Last Thursday was the perfect storm in a teacup for games websites.
For a few moments, mere minutes really, Shigeru Miyamoto – creative genius behind almost everything that Nintendo is known for in the modern world – was calling time on an enviable career.
Wired declared he was ‘stepping down’ and quoted him as “retiring from [his] current position” to help “younger developers. Or I might be interested in making something that I can make myself, by myself.”
It’s a fairly transparent comment. But as Nintendo’s share price wobbled, investors panicking that the 59-year-old millionaire father of Mario was boning up on the rules of bridge rather than the rules of Mario Party, the format-holder said all was not as it seemed.
Quickly, a riposte came. Wordy, and repetitive, it wanted to be clear: Miyamoto ain’t going nowhere. Wired “misunderstood”.
“Video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto’s role at Nintendo is not changing. He will continue to be a driving force in Nintendo’s development efforts. In discussing his priorities at Nintendo in a media interview, Mr. Miyamoto explained how he is encouraging the younger developers at the company to take more initiative and responsibility for developing software. He attempted to convey his priorities moving forward, inclusive of overseeing all video game development and ensuring the quality of all products. Mr. Miyamoto also discussed his desire to pursue fresh ideas and experiences of the kind that sparked his initial interest in video games.”
In isolation, it was a confused lost-in-translation moment, a bit of a PR mess, but the usual immature he-said-she-said-oh-no-wait-they-didn’t that online games news is structured around.
But let’s forget what Miyamoto ‘didn’t’ say. Let’s focus on what everyone is choosing not to say.
And it’s this: perhaps it really is time for the most revered game developer of all to call it a day.
THE ULTIMATE LEGACY
I say this, of course, with all due respect.
Miyamoto is a true games hero. He led the creation of Mario, Zelda and countless other staple franchises that are cross-generational, and cross-audience.
He shaped the design of most Nintendo games hardware.
He is a key exec inside that business.
But the brouhaha tied into the mere suggestion he could retire raises questions about new talent in games that companies like Nintendo should address – not just for the health of the industry, but their own health, and their own reputation.
Much of the worry about Miyamoto retiring is to do with status. If he goes, it suggests weakness for Nintendo. It implies the next Mario, Mario Kart or Zelda, or even the next Nintendo console, will simply not be as good without him around.
To a sensible mind, of course, this is total bollocks. Nintendo is not one man. Miyamoto is not the only exec there. It is a company staffed by almost 5,000. It can surely survive the decreased involvement of one individual.
But sense rarely comes into it on topics like this. So Nintendo and Miyamoto must maintain that he’s going nowhere. If they could reasonably imply he was immortal and that his golden touch will inform games into perpetuity, they would. (In seriousness, as an aside, it must be horribly difficult for him at this juncture – although faced with having to oversee Mario Kart 8 or the 17th Zelda, it's clear that under no circumstances can he suggest he ever will eventually retire.)
Nintendo insists, then, that Miyamoto is a “driving force in Nintendo’s development efforts”. He is also “encouraging younger developers to take more initiative”, he “oversees all video game development” and “ensures the quality of all products” – and at the same time has a “desire to pursue fresh ideas”.
That’s an impossible, contradictory role. Unless Nintendo’s next console eliminates the need to sleep or have a life.
It’s time for Nintendo Japan’s most senior worrywarts and its itchyfeet shareholders to accept that Miyamoto is mortal like the rest of us, and be ready to talk about the next generation of games designers.
Nintendo’s corporate line might not agree, but I do – Miyamoto said it himself: “unless I say that I’m retiring, I cannot nurture the young developers”.
THE NEXT GENERATION
The entire situation only rams home that the games industry is at a very crucial crossroads.
The businesses trying to build the games industry further desperately need more talent to come in. Our schools aren’t good enough. ‘Games’ degrees don’t cut it half the time. Barriers exist for many with the passion, but no direction. Most teams consist of men – women still make up just a paltry 10 per cent of the global workforce for the entire industry. Something has to change. And there’s a chance for big companies like Nintendo to contribute serious change.
Dream scenario: Nintendo starts actively hiring would-be dev talent around the world, or at least promoting a more accessible download store and publishing scheme to encourage that audience to grow. Leaflets inserted with Nintendo games promote this, making the concept of being a games creator a mass-market one. Much like how Nintendo made the concept of being a gamer mass market with the Wii and DS.
Miyamoto can travel the world talking about how this new scheme works, how he works, and engage with the students and developers that would be desperate to be in the same room as him.
He can retain his status as Nintendo ambassador, but also book that cruise, take that holiday, work on that download game on his own. Most importantly, though, it maintains his reputation without removing his status. He gets to retire, without handing in his notice.
Because whether it was him travelling the world, or just focusing solely on engaging new talent within the Nintendo HQ, people would listen. They already hang off his every word.
And, really, I can’t think of anyone more respected, or more talented, than Miyamoto to actually bring to light and potentially fix the worrying fact that we don’t know where the next generation of Miyamotos might come from.