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Nintendo's Miyamoto reveals why it took so long to bring Mario to the iPhone

·Technology Editor
Shigeru Miyamoto
Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto debuts “Super Mario Run” during Apple’s iPhone 7 keynote.

The biggest surprise to come out of Apple’s huge iPhone 7 event on Wednesday wasn’t a new device, or even a new Apple product. No, the announcement that shook the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco was the appearance of a certain plumber and his father.

That’s right, Super Mario is coming to the iPhone in a completely original game called “Super Mario Run.” And while that’s an enormous surprise onto itself — Nintendo is notoriously protective of its intellectual properties — it was the arrival of Mario’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto that sent the crowd into frenzy.

Despite the obvious shock of seeing Mario and Miyamoto take the stage at an Apple event, the legendary designer and current Creative Fellow at Nintendo said the company and Apple had been working together on the project for some time.

Super Mario Run logo
“Super Mario Run” is coming to iOS in December.

“It started when we were working on Miitomo (Nintendo’s social game for iOS and Android), or before that when Mr. [Satoru] Iwata (Nintendo’s late CEO) was still with the company,” Miyamoto said.

“Apple invited him to have a conversation about how the two companies could work together and they started working on “Miitomo” and then this opportunity came up,” he added

For years fans and industry analysts alike have been clamoring for Nintendo to bring one of its major intellectual properties to a mobile platform. The thinking was that doing so would not only provide an immediate financial benefit — the company’s stock surged by 24% following the Apple announcement — but draw in a previously untapped audience, as well.

Then came “Pokémon Go,” which became a certified cultural phenomenon from the moment it was released in June. If “Pokémon Go,” a game riddled with bugs and connectivity issues, could do it, surely Mario could.

Super Mario Run Miyamoto
Miyamoto debuts Nintendo’s “Super Mario Run,” for iOS.

But Miyamoto doesn’t believe the success of “Pokémon Go,” should be used as a benchmark for how fans will receive “Super Mario Run.”

“We’re excited and hopefully people will be excited, as well. But this game is different from “Pokémon Go” and we’re still interested in how people will respond to that, ” he said.

So why did Nintendo wait until now to bring its most famous character to a mobile platform? Well, as Miyamoto explains it, it was simply a matter of the technology finally reaching a point where Nintendo was comfortable enough to use a third-party device.

See, Nintendo, like Apple, is very aware of the importance of controlling its brand. And the best way for the gaming company to do that was to ensure its games only appeared on Nintendo hardware. But with advances in smartphone technology, and the potential windfall the company stands to make in sales, the timing was right for such a move.

Super Mario Run gameplay
“Super Mario Run” in action.

“Certainly smart devices have their unique benefits: a persistent network connection and an individual account. And so we are looking at smart devices as an option going forward and we have more games in development for smart devices, said Miyamoto.

“We are looking at how we can use the unique elements of a smart device and how we can make unique games with those elements.”

But that doesn’t mean Nintendo is getting out of the hardware business. In fact, Miyamoto was quick to point out that the company will continue to build its own consoles.

“At Nintendo, we still put a lot of importance of sitting down and playing face to face.”

Despite the fact that Miyamoto debuted “Super Mario Run” at Apple’s iPhone event, the game, he said, will still make its way to Android phones eventually. But making the game work on such a disparate number of Android devices with various levels of performance is a bit trickier than building “Mario Run” for the iPhone.

“One of the reasons we focused on iPhone first was the stability of the platform and being able to get the level of response that we want out of the games, “explained Miyamoto.

Super Mario Run gameplay
“Super Mario Run” gameplay

“And that’s not to say that Android devices don’t have the same level of responsiveness. But because there are so many Android devices, trying to engineer the game to work across them all requires quite a lot of time.”

Miyamoto couldn’t say when “Super Mario Run” will hit Android devices, but he did add that Nintendo has a very good relationship with Google and will continue to work with the tech giant.

But aside from smartphone capabilities and whether or not Nintendo will reap enormous financial benefits from “Super Mario Run,” the longtime designer said he’s simply happy to see the character he created more than three decades ago live on for a new generation of fans.

“I feel very lucky, because there are a lot of people in Japan making characters and games that become popular in Japan. So I feel fortunate to be able to bring Mario to an audience around the world,” he said.

“And now with the reach of smart devices, we can bring Mario to an entire generation of kids, and hopefully be able to recapture those older players who played when they were younger and remind them how much fun it is to play a Nintendo game.”

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.