Japan gaming: More virtual than reality?

The industry looked to its home market for growth but now it is designing for a global audience.

As the 2016 Olympic Games closing ceremony reached its peak, the stadium screens flicked to Super Mario charging through the streets of Tokyo: a moustachioed megastar from the nation that first perfected the alchemy of turning pixels into billion-dollar global heroes.

With a twirl and a digital trill instantly familiar to many of the watching billions, the world’s most famous plumber disappeared down a drainpipe. Moments later in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium, Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, emerged from a matching pipe wearing the dungarees and red cap of the most valuable creation in video game history.

To most it was just good pantomime. To the $100bn games industry, there was an unmissable message that Japan is back and ready to take on the world again. The big question is whether ability can match ambition.

Having been so spectacularly co-opted for unpaid national service in Rio, Mario’s value will be expressed in much harder financial terms in December when Super Mario Run is launched through Apple’s App Store.

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