Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Nintendou has a new captain

Kimishima Tatsumi (君島達己)
Earlier this summer, the president of Nintendou fucking died. His name was Iwata Satoru, and while he wasn't necessarily the most beloved figure in the industry it certainly came as a shock. In the wake of this tragedy, Nintendou took the opportunity to reshuffle its upper-level management while considering his successor. Yesterdayish, the company released a statement naming Kimishima Tatsumi as the new head of the company.

Additionally, Miyamoto Shigeru has been the recipient of the newly created title of “Creative Fellow.” Head of Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development (formerly R&D1), ie the section of the company that actually makes the games, Miyamoto is responsible for Mario, Zelda, and other masterpieces. The new title seems to indicate more a recognition of his contributions to Nintendou than any change in his role within it. (Some fans expressed a desire for him to become president, which makes no sense. Miyamoto will never be president. Even if his creative skills were transferrable to the financial side of the company, if he became president he'd obviously no longer be making games.) Takeda Genyo, meanwhile, is now a Technology Fellow, seemingly the hardware equivalent to Miyamoto's software stuff. “Fellow” is a bit of a weird-ass ingredient to throw into a salad full of words like “Representative Director,” but oddly enough it kind of fits with Nintendou's style.

That said, Kimishima's appointment is the far more interesting and important part of the announcement. Beginning his career in banking, he joined The Pokemon Company in 2000. (Not to be confused with Game Freak, the development studio that actually makes most of the Pokemon games, The Pokemon Company is mainly concerned with marketing and licensing the franchise.) He then joined Nintendo of America for several years before coming back to Japan, where he was responsibly for various businessy aspects of Nintendou, like Human Resources and the always nebulous “General Affairs.” Clearly the experience and the skillset is there; the question now is how he will stack up to Iwata.

Iwata Satoru (岩田聡)
On the one hand, Iwata clearly had a deep and abiding love of games, believed in his company, and at one point appeared willing to take the fall for lacklustre WiiU sales. He took steps to make himself appear relatable and accessible to his company's fandom, such as through Nintendo Direct, where he “directly” addressed fans (customers) regarding current products and issues. On the other hand, this also gave some the impression that he was weak and simpering, and while “Please Understand” was a stupid, lazy meme, it did represent many people's dissatisfaction with the direction Nintendou was taking. Meanwhile, Iwata presided over one of the weakest periods in the company's history, financially and artistically. If you want to be charitable you can acknowledge that he was facing varied challenges the best way he knew how, and that shouldering the entire blame on one person is absurd, but you can't deny his responsibility for the disappointment.

In contrast to Iwata's attitude, I see one particular sentiment floating around the Internet regarding Kimishima: “He's a businessman, not a gamer.” There's a few things to unpack there. First of all, there's no doubt that Iwata was a gamer, but in the sense that he lead a huge business, how exactly was he not a businessman? I guess the answer would be that he was not a skilled businessman, or that his attitude towards the business was insufficiently businesslike. Except, the implication seems to be that having a gamer leading a games company is good and would naturally lead to high-quality products, while a businessman will bring us soulles cash-ins.

Sure, having a passion for your industry and its products can potentially be a tremendous asset. One way to put it is that as the head of a games company, you are in a position to create the kind of games that you would want to play. Individual tastes and all that, but you can be reasonably sure that a certain proportion of consumers will nod right along with you, and that whatever you make, it will at least have artistic conviction. You may also be better equipped to read the currents of popular feeling; how often have we heard the complaint about company executives being out of touch?

However, I am of the opinion that business acumen is also extremely valuable to have when conducting business. It's also wrong to say that a lack of personal interest necessarily equates to a lack of understanding. Suppose I got hired at P&G tomorrow. As it stands, I do not feel any deep emotion for household cleaning products, but if it were my job to know about them, you can bet that for the next few weeks I would be spending every waking moment learning. I would learn exactly which chemical compounds are most effective at scouring stains from carpet and the thought process that goes into Mrs MacMillan's purchasing decisions when she's at the grocery store. Naturally, games, which are art rather than science, are that much more dependent on instinct, but it's not like market analysis has never steered anybody into a bad business decision, anyway.

Personally, I'm intrigued. I never got as down on Nintendou as a lot of people did, because Mario and Zelda are just so much fun. Still, I feel as though shaking things up like this could really reinvigorate the company. Surely the gravity of his position is not lost on Kimishima. In Shadowrun, Nintendou would be an A-ranked corporation at least, and it is no small fixture of Japanese culture both at home and internationally. Hopefully we get at least a few good games out of it.

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