TODAY’S column is addressed to Shigeru Miyamoto, director at Nintendo.
Greetings and salutations, sir. Hajime mashite.
I write to you with a heavy heart Mr Miyamoto. Malaysia, though prosperous, has gone through much this past months.
Our new politicians, once full of promise, have come up short in some areas. The cost of living continues to remain high, and racial disharmony looms after the country was hit with a race riot involving a vaguely-aged temple and an impending rowdy demonstration aimed at defending racial discrimination in the country.
But the worst news of all, Mr Miyamoto, is not the degradation of our multiracial makeup, or of our bureaucracy impeding growth. No. Disney just cancelled the 21st Century Fox World theme park in Genting.
I’m sorry I’m getting emotional. You see, that theme park was a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, Mr Miyamoto. No matter how bad things got, we Malaysians took comfort in the knowledge that up in the clouds, there was going to be a theme park of subpar movie properties that we could escape to and leave our worries behind.
But even now, that seems to have been taken from us. After the Disney-Fox merger, Mickey Mouse pulled 21st Century Fox out of the theme park that was slated to be opened in June 2019, as it did not want its family-friendly brand to be tainted by the gambling industry.
The move wiped nearly RM3bil in market cap from Malaysia’s stock exchange. Our former prime minister stole only RM2.6bil! Allegedly.
Genting is now taking Disney and Fox to court, but all the news points to the theme park being stalled, with no intellectual property (IP) to send our consumerist hearts aflutter.
The cancellation of this mega theme park is the straw on the backs of our embattled nation, sir. A blow to the masses. A crime against humanity, I dare say!
It is in times like these, that I find myself longing for the good ole’ days, not too long ago in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A simpler time.
A time when folks like me had our entire lives ahead of us and so much potential, until we ruined it with Mass Comm degrees. A time when we could retreat from the playgrounds and schoolyards, and indulge in a magical world of your creation.
Whether it was throwing red shells at drivers in front of me, to violently force them off the road in Mario Kart, or teaching myself hoarding tendencies in Legend of Zelda, or learning how to dodge my problems in Donkey Kong, or opening my eyes to world travel and unrealistic healthcare in Pokemon, your games and the world you built have a special place in many Malaysians’ hearts, mine included.
It is a world we try to revisit as often as we can. Because, though our bodies say we are adults, some of our mental will for life has remained frozen in childhood, longing to shrug off our shrill corporate existence and forever bask in your glorious digital world.
Which brings me to the topic of today, Mr Miyamoto. As the fate of the Genting theme park hangs in the balance, I see potential for Nintendo to swoop in and be the hero we all know it is.
From the ashes of the stalled Genting theme park project, the elusive South-East Asia-based Nintendo Land can rise.
Now I know that Nintendo has made a deal with Universal Studios to begin construction of such a theme park in Los Angeles, and this is good. But construction and the opening of such an endeavour is years away, and it is difficult for most of your South-East Asia fans to be able to share the joy of such a park from continents away.
If only there was a place that is almost finished, where Nintendo can swoop in and establish its dominance.
Oh wait! There is.
The Genting theme park is almost completed. It was meant to open in June 2019, meaning that most of the rides, complexes and amenities are already built. But without the Fox brand name to draw in the general audience, Genting faces a challenge in marketing its soon-to-be nameless theme park.
This is where Nintendo can turn the tide. Not just for Genting. Or the Malaysian economy. But for the collective Malaysian soul.
Because if there is one thing Malaysians love more than bashing Singaporeans over their sad excuse for cendol, or making trivial racial issues out of nothing, it is burying our deep-seated resentments for each other and pretending everything is okay by engaging in common leisure activities.
Malaysia ranks 21st in the world in videogame revenue, and 34% of our population are mobile gamers who spent upwards of RM2.4bil, and this is expected to continue growing as prices of electronic goods become more accessible, according to games index NewZoo.
To give you a sense of how popular Nintendo’s property is in Malaysia, Pokemon Go, which requires players to venture into public areas like shopping malls that have been turned into Poke Stops, was such a huge hit in the country that finance analysts found that footfall in malls went up by 10% in the months the game first went live in Malaysia.
And one of the biggest beneficiaries of that? Drumroll .... Genting!
If the market in Malaysia is not enough to entice you, also note that Malaysia is close to Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia, which make up another three of the top 25 gaming countries in the world in terms of revenue spent. But none of them has a theme park casually sitting around and ready to go.
Genting has poured in almost RM1bil into the theme park, and expected to see its earnings rise by 20% with its partnership with 21st Century Fox, and their not as well-known IPs like Rio, Life of Pi and Sons of Anarchy.
Imagine the killing Nintendo is going to make with properties like Donkey Kong, Kirby, Princess Peach, Mario, Pokemon and Hyrule!
What’s more, the investment Nintendo has to make in building the park will be minimal. It has already been built. It just needs a strong IP to anchor the park.
Mr Miyamoto, I know this sounds like the ramblings of an incoherent fanboy who had nothing to do at 2am on a Tuesday night. But just because I just ate my third Ramly burger in two hours and I am technically running on 30 minutes of sleep, it doesn’t mean I am crazy.
Think this idea is too farfetched? Look at the numbers and financial projections. And look who I managed to dupe into publishing this! This is so legit!
If you build Nintendo Land, Mr Miyamoto, you may not only capitalise on one of the biggest untapped theme park markets in South-East Asia, you also become part of the rehabilitation of Malaysia.
If you build Nintendo Land here, Malaysians from all walks of life can discard their hatred for each other’s skin colour and privilege, and unite in the common love of enslaving fictional animals for our recreational pleasure in Pokemon World.
If you build it, we will join hands in appreciating the nature of Donkey Kong Country, and maybe decide to preserve the lands of our Orang Asli, learn from the lessons of a benevolent government in Hyrule Kingdom, and finally ... finally have a space to work out our road rage issues in Mario Kart Circuit.
If you build it, they will come.
Nicholas Cheng is a former Malaysian journalist. He was a US Daniel Pearl media fellow and a Chevening scholar. He aims to write about what young people think about 'New Malaysia'. He can be reached at: