Dan Adelman's former title at Nintendo - Nintendo of America's Head of Digital Content and Development - doesn't necessarily emphasize the importance of his role at the company. He did integral work in helping to develop and improve how Nintendo dealt with download game developers, and was largely credited with fostering a number of positive relations with companies of various sizes. His time at the big N wasn't without incident - he stopped using Twitter after appearing to stray too far from the company line - and he eventually left to start his own company in August last year; he's now providing consultancy and business services to Indie developers.
Since leaving Nintendo he's been more vocal around the company's strengths and weaknesses, and provides some particularly useful insight in a fresh interview with Dromble. For example, he explains how - from his perspective - Nintendo's decision making in Kyoto causes problems when trying to introduce bold ideas quickly.
Nintendo is not only a Japanese company, it is a Kyoto-based company. For people who aren’t familiar, Kyoto-based are to Japanese companies as Japanese companies are to US companies. They’re very traditional, and very focused on hierarchy and group decision making. Unfortunately, that creates a culture where everyone is an advisor and no one is a decision maker – but almost everyone has veto power.
Even Mr. Iwata is often loathe to make a decision that will alienate one of the executives in Japan, so to get anything done, it requires laying a lot of groundwork: talking to the different groups, securing their buy-in, and using that buy-in to get others on board. At the subsidiary level, this is even more pronounced, since people have to go through this process first at NOA or NOE (or sometimes both) and then all over again with headquarters. All of this is not necessarily a bad thing, though it can be very inefficient and time consuming. The biggest risk is that at any step in that process, if someone flat out says no, the proposal is as good as dead. So in general, bolder ideas don’t get through the process unless they originate at the top.
There are two other problems that come to mind. First, at the risk of sounding ageist, because of the hierarchical nature of Japanese companies, it winds up being that the most senior executives at the company cut their teeth during NES and Super NES days and do not really understand modern gaming, so adopting things like online gaming, account systems, friends lists, as well as understanding the rise of PC gaming has been very slow. Ideas often get shut down prematurely just because some people with the power to veto an idea simply don’t understand it.
The last problem is that there is very little reason to try and push these ideas. Risk taking is generally not really rewarded. Long-term loyalty is ultimately what gets rewarded, so the easiest path is simply to stay the course. I’d love to see Nintendo make a more concerted effort to encourage people at all levels of the company to feel empowered to push through ambitious proposals, and then get rewarded for doing so.
Adelman goes on to reinforce the perspective given by some developers that demos serve little benefit to businesses, explaining that there's evidence to suggest that they satisfy curiosity and can - in cases where it's a poor fit - lead to less sales. It's an idea that's often cited, and perhaps explains why few eShop developers use them and why retail demos are relatively rare, typically reserved for the most significant retail games as a means of developing some hype.
Also posed to Adelman was a recent statistic that 93% of eShop users are male, with just 7% being female. His answer perhaps reflects the scale of the problem, in that he's unsure of the cause for this discrepancy.
I wish I had a good answer for you on this. Nintendo consoles have traditionally had a much more balanced male-female ratio than other consoles. I think a lot of that is due to the family-friendly nature of Nintendo’s first party lineup. So it’s all the more surprising that the eShop would be so imbalanced. I haven’t seen any market research on this, so it would be purely blind speculation on my part, but if I had to venture an explanation it would be that Nintendo’s first party games are readily available in traditional retail stores. The games that can only be gotten on the eShop – primarily the indie games – may not appeal as broadly to women.
I’m a little concerned that speculating further than that would rely on some pretty outdated notions about women gamers, such as the stereotypes that they are only interested in casual games or that they only like games with cutesy graphics. I think the best thing to do would be for Nintendo to look at the games that have the best male-female ratio and see if they can spot some underlying trends. I would also recommend getting some feedback from women gamers on the user interface of the eShop. If the eShop UI is unappealing or intimidating in some way, that should be rectified.
Some interesting topics are covered, though, and we certainly recommend checking out the full interview at the link below. In the meantime, what do you think of Adelman's description of Nintendo's company structure and decision-making, in particular? Let us know in the comments.