Posted by: seanmalstrom | January 14, 2012

Celebration of Miyamoto’s Retirement: Day Six

The celebration of Miyamoto’s “retirement” continues here.

Reason Six: Miyamoto blames the marketers for his failures

In Miyamoto’s world, if a game he works on doesn’t succeed, it is always the marketer’s fault. Wii Music’s failure was due to the marketing. Gamecube’s failure was due to Nintendo not countering Sony and Microsoft marketing. 3DS problems? Marketing.

What I find amazing is that all of Nintendo’s successes are never credited to the business side of Nintendo, never to the marketers. No, all credit goes to Miyamoto and all blame goes to the marketers. Why would anyone want to work on the business side of Nintendo with how unfair it is?

You may think I am making all this up. But here is an example of it in action: Miyamoto believes the Virtual Boy was a failure entirely due to marketing. I cannot make this stuff up!

From Iwata Asks about the 3DS:


Anyway, those red-and-black visuals were at a bit of a disadvantage at that time when the graphics for video games were rapidly getting richer.
MiyamotoYeah. But I thought of Virtual Boy as a fun toy.
Iwata says what everyone else knows: the red-and-black visuals of the Virtual Boy really removed any value from the system. Miyamoto doesn’t care. Listen to what he says next:

Miyamoto: It was the kind of toy to get you excited and make you think, “This is what we can do now!” I imagined it as something that people who were on the lookout for new entertainment or who could afford to spend a bit of money could buy and enjoy even if the price was a little expensive. But the world treated it like a successor to the Game Boy system.
Itoi: It’s even got the word “boy” in its name.
Miyamoto:That was also true within Nintendo. Our sales department treated the Virtual Boy as an extension of our licensing business. In other words, we sold it as something like the Famicom system.
Why wouldn’t have Nintendo sold it as something like the Famicom system? It played video games, and you could buy games separately. The only difference is that it provided its own visual output and didn’t require a TV. Virtual Boy has been and will always be considered a video game console.
But in Miyamoto’s world, the marketers screwed it all up. If they had done things ‘correctly’ and presented it as a ‘toy’, it would have sold. I am amazed at where Miyamoto gets this expertise in marketing with all this lecturing he does. The Famicom console aesthetics had to be completely redone to a more ‘business like’ appearance because the Famicom looked too much like a ‘toy’ to the Western audiences. Western audiences like their video game systems looking like a cool piece of electronic equipment, not like a Fisher Price product. This is in great part why the Gamecube gets so much ridicule.

: And when you do that, selling 100,000 is just a start. But if you think of it as just a fun toy, it’s a big success if you break just 50,000. If sales generated some buzz, and crossed 100,000, then 200,000, then 500,000—quite a good pattern. Viewed like that, Virtual Boy was, I think, quite an appealing toy. To people who viewed it like that, I think that is still an appealing product. But if you place it front and center and think about the licensing business…

In other words, if you think of it as a gaming platform.

Right. When you think of it as a gaming platform, it becomes a failure.
But how else can we think of the Virtual Boy but as a gaming platform? It plays video games after all.

Itoi: There was no way for Nintendo to escape it. Everyone assumes that when Nintendo puts out a machine, it must be a full-blown gaming platform.
Miyamoto: Yeah. It can’t be helped. Which is exactly why at the time I thought it was extremely important to portray it properly, including advertisements and sorts to the effect that it’s not a full-scale platform.
Iwata: But you weren’t a main player on that device, so you couldn’t say anything.
Miyamoto: I didn’t have the authority.
In this fantasy world, if Miyamoto had the ‘authority’, then the Virtual Boy would have been a ‘success’. I don’t think I’ve seen arrogance so high. Perhaps Miyamoto should channel what one ancient king once said that “If God had taken me into his confidence, the Earth would have been better arranged.” This guy literally does believe he is a ‘Game God’ and that he should be an authority on everything gaming including the sales and marketing departments.

: Virtual Boy had two big tasks to accomplish, and it went out into the world without satisfying either one. It’s not so much that the machine itself was wrong as a product, but that we were wrong in how we portrayed it.
I don’t know what to say. Miyamoto believes the Virtual Boy was ‘right’ but that the marketing is ‘wrong’. The Virtual Boy was ‘fine’, it was just the ‘portrayal’ of it that was wrong. Talk about being deluded.

: A long time ago, we did make out-of-place stuff, though.
Itoi: Yeah. Like the Love Tester.8
Iwata: The Love Tester doesn’t really fit into the family living room. (laughs)
Miyamoto: And the Automatic Ultra Scope.9
Itoi: And that thing like a batting machine…


This was because Nintendo was once a toy company. But doesn’t this sound defensive? And the fact of the matter is that Iwata and Miyamoto were nowhere near Nintendo when those products were made. That was an entirely different era for the century old Nintendo. It is as absurd as comparing the Virtual Boy to some old playing cards.

Itoi: If you think of Virtual Boy as an extension of such toys, you could say it is quite in keeping with Nintendo’s products.
Miyamoto: I think so too. That’s why I think it would have been most ideal if it first started out as a toy, and then organically evolved to a gaming platform. However, ever since Famicom, people tend to think of Nintendo’s game consoles as a set with the licensing business.
Start as a ‘toy’ and then organically evolves into a gaming platform? WTF does that mean? Has there ever been a toy that ‘organically evolves’ into a platform, gaming or otherwise? Never.The point is that the fault of the Virtual Boy is not with Nintendo’s developers such as Shigeru Miyamoto. Oh no. The fault is everyone else. The fault is with the marketers. The fault is with the sales department. The fault is with the customers. Is Miyamoto at fault for anything in his long career? Is he a saint putting up with the rest of us sinners? Should we all bow to him and beg forgiveness for him being tolerant of our imperfection?
This is why we celebrate Miyamoto’s retirement. It is a good thing for gaming.


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