Nintendo DS

Satoru Iwata On The Importance Of Creating Social Phenomena



During the Nintendo investor Q&A for the April-December 2009 period, an investor highlighted the decline of software sales in Europe — primarily that of Nintendo DS software.


Addressing these concerns, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata cited "visibility in society" as a factor that played a role in the decline of European DS software. According to Iwata, while Brain Age and Nintendogs both sold over 1 million units in the continent during the course of 2009, that number was significantly lower than 2008’s 3 million units. The proposed solution was to introduce more "social phenomenon" games to the European market, with a higher visibility in society.


Three attempts to achieve this that didn’t quite go as planned, according to Iwata, were Professor Layton, Rhythm Heaven and Style Savvy (Girls Mode in Japan).



Style Savvy, a fashion store simulation game, in particular, got off to a rough start in Europe. First-week sales of the game amounted to a mere 5,000 units, and its slow performance caused retailers to decline from placing orders for a restock. Another reason cited for its slow lift-off in Europe was an oversaturation of girl-oriented games on DS, which led to additional skepticism at retail.


According to Enterbrain data, Style Savvy sold 330,079 units in its second year in Japan — approximately the same amount it sold in the U.S. and Europe in its first year — where there was no interference from similar games that saturated the market. However, as the holiday season effect provided a dramatic sales boost in the West, and consumer feedback was positive, Iwata believes that a firm base for further growth has been established.


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The Professor Layton games, on the other hand, have done immensely well in Europe. Although, not well enough for Nintendo to classify them as a "social phenomenon" on the same level as Brain Age. The first game, The Curious Village, has reached 2 million units in 61 weeks in the European market, while its sequel, The Diabolical Box, has already reached 1.3 million units in just 16 weeks.


However, according to Iwata on Layton, "Its influence on driving hardware sales by driving consumers to purchase hardware to play the software or revitalizing a number of Nintendo DS sleep users has not yet made it a social phenomena about which newspapers write up."


He went on to tell investors: "What is most important is to make what can really become socially recognized phenomena. Of course, it is a fact that piracy activities in the European market including devices like Magic-Coms (R4) are large concerns for us. As I have mentioned before, we will continue to confront it with legal and technological measures."


Food for thought:

1. It’s interesting how much the box art for Girls Mode varies from region to region. The Japanese art looks like the cover of a shoujo magazine, while the U.S. version looks like a clothes brand aimed at younger girls. The European box strays farther from the two and comes off more as a high-class brand for adult women, both in art and name. This is a good example of the importance of localizing a product specifically for different regions. 2. The same can be said for Professor Layton games, whose Western boxes place a greater emphasis on the puzzles than the Japanese cover. At a previous investor Q&A, Iwata revealed that this decision stemmed from the European cover of the first Professor Layton game, which they found did a better job of conveying it as the natural "next choice" for fans of Brain Age.

Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.