Stephen Totilo recently found an old interview tape from 2004 in which he interviewed Nintendo's Satoru Iwata about the upcoming Nintendo DS and how Sony's new PlayStation Portable seemed poised to steal away the handheld gaming market from the world of Game Boy products. Totilo has published the recovered audio and transcribed some of the more interesting parts of the interview for us to enjoy. I know hindsight is always 20/20, but I found this to be an interesting window into Iwata's thoughts at a critical fork in the road for the company. He had a lot to say about why Nintendo was pursuing the DS philosophy that would eventually bring in lots of money. Remember, at the time of this interview, a device like the Nintendo DS with its two screens and touchscreen was unheard of in the gaming space.
The tape is crackly, and the live translation is not the best. Mr. Iwata, then two years into his tenure as Nintendo’s president, listens to my questions in English, answers in Japanese and then waits as his comments are translated for me.
The topic is the Nintendo DS, a then-upcoming Nintendo handheld that proved one of gaming’s biggest successes but at the time seemed like a potentially disastrous idea. Could it even be the end of Nintendo?
I want to share parts of the Iwata interview with you. But I need to first give you some set-up about the Nintendo that Iwata inherited and the jeopardy the company appeared to be in when he and I spoke.
Nintendo’s big problem at the time, or so I and many other reporters, pundits and industry figures thought, was Sony. Nintendo, the company that had saved the home console industry from the Atari crash of the early 80s with the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System, had then won a multi-generational dog-fight with Sega. But an attempted partnership with electronics maker Sony curdled, and Sony entered the console business with 1994/1995’s PlayStation, which would crush 1996’s Nintendo 64, 102 million units sold lifetime vs. 33 million.
Go read the whole thing. I won't spoil any of the fun details. One thing I did come away with that I will share is that the industry as a whole is poorer without Iwata. I wonder what he would say about business today if he were still with us.