“Nintendo and the Switch are really punk.”
Those are the words from the industry’s most-recognized punk (or post-punk) video game developer: Goichi Suda. He told me his perspective on Nintendo and its newest piece of hardware â the Switch â when I sat down to ask him about his own image as the “punk rock” developer of games.
But, really? Nintendo? The guys with their Marios and their Pikachus? Punk? Apparently.
“Nintendo have been making consoles for years,” Suda said. “With a lot of other companies, consoles evolve, but they kind of evolve in the most obvious ways. Graphics are better, OK now it has more memory. But with Nintendoâs consoles â they donât just evolve in the most obvious ways to get better, but they provide new ways to play and enjoy games.”
He told Kotaku something similar after my interview, too.
“The stuff the Nintendo consoles allow me to do gives me new ideas,” he said. “The Switch in particular, but Nintendo in general â Iâve always been really excited about the kind of stuff that they do and allow gamers and creators to do. The Switch is a really punk piece of hardware. Doing things that others donât try.”
I decided to ask Reggie Fils-Aime, the bossman at Nintendo of America, how he felt about this when I recently sat down with him in a hotel in Los Angeles. Surely the sentiment is a compliment but … punk? Really?Â
“We’re constantly looking to disrupt the industry,” he said. “We’re constantly asking ourselves what can we do that’s differentiated, that the consumer wants but doesn’t know they want.”
“We’re constantly looking to disrupt the industry.”
It’s certainly a punk-like quality. And, really, can anyone or anything really be punk if they self-describe themselves as such?Â
The overall idea of disruption and innovation â of doing something new and against the mainstream â is at the heart of punk and, to Fils-Aime, the heart of Nintendo, too.
“One thing that I love about our company is we always put innovation first,” he said. “We are always looking to take that risk.”Â
He brought up the most recent installment of the The Legend of Zelda franchise. There’s no doubt any Zelda game will sell well, and the developers could easily choose to copy similar, basic structures from previous games and still win the hearts of many fans. But for this year, the company decided to do things differently and take a risk of experimenting on the usual Zelda formula. So we got an open-world Zelda game that, well, won the hearts of many.Â
“We took a very successful intellectual property and turned it on its ear,” he said. “And you know what? It worked.”Â
New ideas won’t always work or stick. Or maybe they become the backbone of a newer, better idea somewhere down the line.
“More often than not they work, sometimes they don’t,” he said. He brought up the Virtual Boy as an example. Back before VR was a thing, there was the headmounted, stereoscopic 3D Virtual Boy.
“Without that, we wouldn’t have learned about that particular space, about what you can do with VR and then AR,” he said. “And who knows? AR may not have ever been incorporated into the Nintendo 3DS if we hadn’t had that failed experiment 20 years prior.”