Nintendo’s culture of freestyle innovation shapes Animal Crossing

KYOTO, Japan – Few things have reigned supreme in a pandemic-dominated year, like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Nintendo’s latest installment in the long-running series that has been credited with saving sanity of those stuck in their homes for weeks on end.

Despite the heights the game has reached, surpassing 26 million units sold since its release in March of last year, it comes from humble beginnings, coming from an open-minded corporate culture that encourages original ideas. employees.

For those unfamiliar with the phenomenon, Animal Crossing is a social simulation game that gives players their own deserted islands to customize. Other players, or “villagers”, can visit the islands and interact with each other. It creates a new world for people who are often isolated and unable to visit friends and family during times of government lockdown.

The idea for the game – and many others – was inspired by the idle chatter between colleagues on Nintendo’s development team, a common occurrence at the company’s headquarters here in Kyoto.

Hisashi Nogami, the show’s producer, was recently seen participating in such whimsical jokes with a senior colleague at work.

Nintendo values ​​chatter among employees, a corporate culture that has helped produce a string of successes. (Photo courtesy of Nintendo)

“Insects are structurally different from other living creatures,” the team member said. “Maybe they stumbled upon a meteorite from outer space.”

“But exoskeletons are a pretty straightforward way to design something,” Nogami replied.

“I see,” said the colleague, “so that means that we are beings with internal skeletons from outer space.”

These seemingly bizarre conversations are a daily affair at Nintendo’s development division. Discussion threads shouldn’t come to a plausible conclusion, but what they generate are bursts of thought as participants continually fear pet theories.

These aimless discussions serve to break things down into smaller pieces, which are then put together to formulate new ideas. What matters is that no one has to worry about where and how to start a conversation.

The Animal Crossing franchise, which began in 2001, originated when Nogami, now 49, struggled to immerse himself in video games after working with his newlywed in the same room.

Nogami then spoke with an older colleague who was also harassed by the babysitting.

“We need a game that makes you feel like you’re playing with other people.”

“The game should make you quit at any time and feel satisfied.”

From their experiences, the two developed the concept of an open game where players can socially interact with each other.

This sense of innovation passed down through generations of Nintendo employees has also led Animal Crossing to become a successful series.

Series director Aya Kyogoku has been playing Nintendo games for as long as the 39-year-old can remember. Kyogoku was inspired to pursue Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s creator of Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, and other landmark titles.

Nintendo Representative Director Shigeru Miyamoto

“Those who love their jobs always think of work in the back of their minds,” Kyogoku said.

Miyamoto embodied this observation. He envisioned the Wii Fit game while keeping track of his weight during his diet. Pikmin, a series featuring plant-like creatures, dates back to the vegetable garden Miyamoto cultivated at home.

From his observations of Miyamoto, Kyogoku learned that valuable results can come from inactive chatter. From there, Kyogoku became a steadfast believer by constantly drawing inspiration from and relying on real-life experiences.

For example, in Animal Crossing you can trade turnips for cash and vice versa at the Stalk Market. As the pun suggests, its setting looks like an actual stock market filled with price fluctuations. If a player wishes to add more rooms to the house, he must take out a loan.

These characteristics are the source of criticisms often voiced by enthusiasts about “losing money in the rod market” or “having a loan balance”, which can be confusing to the ears of the uninitiated.

The appeal of Animal Crossing is that “anyone can be interested in it because it is connected to reality,” Kyogoku said. The series has made a point of avoiding creating a distinctly different word in order to attract fans from a wide range.

“I have to keep doing new things so that no one asks me if I have retired,” said Miyamoto, 68, who now holds the title of managing director at Nintendo.

These words echo the credo observed by the company’s development team: to do what others have never done before.

It is the spirit of a Kyoto company that is proud not to be so in the Tokyo trends.

“I don’t think there have been a lot of failures so far,” said Miyamoto. “The batting average is around 0.700.”

The opening of Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios in Osaka has been delayed due to the state of emergency.

Nintendo is not distracted by the sales figures. Once a new product hits the market, the company holds a post-mortem review session before they learn about sales trends.

The idea is that you cannot create a completely satisfactory product as long as there is a deadline. The meetings focus on the release of the next title that meets the satisfaction goals.

Even if a new idea turns out to be a business failure, it can still lead to the next product, depending on the thinking. Such an approach gave birth to several famous game makers.

Miyamoto is currently in charge of the development of the Super Nintendo World attraction which will open next month at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. He’s also overseeing the new Mario film set to be released next year.

Previously, Miyamoto purposely hid Mario’s personality so as not to hinder game creation.

But “for five or six years, I felt that I wanted to use [Mario] in various media, ”Miyamoto said.

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