The new Nintendo Wii game console that just came out breaks the mold. Where the competing Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony Playstation 3 machines are just more of the same (only faster and with better graphics) the Wii has broken new ground both with the product itself but also in the development process and in their marketing.
Nintendo are on to something here and the buzz right now seems to favor them over the competition, which of course begs the questions “How did they do it?” and “What can other businesses learn and
steal borrow from them?”
Read on to see my favorite business lessons from the Nintendo Wii.
1: It’s not the specs, it’s how the customer feels
Too many companies compete and innovate almost only on product features and specifications. Make that car a little bigger, the PC a little faster, the mp3 player memory a little larger.
This article in Seed Magazine argues that the real innovation in the Wii is how it makes the players feel while they play, and that the user’s emotions are not necessarily affected by improved specs.
The Wii game controller can sense movement, so that a baseball game is played by swinging the controller like a bat and a boxing game is played by actual punching and ducking. From the article:
This is the Wii’s real innovation. While Nintendo argues that the wireless controller makes game play more intuitive—you no longer have to remember arcane sequences of buttons—it actually does something much more powerful: By involving your body in the on-screen action, the Wii makes video games more emotional.
In a further innovation, many Wii games will allow you to put your own face on the game character you control, in an effort to get you even more involved emotionally.
Genyo Takeda of Nintendo says this:
This may sound paradoxical, but if we had followed the existing Roadmaps we would have aimed to make it “faster and flashier.??? In other words, we would have tried to improve the speed at which it displays stunning graphics. But we could not help but ask ourselves, “How big an impact would that direction really have on our customers????
This rocks. The best games are not necessarily the ones with the best graphics, but the ones that get you involved emotionally. That you can even do this completely without graphics or sound, is evidenced by this story.
2: Highlight your customers, not your product
Taking a further step in this direction, the Wii website has a videogallery that features the players, not the games. You get to see them duck, swerve, puch, swing, smile and grimace – you don’t see the game itself. In other words, you see what the game makes them feel – which is really what matters.
3: Don’t blindly give customers what they ask for
The pressure was on Nintendo to come out with a console that was more powerful than the competing ones. They chose to buck this trend. Takeda says:
There is no end to the desire of those who just want more. Give them one, they ask for two. Give them two, and next time they will ask for five instead of three. Then they want ten, thirty, a hundred, their desire growing exponentially. Giving in to this will lead us nowhere in the end. I started to feel unsure about following that path about a year into development.
Making the Wii less about great graphics means they could focus on making it small, quiet and energy efficient. Mike Wagner talks about the same thing in this great blogpost – that sometimes you need to dig into what the customers say they want, to find out what will actually make them happy with the product.
4: Be open
On the Wii website, Nintento president Satoru Iwata interviews some of the people who were involved in developing the Wii in a feature called Iwata Asks. This is both a great way for Nintendo to learn from their own development process, and also a great way to showcase and appreciate the people behind the product. These people often get little credt, at least publicly and now they’re featured in a very prominent way.
They can even be honest about the tricky parts in the interviews. Kou Shiota says this about the decision not to compete with xBox and PS3 on raw power:
To be honest, I even felt quite anxious about it. After all, it takes a lot of courage to divert from the Roadmaps. I was especially concerned when it was still not very clear to me what could be done with such a machine.
5: Involve many people in innovation
The Iwata Asks features clearly show that Nintendo is great at involving many people in generating and developing ideas. Here are som various quotes:
“Wii’s one-handed controller is not the great idea of a single person, but a fantastic fusion of ideas from all kinds of people.”
“I first asked a lot of employees for their opinions regarding the hardware.”
“We had to rely on the know-how of Nintendo’s handheld gaming device team.”
“A number of years ago I created somewhere between ten and twenty teams, each consisting of around three people. These teams were given free rein to couple a dedicated controller or peripheral with a GameCube title, and then see whether or not the end result was marketable. This project gave rise not only to the “Donkey Konga” Bongos and the “Dancing Stage Mario Mix” Action Pad, but to a number of ideas and designs that would find their way into the Wii Remote.”
This is excellent. Some companies take the approach that innovation is the responsibility of the R&D guys and everybody else should just do their jobs. Nintendo obviously tries to involve as many people as possible in the creative process.
Nintendo obviously need to be technologically innovative, but with the Wii they’ve moved the innovation to other areas.
Rather than competing in one area only (raw power), they’ve moved their efforts to where it really matters: User experience. Predictably some people love this while others hate it – which, according to Kathy Sierra, is exactly where you want to be.
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