Nintendo Luminaries Speak at the D.I.C.E. Summit
Shigeru Miyamoto and Satoru Iwata share knowledge with fellow game designers
Satoru Iwata is Director and General Manager of the Corporate Planning Division of Nintendo Co., Ltd. Shigeru Miyamoto is the creator of Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Pikmin and more. More officially stated, Mr. Miyamoto is General Manager of the entertainment analysis and development division and a director for Nintendo Co., Ltd.
Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.
Question (Q): What global considerations do you take into account when localizing a product?
Mr. Miyamoto (M): I use a lot of Japanese jokes, so it's important that the text is translated well. The Japanese alphabet uses a lot of characters, so sometimes more memory is used in the Japanese version of the game. We've prepared tools to transfer character sets easily.
When the English translation is complete, we begin to localize for other languages. This is all done in one centralized location in Germany. The whole process can take quite a while. Games which appeal to a wide variety of ages sometimes contain less text and can be localized more quickly. Ultimately, we spend a lot of time getting the localization staff to fully understand the game.
Q: When deciding whether or not to release a game globally, what drives your decision-making process?
Mr. Iwata (I): If you create games that are based on real-life, cultural issues come into play. The more realistic the game is, the more difficult it is to release that game globally. That's where the challenge lies. A good example of this is American football. These games do well in North America, but there is very little interest in this type of game overseas. On the other hand, hardcore RPGs are more likely to do well in Japan than in the US.
Q: What do you think are the top-five reasons The Legend of Zelda has had such a strong global appeal?
M: It's really hard to say. When I'm working, I'm designing to reach the core of human emotion that all cultures share. That's the biggest thing to keep in mind. It's important to focus on the things which people share in common.
Q: Have there ever been any Western games released in Japan which have offended Japanese gamers?
I: It's been a long time since that's happened. In some Western games, you get the feeling that people are making games only for themselves, not for the end user. It's like a watching a huge bodybuilder on a stage flexing his muscles, when really no one wants to look at him. You have to create a game with the end user in mind.
A lot of people think that the Japanese market is tough. One reason for this may be that Japanese gamers look very closely at play control. If they're at all unhappy, they'll put the game down. Perhaps that's because Mr. Miyamoto has trained them to expect perfect play control ...
Q: Were there ever any discussions about changing the name "Pokémon" or any of the individual names of the monsters?
I: With Pokémon, there are very few monsters who share common names in all languages, like Pikachu. A lot of the names had special meaning in Japanese, which did not translate well. So we worked closely with the localization staff in the United States to create suitable names. For some characters, we used the same names and voice actors all around the world.
The creators of the game thought that it would be really cool if every kid around the world would know the name of Pikachu and be able to talk about it together without a language barrier.
M: I am very happy to know that the name Mario is known throughout the world. When I came up with the name Donkey Kong, a lot of people thought that it was strange. If you have a good game, the name isn't important. Now Donkey Kong doesn't sound so weird.
Some games and characters in the Mario series have different names in Japan and the US, and I kind of regret it. Now, I have discussions with the localization staff to try to find a game which will work globally. Even if they think a name is weird, I usually just tell them to be patient.
I: If the game is good, the name isn't really that important.