Saturday, April 28, 2007

Nintendo Changed Who They Were Building For, And Won. Wii!

Business 2.0 Magazine just published an article about how Nintendo has risen from the ashes and beaten Sony and Microsoft. How did they do this? They dropped out of the technology race to be the fastest chip on the block and focused on a different definition of their customer. They made a commitment to become better connected with delivering products customers wanted to experience.

In the article, there are some interesting points about making risky changes to the entire direction of the company. The way it is described in the article it leads you to believe that they had this vision from the start. However, if you read interviews given by the CEO himself on the Wii website, it shows that they did not make a radical shift in design process until a year into development.

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?” During development, we came to realise the sheer inefficiency of this path when we compared the hardships and costs of development against any new experiences that might be had by our customers.

When did you start feeling that way?

It must have been about a year after we started developing Wii. After speaking with Nintendo's development partners, I became keenly aware of the fact that 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.

Also on the Wii website they discuss how they made other changes to the development process that would eventually lead to this success. They created cross-functional teams that communicated better than they ever had in the past.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find where they involved customers. I wonder if this would have sped up the ‘light-bulbing’ where they stumbled upon conclusions of who to build this for. Instead of fortunately realizing the insanity for building for customers who only want better-faster chips 12 months into it, they could have discovered the importance of these other customer personas by conducting ethnographic research intentionally. It is apparent that Nintendo cares very much about how their customers view, although it is not direct customer data:

As development progresses, game developers steadily lose the ability to judge how someone coming fresh to the game, with absolutely no previous knowledge, will feel when they play. That's why I think that Miyamoto-san joining the project towards the end is, in a sense, a very rational way of doing things. If Miyamoto-san was involved from the start, I think he would find it more difficult to see clearly how people will respond to a game the first time they play it.

Why not just have customers involved in the process instead of trying to think about how they would respond to your games? It is always wonderful to have a chicken-sexer to be part of any team that just ‘gets it’ as they do with Miyamoto-san, but that can never replace making customers part of the product lifecycle. Accidental-touristing can only get you so far.

Either way, Nintendo chose a risky path here and have been successful by shifting their focus to different customer personas.

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