith in the industry. Being an avid gamer myself, I usually only play modern games once or twice through, yet I must have completed Miyamoto’s magnum opus, Super Mario Bros. 3, hundreds of times. It’s that lack of polish in many modern titles that have caused newer games to appear superficially beautiful due to next-generation graphics, while lacking the heart and soul of Miyamoto’s greatest creations.

The Foolish bottom line

Granted, we can’t expect all video game developers to be like Shigeru Miyamoto. However, we can still use his philosophies to reflect on game console and software design to better understand what lies in store for the eighth generation of console gaming.

I believe that if the industry focuses on recapturing some of that magic that gamers once felt when they played as Mario the first time as a kid, instead of being dead set on transforming living rooms into social cloud-based supercomputers, then we might generate some more growth from the untapped markets that Miyamoto was focused on.

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Leo Sun has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Nintendo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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