Shigeru Miyamoto’s Peter Pan effect


Peter Pan is the mythical figure who refused to grow up. To some, Shigeru Miyamoto is the game designer who invented the console genre, but refused to shift gears with the rest of the industry as it grew over the past 20 years.

Only those gamers in denial would say Nintendo hasn’t suffered from a “kiddie image.” It’s not completely accurate, but regardless public opinion has been set on this issue, as my trip to Toys R Us on Sunday to get a Wii has proven. “My son isn’t old enough for PS3 yet,” said a mother I spoke with, “Besides, Nintendo is designed more for kids anyway.” There was no malice in her voice, no fanboyism for PS3 or 360 — just common sense.

In an interview with Wired compiled over the past year, Miyamoto speaks about this public perception, and I can say he honestly wrestles with some inner demons about the decision to make or break games with more “adult” themes for the Wii. Is he helping or hurting the industry when Mario and Link make huge sales wins?

“He is not helping things,” says Seamus Blackley, the former head of Microsoft’s Xbox team who now runs the Capital Entertainment Group. Blackley is in Makuhari, Japan, on the final day of September’s Tokyo Games Show. He speaks for many game designers raised on Miyamoto’s innovations – developers who admire the master’s work but are desperate for something new. “At this point,” Blackley continues, “Miyamoto is making games for his fans. Granted, there are millions of them, and it’s smart business, but most are kids. He’s not opening up adult audiences. He’s reinforcing stereotypes about games, not pushing them to a place where they can become something different and truly awesome.”

This is where the Wii comes in. Sure, it sold 1 million consoles and won the early battles, but this is a five year fight. The $200 million marketing push needs to continue indefinitely, and the “Wii Sports Effect” — the high I’ve been riding for the past three days — needs to last.

That said, the numbers are hard to ignore. Super Mario Sunshine, a game I’ve never even seen let alone played (no lie), set a record when it launched for selling 350,000 copies in 10 days. Mario and Zelda are still sure things when it comes to fun and sales. But, the GTA’s of the world continue to sell, sell sell, and innovative gems like Pikmin don’t get the credit they deserve — possible, again, because they just aren’t accessible to old farts like the Infendo staff. Maybe I’m that guy who’s still holding onto his casssettes, unable to recognize the real value of progress through my own ruby-colored glasses.

People often talk about Grand Theft Auto,” Miyamoto says. “But I am not sure whether that sort of extreme subject matter is always appropriate. They also talk about the future of games being a kind of virtual reality. But I am not convinced that being more realistic makes better games.”

If thinking like Miyamoto is a sin these days, then call me the king of sinners.

I’ll be bringing the Wii home for Thanksgiving in a few days to surprise my family and neighbors. We’ll see what happens, and we’ll see if Miyamoto is crazy stupid, or crazy like a fox.

12 Responses to Shigeru Miyamoto’s Peter Pan effect

  1. Kale says:

    It seems to me this article is the pot calling the kettle black. Look at american developers. If I have to suffer through one more half-assed, god-awful first person shooter or GTA wannabe, I’m going to puke. I don’t know when this stupid industry is going to wake up and pay attention. There’s obviously a reason why Miyamoto is still around. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. They’re trying to call Miyamoto outdated simply because his games don’t seem to cause any social upheavals or congressional panics. To hell with Grand Theft Auto. Rockstar can burn to the ground for all I care. Gears of War lasts 10 hours, people. Zelda supposedly 70 hours. Yet Gears of War is the “next gen” experience? The FUTURE OF GAMING ONLY LASTS 10 STINKING HOURS????!!!!!! Controversy and Liberalism are not, I repeat ARE NOT synonymous with progress. Refinement, Control, and greater depth are what real progress is about. As a game developer, maybe I have insight to things the average Joe out there simply isn’t aware of, but that just proves my point. The only reason games like GTA ever made it is becuase John Q. Public has an average IQ of about 74. Shigeru Miyamoto invented video game design. He perfected the platformer. And in case you people forget, he saved this industry in 1985. Maybe if some of these prick Yank’ developers out there knew anything about legitimate game design, their opinions would be different. Miyamoto is not “making games for his fans.” He’s making the games HE WANTS TO MAKE. That’s every developer’s dream. Those that criticize him have obviously lost sight of that dream, and I pity them for the helpless, sickly, creatively-emmaciated creatures that they are. I’m glad that Miyamoto-san has that Peter Pan image. I strive everyday to hold on to that youthful imagination and creativity. There’s nothing creative or imaginative or ARTISTIC about hand-guns, hookers, or pushing congress’s buttons. LONG LIVE SHIGERU MIYAMOTO. LONG LIVE NINTENDO AND EVERYTHING THE COMPANY STANDS FOR.

    PS: Sorry if I’m preaching to choir here, but people dissin’ on Mr. Miyamoto’s child-like essence really pisses me off….

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, I’d say at this point that there are more stereotypes about video games being violent, crude, and anti-social than there are about video games being fun, carefree, whimsical and innocent, which are the sorts of things Miyamoto specializes in. Besides, what happens when Miyamoto does do something great that’s very different from most games that are out there? (See: Pikmin.) Few people care about it or buy it. He’s learned that if he wants to get his new gameplay ideas out there and recognized, he has to tie them to Nintendo’s hit franchises. Nintendo is perhaps the most diverse developer in the world. They make platformers, adventure games, sports games, puzzle games, simulation games, strategy games (turn-based and real time, if you count Pikmin as RTS), racing games, space flight games, fighting games, RPGs, first person shooters (if you count the Metroid Primes, and Metroid Prime: Hunters definitely counts), party games, music games (Donkey Konga etc.), “brain training” games, and probably some other genres I can’t think of. Not only that, but they do them all very well with a few exceptions. The fact that many of these games are tied to Nintendo’s big franchises, like Mario, Zelda and Metroid, shouldn’t deter people stop people from recognizing that the games themselves contain loads of variety, innovation and design savvy, but apparently it does.

  3. Jack says:

    I love great conversation, and these comments are just that. If it didn’t shine thru in my post, I’ll say it again here: long live Miyamoto.

  4. InvisibleMan says:

    Kale: calm down, dude! Gears of War’s single player story mode may be short, but the game is geared really towards online! It already topped the venerable Halo 2 in number of people online, something no other Xbox game had been able to do.

    Anyway, your comment would have made a more lasting impression if you had simply said (and I’m quoting):

    Miyamoto is not “making games for his fans”. He’s making the games HE WANTS TO MAKE.

    Truer words were never spoken!

  5. Drahken Kahn says:

    “He’s reinforcing stereotypes about games, not pushing them to a place where they can become something different and truly awesome.”

    You know Microsoft is right. Microsoft is the king of making different things. Nintendo needs to to be more like them. They need to stop making new systems with revolutionary ways to play games and release the exact same system with HD capabilities. You know, like the Xbox 360. Microsoft really knows what they’re talking about when it comes to introducing new ideas and revolutionizing gaming .

  6. InvisibleMan says:

    I’m not so sure of that, drahken kahn… I’ve never seen a really good platformer or virtual pet game coming from MicroSoft, at least not on the same league as Super Mario 64 or Animal Crossing. Even after they aquired Rare, the games that came from that developer do not have the success or charm that the same developer created under Nintendo.

    As consumer, I ask: why wish that each particular company be all for everyone? These companies are like expert craftspeople, so why not go to the one that does it best for the particular game you want to play at the moment? If I want the best first-person shooter, I’ll go to my Xbox and play Halo or Gears of War; if I want the best party game or platformer, I’ll go to my Wii and play Monkey Ball or Super Mario Galaxy; if I want the best portable gaming, I’ll go to my GBA or DS (heck, some might even go to their PSP!) and play Advance Wars or Elite Beat Agents or Lumines; and if I want the best Final Fantasy game, I’ll go to my PS2 and play the current iteration of FF.

    Let the C.E.O.s of the game divisions of each of these three companies figure out how they will divide the pie… We’ll just go and have a blast with whatever they come up with! It’s a good thing that there are so many choices for us today.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I.. I think he was being sarcastic.. at least that’s how it came off to me.

    Like it has been said before.. “Long Live Miyamoto!”

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, that sarcasm was pretty blatant.

  9. Drahken Kahn says:

    Yeah. I thought the sarcasm was fairly obvious. Read what I wrote again. It explicitly contradicts the idea that Microsoft is innovative and Nintendo isn’t.

  10. Anonymous says:

    *sigh*

    This, you see, is the problem in gaming these days. The developers have forgotten that video games are video games. They want to make these ultra-realisitc things with sex, violance, and the works. They want to blur the line between game and reality. This is bad. I don’t want realistic games. I get my full dose of realism from real life thank you very much.

    I play games to have fun, not to have some sort of ultra-real, fifth-person shoot-’em-up bitch-slapper Explosion XII, I want a fun game. A game does not have to send parents running for Jack Thompson. A game does not have to be photorealistic. A game does not have to make such an effort to be real. A game should be fun.

    Shiggy knows games. He saved the indrusty in ’85, and it’s been uphill since. He make the kind of game he wants to make, and thus he makes the kind of games I want to play. He, and those who think like him, also make games that reach out to a larger audience. The Miyamoto mindset has brought me just about every game I have ever deemed worthy to play. Shiggy is king.

    I want my game to be a game. The point of a video game is to have fun. And I will continue to give my hard earned money who peoply like Mr. Miyamoto who make games that I find fun.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry but don’t we have enough companies like Rockstar, Capcom, Konami, Tecmo, Bioware, iD, Valve, etc. creating these “mature” games? Is it really necessary to drag people like Miyamoto to do the same “mature” games these guys do? Should THQ drop all their “kiddy” games as well?

    I like games like Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, etc. but I also appreciate Zelda (which is more in Final Fantasy’s league theme-wise than GTA), Mario, Pokemon, and Kirby.

    Shoot, if Miyamoto’s too Peter Pan for his own good then call me his Lost Boy.

  12. David says:

    I don’t think Miyamoto is making games just for his fans or just for himself. I’d argue that Nintendogs is Miyamoto’s nod to the masses. I don’t know how much he was involved in the game, but he was obviously involved a little.

    Legend has it that Miyamoto called Super Mario 64 a failure because it was massively outsold by Tamagotchis around the same time. An artist making products only for himself or his fans would have seen Tamagotchi as something beneath him. But Miyamoto’s main goal isn’t to be some honour-bound artist, it’s to entertain people.

    So instead of setting out to make a better Mario game, which would have been the thing to do if he was making games strictly for himself or for his fans, Miyamoto set out to make a better Tamagotchi. That better Tamagotchi was Nintendogs, and it has sold like crazy.

    Indeed, Nintendo’s Brain Age and Nintendogs are the games that are out there opening up new audiences while titles like Gears of War or Grand Theft Auto continue to pander to the same old 15-25 market that Sony and Microsoft have been targeting for 5-10 years.

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