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How Nintendo's Landmark Theme Park Deal With Universal Happened

Satoru Iwata explains why Universal was the right partner.


Last week, gaming giant Nintendo and theme park behemoth Universal Parks & Resorts announced a landmark partnership to bring Nintendo's iconic characters to its amusement parks. The announcement paves the way for Mario to sit alongside Harry Potter, The Simpsons, Transformers, and other major media franchises that already have dedicated areas at Universal parks around the world.

But how did the major deal come to be?

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Nintendo chief executive Satoru Iwata offered an explanation during a recent earnings briefing with analysts, the English translation of which was published today. He said discussions with Universal executives began in April 2014, when the theme park first proposed the idea to Nintendo.

"We met with people from NBC Universal who proposed the possibility of the theme park business to us. Even before then, the possibility of theme park attractions (with Nintendo IP) had become an often-discussed topic in society," he explained. "Even inside Nintendo, the possibility had been discussed several times. But we had not made this a reality because, on each occasion, the time was not ripe yet or we were not able to find an appropriate partner with whom to work."

Iwata shared that Universal provided Nintendo with a "very detailed proposal" for its theme park ideas during the initial meeting. No specific rides or attractions have been revealed to date; those details are coming later. And it could be a while, as Nintendo and Universal are only in the "concept" phase now.

What's more, Iwata said Nintendo's confidence in Universal as a partner was bolstered by the fact that their first meeting took place not long after Universal opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Iwata and his team got to "learn precisely" how Universal built that park, and this gave Nintendo assurance that the company would be able to pull off a similar plan for Nintendo.

In addition, Iwata said Universal--which is owned by Comcast--possessed the kind of corporate culture Nintendo was looking for in a partner. He said he was inspired by this initial meeting, and returned to Japan to inform Mario creator and Nintendo director Shigeru Miyamoto that he wanted to move forward. After more meetings in Japan and the United States, which Nintendo game producers and the people tasked with creating the actual attractions attended, it was decided that the deal would go through.

"We confirmed that we share a lot of common ground between our corporate cultures, and because parts of the proposal made us really excited, we have decided to work together on a long-term basis," Iwata said.

What Nintendo theme park attractions would you like to see at Universal? My vote is for Mario Kart go-karts or a Pokemon Snap ride. Share your ideas in the comments below.

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