With Mario Kart Tour recently surpassing 200 million downloads on mobile devices, and business well underway at Japan’s Super Nintendo World, it seems clear that Nintendo is committed to expanding the reach of its IP to new areas. Alongside this commitment, Nintendo’s president Shuntaro Furakawa has expressed a concurrent desire to preserve and put to use Nintendo’s historic contributions to video game history.
We have collected various materials within our company throughout our more than 30 years in the games business, and we intend to continue discussing how to handle these materials going forward.
Surely, in line with this mission, it is high time for Nintendo to make available their most iconic soundtracks on a more permanent basis? Yet we have no solid evidence that this music – universally recognised though it is – will be finding its way to Spotify or iTunes any time soon.
It is true that Nintendo has published music here and there, often in line with important anniversaries or remastered titles. In 2011, fans pre-ordering The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D were rewarded with the original game’s entire playlist. However, the demand for this music, now approaching 25 years old, remains far greater than the relatively few CDs distributed. In a music ecosystem dominated by streaming services, Nintendo has yet to offer an alternative means of accessing its classic hits. With this in mind, Nintendo’s decision in August 2019 to target YouTube videos containing its soundtracks with copyright strikes seems ill-advised – especially when directed against users who profited nothing by sharing the music on their channels.
Two years on and with only a selection of favourites from Super Mario: Odyssey available to purchase from iTunes, Nintendo’s game of copyright whack-a-mole looks set to escalate as the demand for video game music grows. If the recent emergence of Laced, Skill Tree and Materia Collective sparks hope for a possible publishing deal with Nintendo, take it from Shigeru Miyamoto himself that this is unlikely.
Regarding future IP utilization, rather than simply licensing our IP to others, we are working on several initiatives to be a content owner… and expand the usage of our IP to build a new axis of our business.
So, as of 2018, Nintendo had no intention of signing away its IP to any third parties, thank you very much. But at the very least, the company was exploring ways of publishing its materials on its own terms – and this is perhaps where it encountered complications, as Nintendo’s Senior Managing Executive Officer, Shinya Takahashi, revealed during the same Q&A:
„Under our policy of making more active use of Nintendo IP, including game music, we are discussing a variety of developments. However, we are not able to make all content available due to various factors and circumstances. I hope you will understand that it is difficult to explain on this occasion what we can and cannot do.”
These ‘various factors and circumstances’ may point to something beyond mere corporate obscurantism. Game developers and record labels seldom rub shoulders. If Nintendo really does aspire to publish its own music, it heads for uncharted territory – and a potential administrative nightmare. Maciej Baska has written here about the importance of good metadata for the proper distribution of royalties. It is vital that composers, performers and developers are fairly credited for their work so that they can be properly compensated. TV and film studios demand detailed lists called cue sheets, which keep track of who is responsible for what.
But a number of high-profile musicians have drawn attention to the lack of equivalent practices by game companies. One anonymous composer told VCG „good metadata only exists in about 10% of the industry.” If Nintendo lies outside this 10%, it may fall to an unlucky intern – or an entire department – to wade through decades of anonymous music and employment files, in order to match them together; a task compounded by Nintendo’s preference for creative teams over individuals. Do the audio programmers deserve a cut? What about the sound designers? Don’t these people too have an important hand in the creation of video game music?
If Nintendo really does aspire to publish its own music, it heads for uncharted territory.
Whatever avenues Nintendo is considering, it may already have faced some of these questions. Putting together a functioning music division from the ground up will take time, not to mention racking up an eye-watering bill. To bite the bullet and form partnerships with existing digital service providers like Spotify and Apple may well seem the safer move, providing a direct route to an already-existing audience. However, as streamers, rom-hackers, and soundtrack fans will tell you, Nintendo will go to great lengths to protect what it considers its own property. Let us hope this protective instinct doesn’t hurt the survival of some truly beloved music.