Smash Bros. Creator Masahiro Sakurai Works Too Damn Hard

Screenshot: Nintendo

This is Masahiro Sakurai. He makes Smash Bros. games. At this point in his career, he could probably take things pretty easy. He does not.

“My office hours are up to me. So long as I complete the new Smash Bros., I could show up only once a week, or only at night, or even telecommute if I wanted to,” Sakurai wrote in Famitsu back in 2013.

In a recent Nintendo Dream interview, he reiterated the same thing. Sakurai, however, comes in every day and even writes the daily report himself.

Sakurai’s days consist of meetings, hammering out projects and not only overseeing development but being very hands on. He’s the guy who enters, edits and checks the various parameters in the Smash Bros. games. “If I were to hand over the work to someone else, it would be a full-time, multi-person designated workload,” Sakurai previously explained.

So he ends up doing all these tasks as well as his own workload. There’s a reason for that, Sakurai says. “It’s faster and more accurate to do it myself than to tell someone else over and over again what to do.”

All this has come with a physical toll.

In 2013, for example, he started suffering from calcific tendinitis in his right shoulder. It was so bad that the multiple ruptures in his arm muscles woke him up at night and prevented him from getting a good night’s rest.

The injury made it physically painful for him to do the necessary playtesting for Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, which he seems to have done regardless.

Two years later, Sakurai’s arm had improved but not completely healed. “I still have trouble with my shoulder and the symptoms of tenosynovitis still remain, so I’m forced to use a special mouse that clicks by inclining for work.”

Sakurai wrote in Famitsu in 2015. “If I was to button mash, my arm would give out in 10 minutes.”

In the recent Nintendo Dream interview, Sakurai talked about physical maintenance. He is trying to take it easy, but for Sakurai, that still means a demanding workload.

“What’s changed now with previous projects is that by principle I feel I need to go home at 10 pm,” said Sakurai. “Recently, many companies don’t endorse overtime.” But as in the past, Sakurai has been confronted with health issues during development, but he hasn’t let them slow him down.

“When talking about staying healthy, I’ve been having bad stomach problems,” he said. “During development [of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate], I had [food poisoning] one or two times. I guess I got that from oysters I didn’t eat.” Sakurai explained that he thinks that his meal’s ingredients came in contact with oysters.

“But the food was thoroughly cooked,” he added. “I wonder how I came down with that.”

Even though he had food poisoning, he still worked on Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. “I didn’t take time off,” Sakurai said. “I just got an IV and then I headed to the office.” (In my experience in the Japanese health care system, IVs are readily given to patients at a rate I did not experience in the U.S. to help them recover quickly. It’s fairly common, with patients briefly resting at the hospital or clinic while getting the IV. Of course, like elsewhere, oral medication is also prescribed.)

Sakurai did tell Nintendo Dream that he was able to take some days off last year—December 22 (a Saturday), December 23 (a Sunday) and December 24 (a National Holiday). He added that he didn’t think he could take several days off in a row, such as during the Japanese New Year holidays, which the entire country, except for Masahiro Sakurai, takes off.

“We’re doing the DLC, and I’d make the staff wait for me.”

When the DLC is done, he really should take lots of time off. Something tells me, he won’t, especially because he seems to love his job. Said Sakurai, “Work is always like this, but I’m doing fine!”


Comments

    Overwork like this should not be celebrated. The tone here sounds way too much like "wow look at the heroic hours Sakurai works" and a lot less like "holy shit this guy is going to kill himself at this rate" and that is a problem.

    It's especially bad when the guy at the top is doing this because it creates an unfair expectation that all his employees work the same sort of insane hours too.

    Take an extra six months to develop the game. It'll still make money, and you also won't run the risk of dying of overwork.

      I agree with your statements, but I feel you have missed the main point and its this statement.

      “It’s faster and more accurate to do it myself than to tell someone else over and over again what to do.”

      I am a design engineer (mechanical engineering) while I am mostly surrounded by competent people at the end of the day I have to design the machine, I have to sign it off as safe. I am the end of the responsibility chain.

      It is just faster to work harder and longer than to "trust" someone else's work and even if I have you do work for me I go over it with a fine tooth comb because I can not afford any mistakes not with the $$$$$$$ involved.

        I would overall agree with you but I hope that you have everything documented somewhere for the time(s) when you (should) take a break

        speaking from experience as someone who used to and still sometimes do work 70+ hours a week haha

        Mechanical engineering is obviously a bit different - no one is going to have their hands horribly mutilated in a tragic accident if there is a flaw in a video game, hopefully, but if you get the design of your meat slicing machine wrong that's a real possibility - but even so, at some point you've got to be able to trust that people under you are doing their job correctly, let them do it, and then sure, check their work. But not do all their work for them and definitely not stand over them and dictate how they will do every single thing.

        I work in software, and I have worked for people like Sakurai before. They are absolutely awful to work for. They send the signal that no one else's work is good enough, ever. At best it makes you feel like your contributions are undervalued. At worst it can feel like they're taking credit for your work.

        Also when your boss is always working crazy hours while also micromanaging all your work it creates a really bad culture where you feel like you also need to spend all your life in the office. I've been in groups where working from 8 to 6 was the norm because that was what our boss worked, and if you worked 9-5 like you were actually *paid* to be, you were "not a team player" and everyone resented the fact that you "went home early all the time". It's just not good.

        Especially in this case - Japan has terrible unpaid overtime issues and overwork culture. Nintendo is actually normally one of the better employers, with good hours and good salaries. I'd hate to be assigned to Sakurai's team.

          no one is going to have their hands horribly mutilated in a tragic accident if there is a flaw in a video game, hopefully
          You never played the first Mario Party on N64, did you?

            I know someone who has permanent wrist damage due to Kid Icarus Uprising on the DS.

              Really? How did that happen? I'm actually curious as I played it many hours.

    No wonder people like him tend to die so young

    I feel like this shouldn't need to be said, but...

    IF YOU ARE WORKING WHILE HOOKED UP TO AN IV DRIP MAYBE YOU SHOULD STOP WORKING.

    For crying out loud Sakurai.

    It's called Karōshi and its a wide spread problem in Japan. Sakurai isn't the only one suffering from this. Its his culture. It encourages this kind of behavior for the Japanese people and thus they are suffering in many other areas of their lives and is why they are having a population decline.

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