Nintendo And The Desperation Of Design: Why Miyamoto May Be A Bad Boss!

Iwata Asks is one of the few, rare insights we have into the working processes of Nintendo as a company, and I've always found it fascinating. No company is more closed up about its games, but Iwata Asks is like a complete anomaly — often it's painfully open about the successes and failures of Nintendo as a company. The most recent Iwata Asks may be the most fascinating of all — a discussion about how being 'desperate' is important to good game design. And Miyamoto asks himself, is he a good boss?

Both Miyamoto and Itoi (the creator of Mother) agree that designing just to save face is a surefire way for your project to end in 'glorious' failure.

Miyamoto: A long time ago, this pro baseball player popped out while his team was losing, but he was sort of smirking on his way back because the fly ball went far out to the fence.

Itoi: Uh huh. (laughs)

Miyamoto: I couldn't figure out why the coach didn't yell at him for it. Because the viewers are bummed out that he was out.

Itoi: Yeah. I'm sure he went back to the bench thinking, "So close!"

Miyamoto: Right. In other words,it's the same out whether the ball lands right by the edge of the line or striking out. You don't want him to think of it as the lesser of two evils. As a professional player, you expect him to feel sorry for getting out.

Iwata: So you don't like it when someone feels satisfied that he saved face.

Miyamoto: Exactly. I hate when someone's like, "Well, at least I was able to save face." What good does saving face do you? Of course, being able to at least hit a ball coming at you at 90mph is quite something of itself, though.

Itoi: I wonder where people can learn these sort of things.

Miyamoto: Even within our company, once someone lands the title and position of Director, it's like you said earlier, Iwata-san, you have to start thinking about budgets and prestige and you lose some of that passion. I really hate that, the lack of desperation.

And then later...

Miyamoto: Our company tries to support people who have that kind of desperation. Because desparate people tends to be thought of a nuisance by others around them.

Iwata: Oh, that's true. That's the kind of thing that makes Nintendo so interesting; everyone supports the desperate people.

Itoi: Our company does, too, but I wonder if many other companies are like that.

Iwata: That's a good question. But I do feel like that's a good barometer of the health of a company, whether they support desperate people or make fun of them.

Itoi: I really hate it if there's no desperation there. Wait, obviously I'm okay with taking breaks!

Miyamoto: Right. (laughs)

Itoi: It's completely okay to take a break, or to taking it easy, or slacking off .But I don't like when people aren't willing to do anything desperately.

Miyamoto: Right. I don't care about slacking off either.

Itoi: Right. Because they happened to be slacking off.

Miyamoto: Right. On the other hand, I really hate it when people act like they're not slacking off. When they act like they're really busy but they're actually slacking off.

Everyone: (laughs)

Itoi: (laughs)

Iwata: That's the definition of just saving face.

Miyamoto: Exactly! (laughs)

Clearly Miyamoto is a perfectionist. Incredibly this leads to him rejecting 70 percent of the ideas that are brought to him by his staff.

Miyamoto: I don't know if it comes from not having a boss, but I can't tell if I'm a good boss or not.

Itoi: Oh…

Miyamoto: For example, staff members who have worked with me for a long time will often come up to me and say, "I thought of something," but about 70% of the time, I say, "That won't work."

Itoi: Oh.

Miyamoto: I know it isn't nice, but I know if that idea was mine I'd decline it too, I have to say it anyway. Sometimes, I think if I don't stop that, I won't be able to help anyone grow.

Itoi: Well, part of that can't be helped.

Miyamoto: I know, but when I think about it later, I didn't need to be so harsh for about 20% of that 70%.

Itoi: Hmm…

Iwata: Some of them might have worked out all right, but you can't be certain that they would have.

Miyamoto: When I call 70% of proposals no good, I have to take responsibility for that. I am not making it as the excuses for tossing those ideas out, though. (laughs)

Iwata: That's the way it is. Whether the project generates results or not falls to you.

Miyamoto: Since I do that routinely, I'm always wanting to say to others, "Why won't you stake your life on it?" But then when I think about it, I think it's simply unfeasible.

Iwata: (laughs)

For anyone interested in Nintendo, or even just creative process in general, this is a must read.

Iwata Asks: Creative Small Talk [Nintendo]


    These interviews are always very interesting and a fantastic read for Nintendo fans like myself.

    "On the other hand, I really hate it when people act like they’re not slacking off. When they act like they’re really busy but they’re actually slacking off."

    Crap someone's coming...

    *Alt + Tab to Outlook...*

      This is more or less Japanese office culture in a nutshell. Everyone works a million hours, never sleeps and never sees family. They are always so "busy", but nobody ever turns out a hell of a lot of work. It's all about the number of hours put in, not the productivity of those hours.

      I'm happy to see him saying "yeah man, screw around for a bit. Play BasketBin. But when it's time to work, get shit done." That alone makes me think he's probably a really good boss.

    I'm assuming they don't mean desperate in the same way I'm thinking. Sounds more like they're meaning hungry or ambitious.


      Same here - I read "desperate" as a mistranslation for "passionate"

      I thought from the context (and Japanese version) that "desperate" is accurate. As noted in the interview, it's not the disparaging use of “desperate” (as in, “he’s so desperate”). It’s closer to the idea of being frantic or frantically doing something. This isn’t the exact same thing as being ambitious or passionate, although they’re not necessary mutually exclusive. So when Itoi-san was told “Everyone is desperate when they're doing something new,” I thought the use of “desperate” was very appropriate.

    Often the people who are the most successful in tech industries are the ones that are assholes to work for. Apparently both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were terrible like that as well.

    I can't help but feel there is something lost in translation. Or maybe that's just how they use English, I also don't get the clumsy baseball metaphor, probably because I don't follow baseball.

    The way i understood it was the baseball player was told to struck out (since the coach didn't get angry) but he didn't get a swing and miss out he did a fly ball out and saved face (the embarrassment of a missed hit).

      Umm, no, please don't talk about baseball again.

      Striking out = bad
      Flyout or popout = also bad

      Miyamoto was saying that the player was smirking because he hit it very close over the fence for a homerun, but the ball was caught. He couldn't understand why the player was smiling, since he was still out. That's what he meant by saving face - what's the point of being happy that you almost hit a homerun if you're still out?

        Anyway, Miyamoto's philosophy seems to be:

        Close but no cigar isn't good enough for him, if he wants something done it better realise his vision fully, or go back to the drawing board.

    I always thought of Miyamoto to be the Davros of Nintendo. He's the sort of madman you wouldn't want to run the company, they keep him locked away till they see he has a good idea from his many insane ideas that they can capitlise on. I always thought the Wii U was Miyamoto sitting on the toilet wishing he could continue his game of New Super Mario Bros, or his wife kicked him off the TV while he was playing a game


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