E3 2014

Nintendo Will Let People Make Their Own Mario Games


Nintendo Will Let People Make Their Own Mario Games

For all the advanced graphics and cinematic flair of the games making their debuts at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, a certain strain of gamer will be most excited about a game featuring eight-bit graphics that haven’t been cutting edge since the 1980s: Nintendo (TYO:7974)‘s new Mario Maker, which allows players to create their own levels for the original Super Mario Brothers game.

The short demo Nintendo showed Tuesday suggests a game that fulfills the preadolescent dreams of every thirtysomething who grew up blowing into cartridges and tapping stubborn consoles with the heels of his hands. Details are scant—no one actually talked about Mario Maker during the presentation. But the video showed what appears to be a rudimentary drawing program for Wii U preloaded with Mario characters and graphics. Players can decide where to place pipes, bricks, coins, 1-ups, and Koopa Troopas. Once the level has been created, it seems possible to toggle between the original look and feel of Mario and more updated graphics. Nintendo said it would be available in 2015.

Interestingly, Nintendo hasn’t been entirely comfortable with the way people have paid tribute to its games. Last year the company claimed the rights to a batch of so-called Let’s Play videos—which include footage of gameplay with their own commentary. By doing so Nintendo assumed the ad revenue the videos were generating, and the law was clearly on its side.

The way the gamemaker handled the issue, though—bypassing the videos’ creators and appealing straight to Google (GOOG)—ended up alienating some of its most enthusiastic fans, and in recent months the company has been changing its tune. Its new Mario Kart game allows people to record highlight reels, edit them, and post them directly to YouTube. It also announced an affiliate program that allows people to post videos using Nintendo’s copyrighted material to YouTube and split the revenue. This is an increasingly common way for copyright holders to treat tribute videos that use their materials. YouTube recently established a way for songwriters to split ad proceeds with fans who make videos covering their songs.

Mario Maker is a logical extension of this new era of openness. Mario fan art has been an incredibly rich genre of self-expression for quite some time, so what better outlet than actual levels of the game itself? Surely many of these levels will make their way onto YouTube within minutes of Mario Maker’s initial release. They may bring the company some revenue from advertising. The amount of goodwill the beleaguered company has just created will far outweigh it.

Brustein is a writer for Businessweek.com in New York.

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