Is Nintendo's Traditional Approach Hurting The Company?

Published: January 22, 2015 2:06 AM /


Nintendo Logo

Dan Adelman, the former indie head honcho for Nintendo just might think so. In a recent interview with Dromble, Adelman went into detail about what leads him to believe that the company's more “traditional” corporate climate may be responsible for the culture that he says can be “inefficient” and “time consuming”.

"Nintendo is not only a Japanese company, it is a Kyoto-based company. For people who aren't familiar, Kyoto-based companies are to Japanese companies what 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 adviser and no one is a decision maker--but almost everyone has veto power."

Adelman striking a pose.
Adelman striking a pose.

According to Adelman, even Satoru Iwata, the fan-favorite chief of Nintendo, is hesitant to make any executive decisions that may place any particular Japanese executive in isolation. To elaborate, Adelman explained that any kind of action at Nintendo calls for large amounts of planning and needs a large amount of groundwork to be laid. This goes as far as consulting major stakeholders to ensure that they're alright with green lighting a proposal.

Expanding outwards from their Japanese headquarters, Nintendo of America and Nintendo of Europe are quick to have ideas declined if someone is less than satisfied with a concept, and that leads to employees becoming discouraged from making “bolder” proposals, according to Adelman.

“All of this is not necessarily a bad thing, though it can be very inefficient and time-consuming," he explained. "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."
Nintendo isn't a company that you would consider unfamiliar with bold ideas, however. Even though they've been met with mixed reception from more “hardcore” gamers, innovations like the Nintendo DS' dual-screen design and the touchpad screen controller of the WiiU are massive hits with audiences of all ages worldwide. Compared to Sony and Microsoft, many people see Nintendo as a less involved competitor in the hardware race. They tend to focus on keeping their own pace and developing what they believe will work as opposed to copycatting trendy ideas.

Adelman with Super Meatboy co-creator Tommy Refenes
Adelman with Super Meatboy co-creator Tommy Refenes


According to Adelman, because of the older age of their executives, they very often have to play catch-up with the advances of Sony and Microsoft in features of online gaming and features like unified accounts.

"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," he said. "Ideas often get shut down prematurely just because some people with the power to veto an idea simply don't understand it."

Adelman's last statement concerned the lack of rewards for new ideas in the company.

"There is very little reason to try and push these ideas. Risk taking is generally not really rewarded," he said. "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 is no greenhorn in the world of game companies. He's one of the minds behind the Xbox Live Arcade, and after quitting his job with Nintendo in August, he now helps indie devs with business consultation.


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