This year's GDC keynote was delivered by none other than Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, and while he did reveal some new information about the 3DS, most of the speech was a reflection on how the gaming industry has changed over the years, and how developers can use current trends to create games that they are passionate about and will appeal to the masses.
Iwata first started out with some of Nintendo's world-famous bar graphs. He noted how console-based gaming demographics have shifted over the years, and how people who play with a dedicated console are making up more of the gaming world than ever before. However, because the population has grown, the expectations have also grown. while game developing back in the 80s used to be more of a hobby, today it is big business, and it is easy to get lost just looking at metrics and following trends. However, Iwata reminded the audience, what you need first is a good idea. Then you can worry about financing and making money.
To drive home this point, Iwata started talking about the phenomenon of social gaming. However, instead of talking about Facebook staples, he talked about how social gaming has been around for a long time, we've just never noticed. Games like Spacewar, which was one of the first games to use LAN connections, could be played socially, and Tetris, which was the first Game Boy game to use the system link cables, were examples of how early games were played with others in a social setting.
Fast-forwarding to more current examples, Iwata talked about how the Call of Duty franchise has been bringing more people than ever to the social gaming sphere. He also used it as an example of what he called a "must-have" game. Classifying a game as "must-have" should be a priority for all developers, and content has to be what drives the motivation to make a game "must-have." Iwata cited series like Zelda, Mario, and Guitar Hero as "must-have," and also said that distinction could apply to hardware such as the first Game Boy.
However, moving forward, games have to implement social aspects to be "must-have." Iwata highlighted The Sims and Pokemon series as franchises that have done well with this aspect. Looking to the future, Iwata says that he hopes the 3DS becomes the next must-have piece of hardware, as it includes multiple social features designed to bring together friends and strangers in new ways.
Then, in an interesting twist, Iwata admitted that Nintendo has not done well thus far in the sphere of digital downloads. He noted that while some content has been successful on the DSiWare and WiiWare platforms, Nintendo is capable of doing much better, and has big plans for digital distribution in the future. Iwata then left the stage and Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime began the second half of the keynote speech.