Nintendo’s Philosophy: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology

“Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology” was a statement putting forward by Gunpei Yokoi, Nintendo’s legendary hardware designer. In 1980, Sharp and Casio were in a fierce price war in order to compete for the personal computer market. This led to an overcapacity situation of semiconductor and LCD production towards the whole Japanese market. However, Yokoi treated it as an opportunity and applied this cheap but mature micro-computing technology in developing portable game consoles, which not only effectively reduced the costs of production, but also ensures the stability of the product. This product development philosophy used by Nintendo is considered to be “Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology.”

When it comes to product development, people are more likely to think of using the most advanced technologies to make the best products. However, there are too many risky unknowns in terms of the creating the state-of-art to attract consumers. Furthermore, companies also need to fight against their competitors within the market. If they don’t have a hundred percent confidence applying the cutting-age technologies into their products and ensure a relatively reliable performance, developers need to spend more time and effort to revise the current version and fix the bugs. There is also great risks when launch such features. Once some of the functions could not work well, it will significantly affect the user experience when people are enjoying the games. This can be seen as an irresponsible behaviour of the company.

But why do we use “withered” technology? In fact, “withered” technology usually means mature technology. It is much easier for companies to create best-selling products by using mature technology as this kind of technologies are abundant, well-understood and cheap. Mature technologies are often studied extensively by people, and it is easy to experiment with or make further innovations. Even if the technology might be obsolete, it is applicable as long as used appropriately. Take one of the most successful game consoles of Nintendo — Wii, as an example, The main feature of Wii is the motion sensing capability, which enables players to manipulate items and interact with characters on the screen. However, in order to achieve such functionality, developers did not choose to use gyroscope, a relatively advanced technology, but turned to gravity sensor as well as infrared IR ray motion sensor bar. These technologies can definitely be treated as “withered”; however, Nintendo applied it very well, equipped their products with extraordinary somatosensory features and made it as a revolutionary new console.

Nintendo shifts their developing strategy form chasing the technological trend to focusing on the creativity of the game. As most of the games created by Nintendo are simple, fun, it could capture the hearts of every individual in different age groups. From Nintendo’s experience, we can find that limiting the company to withered technologies allows them to focus on more innovative aspects towards their products, which can be seen as a best practicable approach to protect the brand value and win in the market.