x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

The day Nintendo changed game plan

The Life: A new book about Nintendo's business, Playing to Wiin, tackles leadership change in a fast-changing industry.

What began in 1889 as a boutique business selling playing cards has since grown into a company better known for its iconic video game characters such as Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda.

The brains behind all of these hits, of course, is Nintendo.

The company has been in the spotlight in recent years, given its success in an industry that some experts warned would die years ago. Between its cartridge-based hand-held device called the Game Boy to its most recent Wii console, Nintendo has sold more than 550 million video game systems and 3.3 billion video games since the early 1980s.

But while the pages of Playing to Wiin are full of figures, the book's most interesting tidbits examine an unorthodox decision made a decade ago. That was when Satoru Iwata, a relative newcomer to Nintendo, was chosen to become only the fourth person to lead the US$4 billion (Dh14.69bn) company. "The decision defied corporate tradition," writes Daniel Sloan, the book's author.

For starters, Mr Iwata was not born in Kyoto, unlike the previous leaders in the family-run company, nor had he spent much time working under the Nintendo umbrella. Shareholders expressed their concern and the company's share price fell.

Yet the previous leader made it known he valued youth and management flair, even though most Japanese boardrooms did not.

Unfortunately, the book does not dig much deeper into these examples of changing dynamics. It pops up every now and again, but each chapter bounces around with a different theme as though the book is merely a collection of journalistic case studies. That said, those looking for an in-depth account of how Nintendo managed to successfully climb back from the brink of disaster following the failure of certain products won't be disappointed. But others will require some patience before they can pull out the more interesting bits about leadership change and subsequent challenges.