Skip to main content

If you’re a fan of the Kirby games, or have ever clashed with friends in a round of Super Smash Bros then you have one man you need to thank for making it possible: Masahiro Sakurai. Starting in 1922 with Kirby’s Dreamland Adventure, Sakurai has directed a dozen great Nintendo games, most recently bringing out Super Smash Bros Ultimate on Nintendo Switch.

With so many prestigious titles under his belt, you might think studios would sign him on for loads of money while he develops his games, but Sakurai recently revealed on his YouTube channel – Masahiro Sakurai on Creating Games – that he doesn’t get paid a single cent until the game is shipped.

“As for the important matter of income, my contracts generally stipulate that I don’t receive payment during development. I don’t see any compensation until a game is finished, on sale, and earning revenue – and my income is based on game sales. If the project falls through, I earn nothing, of course. Even if I wasn’t responsible for its failure. Truly a high-risk job.”

Sakurai explains that he does this as a way to share risk with the companies he works with.

“External contractors who don’t work in-house usually get paid a set development fee each month. This is advantageous for tax reasons, and necessary for companies to retain workers. The company actually selling the game, though, doesn’t see profit until the game goes on sale. I don’t ask for compensation during the project as a way of sharing that risk with them. I don’t know if I’ll do it this way forever, and maybe I should consider a case-by-case basis, but for now at least, I can’t say I ever struggle to pay the bills…”

As Sakurai mentions though, he’s not wanting for cash. With his contracts allowing him to be paid based on the game’s sales, he likely sees plenty of income when a game finally does release.

Smash Bros Ultimate sold 1.2 million copies in Japan alone just three days after release, and as of June 2022, the game has sold over 28 million copies worldwide – not including DLC sales. When such numbers are put into perspective, it’s no wonder Sakurai says he never struggles to pay the bills.