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Iwata: 'Essence Of Fun' Can Overcome Gap Between Japanese, Western Culture

Nintendo's Satoru Iwata says the culture gap between Japan and the West helps explain why it's hard to predict how U.S. audiences will receive new Nintendo innovations -- but "the essence of fun" can help to overcome the gap.
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata says that the culture gap between Japanese and Western consumers helps explain why the company's more unusual innovations, like Wii Music, seem to perplex American audiences initially and take time to catch on. Iwata points to the rapid, ubiquitous proliferation of the Nintendo DS in Japan as compared to its slower spread in the U.S. as an example. "In Japan, as the number of people who saw DS players in trains skyrocketed early on, its recognition spread extremely fast as it piqued the curiosity of even those who were not interested but wondered what the gadget was," Iwata said during a briefing that followed Nintendo's recent financial results. "In the United States, on the contrary, not only are passengers not sleeping nor using cell phones, many Americans do not regularly use trains and instead use their cars to commute," he added. "So their ways of how to spend time on the go differs, and as a result, how, when and where portable consoles are played in their daily life will also differ." Iwata recalled that "we faced the same doubt" when launching Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., Nintendogs and other Nintendo staples. "Many of were [skeptical] of those being accepted overseas," he said. "What Japanese people simply found interesting and favored was also welcomed overseas in many cases, with appropriate communication," says Iwata. The exec also recently spoke about how a holistic cycle of communication around new, unfamiliar Nintendo products helps spread positive sentiments around it. "Of course I don’t mean that all that Japanese people favor will be accepted overseas," Iwata continued. "What I mean is that with the essence of fun, what people find interesting can overcome culture and language gaps." Iwata said he was surprised that Brain Training, which became Brain Age in the U.S., sold twice as much outside of Japan. Similarly, Japanese marketing staff had warned Iwata Pokémon wouldn't catch on overseas, and that its distinctive yellow Pikachu would "never be accepted." "So my understanding is that culture gaps can be overcome," he said. "And I think what is necessary is not to change the product itself, but how we introduce and show the features." Talking about the company's new focus on expanding the global gaming population and specifically targeting Western markets, Iwata discussed Nintendo's separate U.S. and Europe-oriented Touch Generations products. "[They] may have a smaller demand in Japan than overseas. I can not tell if it will go well or not at this moment," said Iwata. "I think one or two of these initial trials will reach the market within this year. If they actually flourish, I think our strategy will have to take the next step."

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