Why Nintendo is so Protective of the Mario Brand

nintendo mario title screen logo

For a plumber who specializes in collecting gold coins, Mario has not upgraded his appearance in several years. Since the release of New Super Mario Bros on the Wii in 2009, the Nintendo staff has not considerably altered Mario’s character model. Speculation across the industry quickly arose, and fans criticized the franchise’s lack of innovation. But during an interview shortly after the release of Paper Mario: The Origami King, producer Kensuke Tanabe shed some light on why Nintendo is so protective of the Mario brand. Let’s dive in.

The Plumber Tightens the Screws

The Paper Mario franchise remains an oddity among Nintendo’s stable of intellectual property. With each new release, fans progressively clamor for the series to return to The Thousand Year Door. The critically acclaimed GameCube title featured an original story, unique characters, and robust RPG battle system; however, modern titles have foregone traditional RPG elements in favor of puzzle-solving and witty dialogue. Although the series continues to sell relatively well, Nintendo players are not happy.

During a recent interview, series producer Kensuke Tanabe provided a peak behind the development curtain. The quote below provides a key nugget of information that could explain Nintendo’s hesitation to innovate.

Since Paper Mario: Sticker Star, it’s no longer possible to modify Mario characters or to create original characters that touch on the Mario universe. That means that if we aren’t using Mario characters for bosses, we need to create original characters with designs that don’t involve the Mario universe at all, like we’ve done with Olly and the stationery bosses.

Kensuke Tanabe

The updated guidelines are not only restrictive but also damaging. In other words, Kensuke Tanabe does not have the authority to create original characters for the Mario universe. Instead, Tanabe and the development staff must either use existing Mario characters or create original designs that are entirely distinct from the Mushroom Kingdom. The intent for the policy is clear: Nintendo is protecting the integrity of the Mario brand. But why?

Don’t Butcher the Cash Cow

Recent sales data from the NPD Group demonstrates the importance of the Mario brand. During the month of September, six Mario titles made the list of top 20 best-selling games in the United States based on dollar sales. Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe held spots in the top 10, while four other Mario titles also made the list. Even more impressive is the fact that the NPD Group did not include digital sales from any Nintendo game.

If Mario games are so popular, why does Nintendo not try to extend the brand’s influence through innovation and diversity? The answer is simple: the possibility of damaging the Mario brand is a risk that Nintendo is unwilling to take. Regardless of fan outrage, Mario games continue to sell, and the current state of Nintendo’s financials are another strong indicator of the company’s risk-averse position.

  • Lifetime sales of Mario games total in excess of 760 million copies. The revenue earned from those sales totals approximately $38 billion.
  • Nintendo’s latest market cap valuation is approximately $65 billion, which is more than triple the valuation during the Switch’s lifecycle.

A key rule of business is never to shoot the cash cow, and few companies have a cow as valuable as the Mario brand. Although fans will occasionally express displeasure with the franchise, Nintendo is wise to protect its most valuable asset.


But we want to know what you think. Do you think Nintendo is too restrictive on the Mario brand? Would you like to see Shigeru Miyamoto be more creative in future games? Let us know in the comments below and the social media links on the right. Also, be sure to check out our other news items on PokemonModern WarfareCapcomBlizzard and more.

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