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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Superstar Mario

Dec. 24, 2015

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Super Mario Brothers. The video game has legions of fans around the world. Players help Mario run and jump over obstacles and enemies to rescue a princess. The game's look has changed over the years, but the basics are the same. Even after three decades, its popularity shows no signs of waning.

There's plenty that manufacturers can learn from Super Mario's success -- and its enduring appeal.

The Strong National Museum of Play in the United States is one of the biggest toy museums in the world.

It recently hosted a retrospective on games. The main attraction was Super Mario Brothers. People of all ages enjoyed playing the games from the series that have been released over the years.

"Mario is so much fun. I remember playing when I was a child," said an adult male. "I still play it today!"

The museum has one of the world's biggest collections of video games. It added Super Mario Bros this year to the World Video Game Hall of Fame.

"Mario is probably the most beloved video game character of all time," says Jon-Paul Dyson, Director of the Strong's International Center for the History of Electronic Games. "Mario is like the face of the gaming industry in the United States and even worldwide. They did a survey one time that found that more children recognize Mario than Micky Mouse. Super Mario Brothers made people want to rush out and buy that new game system. And it helped to ensure that the video game industry would continue to grow, expand and become this massive presence in our culture that it is today."

Super Mario Brothers was made by a game developer in Japan, where it debuted 30 years ago. It was later released around the world.

Children everywhere fell in love with it. It chalked up global sales of over 40 million, and became a social phenomenon.

And Mario has evolved with the times. New titles continue to be released, winning new fans. The series has sold more than 300 million units around the world. That makes Mario the biggest-selling video game series ever.

People in Japan marked the 30th anniversary with great fanfare. During one private event, fans dressed up as characters from the series and rode around Tokyo in a cart inspired by the game.

Mario has also made his mark in the music world. A concert featured popular Mario tunes. Koji Kondo composed much of the music for the series. Mario's creator Shigeru Miyamoto joined him on stage.

"I was just eager to make something that had never been made before," said Kondo. "I took on all sorts of challenges."

"We were saying to each other, let's do something unprecedented," said Miyamoto. "We wanted to do something new with the music."

The audience enjoyed a different aspect of the game through the performance. Why did Mario strike such a chord among gamers around the world?

"All sorts of fun elements are cleverly included within the game layout," says Akito Inoue, Visiting Researcher at the Ritsumeikan Center for Games Studies. "It's hard to believe this amazing achievement was accomplished in1985."

Inoue says the concept behind Super Mario Brothers was to let players improve their skills while having fun with a simple, straightforward game. He says this paved the way for a new generation of game developers.

"Mario has been designed so you can see and understand, and touch and understand," he says. "There are no cultural barriers and that is why it has been accepted globally. If Super Mario wasn't the smash hit that it was, computer games may not have achieved their current form. You can say it played an extremely important role in the history of game software."


NHK Senior Producer and Commentator, Toshifumi Kataoka covers innovations in the manufacturing industry. He joined Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu to discuss Super Mario and its effect on games and marketing.

Shibuya: Toshi, how did they come up with idea of the game?

Kataoka: The game's director, Shigeru Miyamoto, says he made it based on common childhood experiences. For example, as a kid, he enjoyed running around in the fields while pretending to be in an imaginary world. Didn't you do things like that when you were small?

Shibuya: Of course. I can remember as a child playing in the forest with my friends, pretending to be adventurers. And actually, trying Super Mario years ago for the first time brought back that same sense of adventure and excitement.

Kataoka: Precisely. Mario connects with familiar experiences shared by many people. One of the main purposes behind the game was to help people relive these childhood memories. And I'd like to stress that Super Mario's success wasn't based on state-of-the-art technology. In fact, the first game used pretty basic tech, even for that time. Those technological limits actually led to some of Mario's most memorable features. The character was given a big hat, a mustache, and overalls. This was meant to make him easy to recognize, even with the low-level graphics. But these characteristics ended up helping Mario to capture people's hearts. So, showing off technology wasn't the point.

Beppu: But since Super Mario Brothers was released, video games have gotten a lot more advanced.

Kataoka: Yes, one cause of that was fierce competition in the industry. Companies tried to outdo each other by using the latest advances, like powerful graphics. Games got much better looking, but they also got more complicated and difficult to play. Ironically this led to a substantial drop in the number of gamers. In other words, developers had unwittingly limited their audience to hard-core players.

Beppu: Well, Mario has maintained its appeal for the past 30 years. But during that period, overall, Japan's technology industry hasn't enjoyed the same success. Is there anything manufacturers around the world can learn from Mario's continuing popularity?

Kataoka: One thing that's important is simplicity. Many Japanese manufacturers have had a tendency to focus too much on putting lots of high-tech functions into products. The companies here used to have a clearer purpose. They wanted to make reliable products at reasonable prices. They also wanted to bring appliances seen on American TV shows into smaller Japanese homes. The manufacturers achieved these goals, and people took note. Demand for made-in-Japan items grew worldwide. So competition intensified among Japanese companies. They started fitting their merchandise with rarely-used high-tech features. But this mainly resulted in higher prices. People also started to see these devices as over-engineered.

Shibuya: So it seems that simplicity and connecting with customers are essential.

Kataoka: Yes. That's what manufacturers not just in Japan but around the world can learn from Mario's continued success. Advanced technology will only get you so far. Companies need to focus more on serving customers' needs. Products must connect with people in simple ways. They should be easy to use, and like Mario, maybe even fun.