Editorial: Nintendo’s Perspective on the Industry

Had it not been for a promo for Super Mario Maker, would we have ever gotten a good look at this?

The original design documentation for Super Mario Bros.

Last week I discussed what I saw as the anomaly of director anonymity, in a sense. It was not that game directors are entirely unknown, but to the majority of the buying public, their names are not as to the fore as the names behind books and movies. It was a look and a challenge at the way the industry works, and it was entirely borne of love for games and the game making process. Earlier this week, I asked myself the question: does Nintendo ever take that kind of look at the industry outside their own window? It is a common remark to be made of the company that they are insular and an exemplar of conservative Japanese business styles. As business globalizes, and different parts of the world begin to share more tastes and communicate more directly, these kinds of practices seem to have fallen away, but not at Nintendo. It is enough to wonder if the company has any interest, care or love of the gaming industry not directly related to themselves.

On an individual level, if I were to hazard a guess about it, I would say most developers and people responsible for the creation of games have a passion for games as well as the games they create themselves. When considering opportunities to open up about the development process, development houses have given interviews, shared stories on the development of a specific project, and generally been receptive to sharing their world with others. Nintendo, and to a lesser extent other major Japanese development houses, have been particularly tight lipped on their internal workings. Even of games decades old, questions asked of directors about their thoughts on past work are met usually with terse answers or a complete avoidance of the question. While I have no doubt people like Miyamoto enjoy their own creations, formative as they have been for the industry, I find myself wondering if he and others at Nintendo have any interest in sharing their world with anyone else.

The impression of a koopa's eye is also visible around the goomba. Perhaps that goomba was originally going to be a koopa. Neat!

An early drawing of a goomba.

Given Nintendo’s long history, and the age of prominent developers like Miyamoto, I suppose the company got heavily involved in the game making process before a true fandom had cropped up. People liked to play games back then, but today we see a push toward game preservation and posterity of insights from those involved in game development. When I see people at Nintendo shy away from discussing their own work, I see a business move being valued over a more impassioned one for games as a whole. My fear regarding this is that developers crucial to the formations of whole genres of gaming, and not just those that work at Nintendo, will one day die leaving what they know to the company lawyers and the locked file cabinets. During the E3 Nintendo Direct, while promoting their Super Mario Maker game, Miyamoto displayed a veritable treasure of gaming history with what looked like original graph paper design documents for Super Mario Bros., detailing the initial plans for level layout and presentation. Had it not been a good ploy for promoting their newest game, I am willing to bet we would have never seen these papers presented or even discussed by anyone at Nintendo. Since doing so would be well past the point of “sharing company secrets” given the deprecated nature of graph paper design documents, I have to assume we have not seen these because Nintendo does not value their importance to other people. They clearly have an appreciation for them, since they kept them all these years and through a few disastrous earthquakes, but that only shows that they appreciate what they make. It does not necessarily show a recognition of the admiration others have nor of the importance of preserving these items for the benefit of anyone but themselves. It depresses me to think of what they may have destroyed simply because they did not care to hold on to it any longer.

I'd love another Mario Paint, now that I think about it...

Super Mario Maker will allow players to craft their own Mario levels, and is in many ways reminiscent of Mario Paint.

Nintendo’s aloofness is easily confirmed, at least on a surface level, when reading their reactions to outside industry events. They will commonly state a disinterest in comparison to other hardware manufacturers, they will be dismissive of major software successes like Call of Duty, they will generally tow the company line when speaking their mind as if holding their position at Nintendo is a political one akin holding office in a country. Whereas other developers are apt to open up and be candid, if only occasionally, Nintendo decides to regulate what drips and drabs of company goings-on we know about with features like Iwata Asks. These segments do occasionally divulge the compelling tidbit or two, but are then quickly rerouted back to the purpose of self promotion. Again, I am certain Nintendo cares deeply about their own work, but I grow increasingly certain they care little for what their work means to others beyond a business concern.

As has been said by me and many others, I think this attitude is part of the package-deal that is Nintendo and is therefore a reason for their greatest work as well as their worst. And it is difficult to see what has become of the company, of their console performance and their continued stance toward game difficulty, and not see a negative trend. Some fans are quick to roll their eyes at discussion of Nintendo’s performance when it is cast in a negative light, citing upsets and their great deal of cash reserves, but at some point the situation has to be soberly addressed. Nintendo’s money will not last them as long as people seem to think, and their upsets are arguably equal parts mistake and prescience. Whatever happens to Nintendo in the coming years, I just hope we get as much gaming history from that gold mine as possible.

So give me your concerns about gaming history preservation. We usually read about the preservation of actual games, but I think there is more to the picture. Nintendo might be quiet about their own work, but thankfully theirs is not the norm. Let me know what you think about it and do not worry, I will print out all of your comments for posterity!

3 comments on “Editorial: Nintendo’s Perspective on the Industry”

  1. “As has been said by me and many others, I think this attitude is part of the package-deal that is Nintendo and is therefore a reason for their greatest work as well as their worst.”

    More or less. However, I think they could still produce solid and innovative work whilst occasionally looking out the window so they can see what things to learn from or avoid (as plenty of other VERY innovative and successful companies do). Insularity is not the downside of Nintendo’s secret creative power so much as it is an Achilles’ heel.

  2. A benefice to the reader who draws a political cartoon style image of Iwata as Achilles, with his heel labeled INSULARITY.

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