Nintendo’s Tight Clutch on the Goose that Laid the Golden Cartridge

Our take on the situation over in Kyoto.

A few days ago the most beloved designer in the industry, Shigeru Miyamoto, announced that he was vacating his current role as head of game development at Nintendo. The resulting disturbance in the Force felt as if millions of fanboys had cried out in terror and were then suddenly silenced… then Nintendo said Miyamoto was absolutely not retiring. Now Miyamoto himself has spoken again — this time with the Wall Street Journal — on the subject.

“We have to construct the structure so that the organization…can make it without me,” he said. “I should also admit that it might be better without me; I mean that a different approach and different talent might emerge, though I shouldn’t dwell on this because then the article might indeed say ‘Mr. Miyamoto is thinking about retiring,’ because that is not the case.”

Nintendo Company, Ltd. leadership basically went into DEFCON 1 mode back in Kyoto after Miyamoto-san said “the R word,” and the company’s stocks slid due to reactive investors who didn’t bother reading the full story. The reality was that he was never planning on joining Hiroshi Yamauchi (the publisher’s former president) on permanent vacation from the Big N. Jumpman’s creator merely wants to stop supervising and start experimenting with creative ideas for “smaller games.”

Nintendo alleges that not even that much is true, though — likely because they don’t think fans can cope with the idea of the man no longer having the final say in development of everything its various studios develops. The company’s fans — whom I count myself to be among — can be a fickle bunch, to be sure. If the publisher doesn’t pump out Miyamoto-supervised sequels to their mascot games constantly, they complain. At the same time, they also begrudge the guy for not developing any new IPs lately. It’s difficult to win with fans like that.

Putting aside our innate desire to see him rule over development of Mario and Zelda games right up until he’s on his death bed, it’d actually be great to see Miyamoto-san make new games. After poring over all of the statements and news stories, I’m convinced that that’s exactly what’s happening over in Japan. Unfortunately, “Miyamoto is retiring; let’s get hopped up on power mushrooms and freak the hell out!” is a far sexier story.

We’re unlikely to get a full and honest explanation of what is going on anytime soon. If he’s going to be doing literally anything at all other than single-handedly conceptualizing, drawing, animating, coding, testing, marketing, and hand-delivering all Nintendo games to gamers’ front doors; then Nintendo would have no desire to let the public know. Gamers have a bit of a gentlemen’s agreement with the publisher that involves all of us continuing to buy Ninty’s games as long as the credits read “Producer: Shigeru Miyamoto.” That makes us feel like we touched fuzzy and got dizzy inside, or something like that.

Miyamoto also touched on Nintendo’s much-maligned online strategy. Apparently, and this came as a shock to me, it isn’t, “We don’t have one.” Despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary, the man himself says that his employer is not truly playing catch-up with the competition; they’ve just been being careful, because someone had to think of the children.

He said that “children need some special care in comparison to when we are dealing with adult audiences.” Miyamoto asserted that any case in which the gaming giant has put social networking features into play, they have first worried almost endlessly over what dangers it might present to children. To be fair, Nintendo does get judged differently than the other big boys on this front. The world is full of non-gamers who still think video games are for kids, especially those made by Nintendo.

Nobody thinks twice when it comes to potential child predators on XBL or PSN, but when the more than 100-year-old Japanese publisher lets their customers go online in super limited fashion, talking heads often demonize them. Nevertheless, they’re going to have to figure something out. Playing games online on the Wii is hardly even in the thought process of anyone with a 360, PS3 and/or gaming PC. Meanwhile, the less said about the online setup for the 3DS, the better.

The manufacturer would be ill-advised to go into yet another console generation with a half-baked online system, but it’s difficult to feel confident about the Wii U’s online plans at this juncture. It’s already a near guarantee that they will again put forth inferior hardware compared to Sony and Microsoft. If they fail to at least catch up to where the other two-thirds of the Big Three are at in terms of internet functionality right this second, then the road to recapturing the core gamer will be an uphill one.

It’s impossible to say what exactly they will do. We’re talking about a company that is both fickle and unpredictable. Whatever happens, Shigeru Miyamoto is going to be a major cog in the Nintendo machine for the foreseeable future. With someone like that helming projects — big or small — it’s impossible for any who would call themselves a “gamer” to ignore.

[Images via Gaming Union, Game Life and Zelda Informer.]

Nick Santangelo
Nick Santangelo
Nick Santangelo

MASH Veteran

Nick has been a gamer since the 8-bit days and a member of the MTB editorial team since January of 2011. He is not to be interrupted while questing his way through an RPG or desperately clinging to hope against all reason that his Philly sports teams will win any given game he may be watching. Seriously folks, reading this acknowledges that you relieve MTB of any and all legal liability for his actions.

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