Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The False Retirement of A Giant Makes Waves

 There was a recent panic over the speculation that Shigeru Miyamoto -- the man behind Mario, Link, and others -- was retiring. My question is: why?

Last week we had a genuine case of the boy who cried wolf. Wired ran an article which went over an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto. In the interview Miyamoto talked about what he was planning to do with himself over the next few years. Here's a quote from the article:

“Inside our office, I’ve been recently declaring, ‘I’m going to retire, I’m going to retire,’” Miyamoto said through his interpreter. “I’m not saying that I’m going to retire from game development altogether. What I mean by retiring is, retiring from my current position."

“What I really want to do is be in the forefront of game development once again myself,” Miyamoto said. “Probably working on a smaller project with even younger developers. Or I might be interested in making something that I can make myself, by myself. Something really small.”

Basically, the man is saying that he'd like to go back and do some ground level work, things like that. Of course though, that wasn't the message that a lot of people got from the interview. No, quite a few people walked away from the article focusing on one important uttered word: retire. The gaming community went apeshit for a couple of days: the whole red alert was sounded. Nintendo's stock dropped 2% in a day. Would this be the end of gaming as we knew it?

Well, if you'd actually read the article, then you'd already know the answer was no, if for the sole reason that Miyamoto isn't retiring, a statement which Nintendo had to reiterate to the panic stricken masses:

"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."
Still, all of this hubbub over Miyamoto's retirement has sparked a rather unavoidable question: what happens when he does retire, for real? Or, god forbid, die?

Honestly, I'd have to say that the answer to that should be "not much of anything", but that it probably won't be.

Don't get me wrong. Gaming owes a fair debt to Mr. Mario. He created some of the games and franchises that helped Nintendo pull video games out of the gutter after a lot of people had written them off. However, I think that we might be suffering from a severe case of over estimation in terms of what one man means to a company that employs thousands. Certainly having someone like Miyamoto isn't going to hurt your cause, but he's also not Atlas, he's not carrying the entire company on his shoulders despite what a lot of people like to think.

Truth be told for me this story has more than a passing similarity to what recently happened to Apple after Steve Jobs died: people panicked; they said that without this man helming the company (even though he had stepped down well before his death due to his health concerns) that Apple was doomed. Stock prices slightly fell. Except now a couple months later Apple shows no signs of falling apart and the stock is doing better now than it did then ($377.37 then as opposed to the current $391.84).

Will people like Jobs, and of course eventually Miyamoto, be missed? Of course they will. They had some great ideas and helped make a lot of people happy and successful. The thing is though that despite all they've done, they are just people, and it's not like there aren't a myriad of others with their own ideas. Who knows just who is going to come out with the next big thing. Certainly Miyamoto could come out with something that blows us away again, but it's just as likely -- if not more likely -- that it will be someone that we've never heard of coming out of left field. Hell, look at studios like Team Meat, look at the team of students that developed Narbacular Drop, who went on to make Portal.

Essentially, what I'm saying is that this panic over the future (which of course turned out to not even be necessary) is overblown. Miyamoto won't be around forever, and while he will be missed, his legacy will live on through both his characters and the people that follow in his footsteps, innovating in their own ways and blowing our minds in ways that we never thought possible.

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