Ken Kutaragi’s jibe about Nintendo was that PSP users could play Gran Turismo 4, while DS users could play with Pikachu.

The Sony man’s point was that while his gadget offers hard realism,
physics, and speed, Nintendo’s offers furry little characters that make
strange noises.

Nintendo itself–while pointing out that DS does in fact have driving
games–would no doubt agree that while its competitors are focused on
photorealism, its focus is on creating a new kind of gameplay. Nintendo
sees itself as an entertainer operating in the world of the
imagination; its many devoted acolytes concur.

Nintendo would also refute the idea that it is the company for
children, bedecked in primary hues. Those days are gone. Nintendo’s aim
is to deepen the demographics of its audience. It accuses rivals of
lacking the imagination to do this–they are supposedly stuck in a
ghetto of single males in their mid-20s–while the world of women and
older people awaits.

In his Game Developer Conference speech, Nintendo president Satoru
Iwata said the game industry is “getting smaller in how we define
progress,” adding, “Photorealism is not the only way to define
success.” He asked, "When is the last time we invented a new genre? Our
racetracks, our bosses, our heroes  are all starting to look
alike. We spend our time and money chasing the same players.”

Appearances at E3 and in Japan have reiterated this vision, that gaming
must be pushed forward through the power of the imagination, and not
just the spreadsheet. Stirring stuff, to be sure.

Mysterious forthcoming

According to a recent Nintendo survey in Japan, one in five DS owners
is female while 60 percent are at least 20 years old. These are
significant changes. As a piece of equipment, DS’s innovations may not
be to everyone’s aesthetic tastes, but they do represent an attempt to
redefine the idea of what constitutes a videogame. Over two million
North American consumers agree.

Mysterious forthcoming console Revolution is so named not because of
its technical abilities but because it will feature new user
interfaces, presently unknown.

For Nintendo, this vocation is a survival strategy. Nintendo is first
and foremost a publisher of videogames. The company has survived the
last 10 years–with a global GameCube base to match Microsoft’s
Xbox–largely with the efforts of its own game designers.

This has also been a weakness. Third parties have not been courted with
nearly enough alacrity, making its position as a hardware manufacturer
increasingly difficult. Outside Japan, Nintendo is a third-place brand,
and last place is traditionally where the cut is made. Ask Sega.

But its focus on publishing games is also a strength. For Microsoft and
Sony, the grand dream is to own entertainment’s delivery channels. For
Nintendo, it is to sell games.

Nintendo’s installed bases are presently 60 million Game Boy Advance,
18 million GameCube, and five million DS, rising fast. These are
impressive numbers, but there are grave challenges ahead. Its hold on
the mobile market is being threatened by cell phones and by Sony’s PSP,
thus the arrival of Game Boy Micro. Expectation for Revolution is high;
the firm needs to deliver something better than the nicely designed box
with online options we’ve thus far been shown.

Nintendo’s top-dog status as a console manufacturer is gone forever.
But its leadership is shown in brands like Metroid, Zelda, Mario,
Pikmin, F-Zero, Yoshi, Fire Emblem, and Pokemon.