Nintendo’s chief designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, has discussed the historical performance of the Pikmin games and why he believes the series hasn’t “exploded” commercially like some of the company’s other franchises.
The franchise’s best-selling entry to date is the Switch port of Pikmin 3, which has sold around two million copies. In comparison, Super Mario Odyssey has sold over 25 million and Zelda: Breath of the Wild nearly 30 million.
Speaking as part of a developer interview on the official Nintendo site, Miyamoto explained his own theories for why the Pikmin series hasn’t been able to reach the same size of audience as his other franchises, despite being beloved by fans.
The Super Mario creator said he believed the series’ difficulty, specifically related to its controls and depth of gameplay, was the main factor, and that a lot of effort had gone into trying to “convey these points as ‘interesting’ rather than ‘difficult.’”
“There have been three games in the series until now, from Pikmin to Pikmin 3, and personally I’ve always wondered, ‘Why haven’t they exploded more in sales even though they’re so much fun to play? Why do people think they’re so difficult?’,” he wrote.
The interviewer then noted that many people seem to think the characters are cute, but that the games themselves are difficult.
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Miyamoto responded: “I get that people find it more difficult when death is a factor. But I think the franchise’s strength lies in its relationship with mortality. If something is irreversible, you need to figure out a way to prevent undesired things from happening.
“To try to prevent Pikmin from dying, you need to practice ‘Dandori’ [A Japanese word meaning ‘to think about planning and efficiency in advance’]. To me, that’s what makes this game unique.
“I think people find Pikmin difficult for two reasons: the controls and the depth of gameplay. I spent a long time mulling over how we could convey these points as ‘interesting’ rather than ‘difficult.’”
As noted in VGC’s Pikmin 4 review, the title makes various changes and introductions in attempt to become more accessible, including new controls and a less stressful game structure. However, Miyamoto claimed in the developer interview they he was determined not to stray too far from the series’ original template.
“We were talking about how we want as many people as possible to play Pikmin 4, but if it’s not Pikmin-like enough, we won’t meet the expectations of those who’ve enjoyed the series until now,” he said.
“The first game provided a deeper challenge, while the second game was broader in terms of content, and we went back to something closer to the first one in Pikmin 3. But after thinking about it, I realized that we could do both. We could retain the depth of gameplay that makes Pikmin so interesting, while providing the functional support to address the challenges around controls.”
Chief director Yuji Kando added: “So, we implemented a variety of supporting features to expand the Dandori gameplay. We wanted players to enjoy the game in greater depth and for longer by offering those Dandori elements, while removing the time limit. So basically, Pikmin 4 gets all the good things from the first and second titles.”
One new feature which emerged from discussions on how to broaden Pikmin’s audience was the introduction of Oatchi, the player’s space dog companion, Kando said.
“Miyamoto-san mentioned earlier that the Pikmin series hadn’t seen huge sales. At the beginning of development, we were seeking what would become the selling point of this game, both in terms of gameplay features and in terms of being eye-catching.
“So, the first idea was that it would be interesting to have the player control a Bulborb, one of the native creatures, and have it chow down on Pikmin. The controls would be simple, yet give a sense of satisfaction to players. Above all, it’d be visually striking.”
He added: “Stemming from this idea, we considered letting the player ride and control various creatures in the story, but it became difficult to weave it all into a coherent game. Ultimately, we decided to add Oatchi as a partner creature that the player could switch to from the main character.”