“The more I learned about games, the more frustrated I became because the games weren't very good,” recalls Tajiri. “I could tell a good game from a bad game. My conclusion was: let's make our own games.”
In creating Pokemon, Tajiri never had lofty dreams of success, despite the fact that is exactly what he got. But it was exactly in taking those baby steps, and constantly demanding more of himself and everything around him, that he was able to achieve such big things.
Tajiri learned as a young boy that he had to work towards a goal slowly and methodically in order to achieve it. No step was too small; no rock was to be left unturned – literally.
When Tajiri was out hunting for insects as a child, he would take the time to scour every inch of ground in search of something he had never seen before. “Every time I found a new insect, it was mysterious to me,” he says. “And the more I searched for insects, the more I found.”
“If I put my hand in the river, I would get a crayfish. If there was a stick over a hole, it would create an air bubble and I’d find insects there,” he says. “As I gathered more and more, I’d learn more about them, like how some would feed on one another.”
Tajiri would bring the insects that he had caught home with him to study them. “I liked coming up with new ideas,” he says. One of those new ideas was in Tajiri’s attempt to catch beetles. While other kids would put honey on a piece of tree bark to catch them, Tajiri’s idea was “to put a stone under a tree, because they slept during the day and like sleeping under stones. So in the morning I’d go pick up the stone and find them. Tiny discoveries like that made me excited.”
That process of hunting for insects did not only make its way into the Pokemon game literally, but also served as the backbone for the entire creative process. Tajiri knew that the search for success was a never-ending one; he could always achieve more.
That is why when Nintendo executives were first worried about Tajiri’s proposal for Pokemon, he was not. He might not have been able to fully communicate what the game was going to be about, but he knew he could do it. He spent six years working on the project, all the while almost losing Game Freak. Tajiri could barely afford his employees, for which five of them soon quit. Tajiri did not even pay himself, but was forced instead to live off of his father.
Even once Pokemon was released in 1996, Nintendo was worried about its launch. This time, Tajiri was a little concerned himself, since Game Boy technology was not as popular as it had been before. TV studios rejected it, as did toymakers. “When I finished Pokemon, I thought Nintendo would reject it,” recalls Tajiri. “I was like a baseball player sliding into second base knowing he’s going to be out. But somehow, I was safe.”
Nintendo released the game with low expectations, but Japanese boys ate it up. From there, Tajiri and Nintendo focused on expanding the Pokemon empire. He overcame doubts about its U.S. launch, as well as criticisms of being a passing fad, all because he knew there was a always a chance that under the next rock he overturned, he just might have more luck.