Shigeru Miyamoto: A Global Megastar

Back to Contents of Issue: June 2003


THE EXTRAORDINARY SUCCESS OF Nintendo's characters has turned their creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, into a global megastar.

by Leo Lewis

THE EXTRAORDINARY SUCCESS OF Nintendo's characters has turned their creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, into a global megastar. The Mario series alone, which began life as a tiny liquid-crystal blob as part of Nintendo's Game and Watch range, has sold 165 million games over the last 20 years.

A low profile advert told Londoners in February that the great man would be paying a visit to London to help with promotion efforts for the new Zelda title for the GameCube. Other Japanese hugely famous in their own country had managed to visit Britain without being recognized, so Miyamoto thought he was safe.

Instead, greeting him outside Oxford Street's Virgin Megastore was a thousand-strong mob of games fans. In a rare interview, the bemused creative director told J@pan Inc, "I couldn't believe I was getting such a rock-star welcome. There were thousands of people in the store. A lot of them had camped out overnight to come and see me and get me to sign their game cartridges."

"We always get Sony
and others saying that
Nintendo is for children,
but it really isn't"

But away from the groupies, Miyamoto is particularly aware that his company finds itself at a crossroads. Nintendo knows it has to grow up fast if it wants to keep its position in an industry that is no longer just about entertaining the kids. "The industry has to aim itself at older people," he says. "I know that the average gamer's age is rising and that people in their 20s have more money to spend. Nintendo is not going to avoid this trend by ignoring it."

He is also aware that the success of his games has given Nintendo a childish image that may be hard to throw off. This has been especially highlighted by the third-party games makers, which use their independence to push the maturity boundaries of the games market. Miyamoto argues, "We always get Sony and others saying that Nintendo is for children, but it really isn't. It's about producing a formula that works everywhere around the world."

Miyamoto's greatest achievement, say the games experts, is to produce games that, while looking simplistic, are actually capable of hitting all the right emotional buttons. He is unable to properly describe the exact process, and falls back on his now time-honored explanation: "Behind every door, a surprise." It is that, he says, that drives players to delve deeper into his games, and to become effectively addicted to his creations.

But despite being arguably the world's greatest games programmer, Miyamoto fiercely denies that he is an otaku -- a housebound computer geek. He explains that his inspiration comes from spending as much time as possible in the real world: spotting images, sounds and scenes that he can incorporate. His affection for country and western music suddenly blossomed when he was working on the title Pikmin, and C&W became the basis of the soundtrack.

Miyamoto makes it impossible to believe that he works for a company that has profit as its prime motive. "I was once out walking in a park and a lady came up to me with her small son. She recognized me and asked me what the best game was for her boy. I told her, 'Tell him to go and play outside.'" @

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