My Nintendo Problem, and Yours...
I’ve started seven companies in the past 29 years, so I can drone on and on about the nature of business relationships. But I don’t want to bore you.
That said, I do want to talk about doing business with Nintendo, which obviously is a painful subject for us and — more importantly — something deeply of interest to many of you.
The story begins early in 1991 in Tokyo, where Sony and Nintendo were secretly collaborating on a new video game system that used CDs rather than cartridges as its media. That system would ultimately morph into the PlayStation, and Nintendo would ultimately have nothing to do with it, but at the time it looked as if it were going to happen jointly. Some Sony US execs had earlier seen two games that the four of us had created at Isix, a company funded by the toy company Hasbro, for its never-released NEMO game system: Night Trap and Sewer Shark. Both Sony and Nintendo were convinced they needed to launch this system with a new type of software: full-motion-video interactive movies. And both were convinced we had the perfect two products for that launch. Sony was going to license Sewer Shark; Nintendo would license Night Trap. We labored closely with both companies for over nine months, until the Sony/Nintendo joint-venture fell apart. Sony in turn introduced us to Sega and, in the fall of 1992, Sony released Sewer Shark for the Sega CD, bundled with the hardware; Sega released Night Trap.
We believed we had a terrific relationship with Nintendo — as we continued to have with Sony, and began to have with Sega. We worked very closely with Nintendo, both in Japan and the US, and never requested so much as a dime from them. Instead, they assured us that, as soon as they had a system that could support FMV, we’d be a preferred software publisher for their new platform. To us, this was what business was all about: give and take.
Flash forward a year. In September of 1993, a US Senate committee began doing legwork on a real political plum: violence in video games. Their initial focus was the game Mortal Kombat, published by Acclaim Entertainment for both Sega and Nintendo systems. Nintendo went into overdrive, looking for something to attract attention away from its own problem. Because we had worked with them on Night Trap, Nintendo had full-resolution video of the game, and created a short edit that made the title look shockingly sexist and violent, rather than the silly spoof it was. Through its lobbyists in Washington, Nintendo delivered that edit to members of the committee’s staff, and Night Trap instantly became the lightening rod and poster child for video game violence. The witch hunt was on!
Unless you have ever had the meaty fist of the US Senate slammed directly into your face, you have no idea how horrible that experience is — and not just for the four of us. Every one of our colleagues at Digital Pictures was subjected to ridicule and disgust: parents wondered what sort of company their kids were working at; our landlord tried to throw us out of his building, because the parking lot was constantly mobbed with reporters; our bank canceled our line of credit. I remember getting a call from Rob Fulop, when all this was starting up, asking me how we were going to stop it: his immigrant parents were seeing him portrayed on the evening news as a criminal, condemned by his childhood idol, Captain Kangaroo.
And the worst part was the betrayal: our friend and partner Nintendo, which only two years earlier had been ready to publish the game themselves, now hypocritically pointed a finger at us, to dodge a bullet they knew would hit either them or, better, us. And we had handed them the gun they used to shoot us!
I’m a big believer that business is a contact sport: you play hard, but you help your fallen opponent get up; you don’t kick him in the balls and leave him lying on the field bleeding. That’s what Nintendo did to us. And it’s hard to forget that December.
As some of you have pointed out, this was twenty years ago. Nintendo is a very different company run by very different people. All true.
You are our customers; you are the fans who have asked us to revamp Night Trap. As I have said to every one of the perhaps 2,000 individuals I have hired over the past 29 years, the customer is always right. If you want Night Trap on WiiU, we’ll endeavor to give it to you. And as some of you have pointed out, having a live map on the controller with an HD image on the TV is likely the best way to experience the game.
To that end, today we applied to become WiiU developers and publishers. We obviously have no idea whether Nintendo will approve the title for its platform, and our developer has told us that porting the game to a two-screen experience is going to cost approximately $20,000 beyond what we’re already going to spend for the other four platforms we're supporting. When we get closer to the end of this campaign, if it looks as if we’re going to succeed, we’ll announce a $20,000 stretch goal, and offer $20 downloads via the Nintendo eShop.
This might in fact be a nice way to end twenty years of animosity between two entities who once worked very well together, and we thank all of you for inspiring this soul searching. Never say never…