A portion of a World Folio interview with Masayoshi Tanimura, Chairman and CEO of HAL Laboratory...
WF: Since the 1980’s, you have closely collaborated with Nintendo, being one of the most famous and recognized game conceivers across decades of different gaming consoles. How would you describe your long-lasting relationship with Nintendo?
MT: Before HAL Laboratory was founded, one of the first personal computers created, the Commodore 2001, was being sold at a store in Japan. In that store, several college students, who would eventually become part of HAL Laboratory, used to hang out and spend their time. These students were tech savvies, always curious to know how this kind of machinery functioned.
At a time where there was no disclosure about internal contents or know-how, they were able to hack the computer and figure out its internal system. This tech-savvy crew set up HAL Laboratory. From the start, we had a group of people who were technically capable and who understood internal computer mechanics. Luckily, the CPU used for the Commodore 2001 was similar to the one used for the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), which opened the door to our partnership with Nintendo. This anecdote goes to show that our collaboration with Nintendo is something historical, and over the years, we have established a mutual relationship of trust based on collaboration.
However, I want to make clear that HAL Laboratory and Nintendo are two different companies. Our customers are often confused as to our relationship, and tend to wrongfully assume HAL Laboratory to be a part of Nintendo. HAL Laboratory is a secular and independent company, both in terms of management and corporate culture.
WF: 2015 marked the 35th anniversary of HAL Laboratory. Since 1980, you have been releasing record-breaking games with the likes of Kirby or the Super Smash Bros series. These successes have crossed decades and generations. What are the foundations of this incredible longevity?
MT: What we care about most is making our customers happy with our products. I use the word “happiness”, as this should not be confused with “satisfaction”. In fact, I would like to clarify that matter. At HAL Laboratory, we believe that happiness and customer satisfaction are two separate concepts. On one hand, a person can be satisfied by obtaining materialistic objects or winning an abundance of money, but not necessarily happy about it. On the other hand, some people have nothing, or very little, but live in a state of happiness. There is an index for measuring consumer satisfaction. However, the happiness that a game brings to you is not something you can calculate; it’s something you have to culturally install and be internally dedicated to.
WF: Your latest feature, Kirby Planet Robobot, surpassed in June 2016 the 300,000 sales unit. Could you tell us what makes this game stand out and be different from others in the market?
MT: The key to the Kirby series’ success is that we are not developing towards a specific target audience. We try to make our games enjoyable for beginners and experienced players alike. Regardless of age, gender, nationality or background, we are developing games that everybody can play.
I sometimes like to compare our games with the sensation of pressing bubble wrap paper; because people simply enjoy pressing it! We want our customers to have fun when playing our games. That’s the big principle guiding us. For this particular title, I would highlight the tremendous effort we have invested in the making process, the attention to detail, and the various levels of difficulty.