Nintendo Labo Focus Testing Went So Bad That a Developer Cried

Earlier this year, Nintendo introduced a strange new game-and-accessory lineup for Nintendo Switch. allows you to craft custom peripherals out of cardboard and program your Switch to interact with them in various ways. The public reaction to Labo has been mixed, to say the least. Some see it as an exciting revolution in interactive toys, while others can’t fathom why anyone would pay good money for cardboard.

Nintendo has been facing harsh criticism from the latter crowed since the very beginning with Labo. In fact, feedback during focus testing was so negative that one developer cried. Tsubasa Sakaguchi is a longtime Nintendo employee who began his career as a character designer on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and eventually worked his way up to becoming the director of Splatoon. Sakaguchi served as the software lead for Nintendo Labo, while Mr. Ogasawara handled the hardware side. Together, they demoed an early version of Nintendo Labo to consumers in the US and Tokyo, and the results were devastating.

Mr. Sakaguchi:The idea that tools shouldn’t be necessary is what caused the design to take shape. Once we had preliminary designs to work with we did some consumer testing in the U.S. and in Tokyo. The tests didn’t go over very well, though. It was…it was rough. I was so upset I went back to the hotel room and cried a little. I’m serious! I was so sad! (Laughs.)

Interviewer:Ogasawara-san, you were tasked with the design of the cardboard sheets at the time, weren’t you? What did you make of this feedback? I’m assuming you had never worked on cardboard design projects like this before.

Mr. Ogasawara:Well, we had experience designing product packaging using cardboard, but this was the first time I’d ever tried to make a cardboard design that was easy to assemble for the consumer. Despite this, I continued working on the designs and—well, the consumer test was a real shock! (Laughs.)

Sakaguchi-san said it made him cry, but to tell you the truth things were rough over in hardware development too.

It was surprising because it wasn’t like we hadn’t put a lot of thought into the design at that point. We were always calling over co-workers unfamiliar with the project and seeing how well they could make the Toy-Con projects we designed, and those experiments had always gone well. So basically, consumer tests on adults had all been good up until that point. Going into the test I’d been thinking that 70% or 80% of the kids would do well. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. It was a real disaster.

Mr. Sakaguchi:At first the concept was built completely around the message, which was that these are toys made of cardboard. So the original designs looked less like the objects they were modeled after, and looked more like, well, cardboard. I remember talking about the piano once, and we considered making the lid portion look more like the curves of a grand piano. At the time, we thought that customers could make the toys look like whatever they wanted, so we’d leave as many design elements up to them as possible.

After the disastrous first round of tests, Nintendo put more effort into making their Labo designs resemble the toys they represent. Is it enough to overcome the initially poor reception? We’ll find out when Nintendo Labo launches in less than two weeks.

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