Bill Trinen Shares His History of the Treehouse, Localisation and Translating for Shigeru Miyamoto
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Back in '98 the Treehouse was a team of two
For those that follow Nintendo closely, through its various Direct broadcasts and public events, Bill Trinen has become a familiar and popular figurehead. He may be the Director of Product Marketing at Nintendo of America, a job that saw him nervously watching the time ahead of a meeting while making an appearance in the Nintendo Treehouse E3 live broadcast, but he's also a key figure in selling the Nintendo message. His rise to popularity has even resulted in some self-deprecating jokes from Reggie Fils-Aime, along the lines of Trinen stealing his thunder.
Of course, this rise to prominence as a public face of Nintendo didn't happen overnight. In a chat with Siliconera, Trinen outlined how he got started in the Treehouse in '98, having applied for a contractor role and, instead, being offered a full time job. It's clear that the process of localisation and marketing was far smaller in scale when he started, and he outlines how much it's expanded in the years since.
The thing about Treehouse is that it’s actually a huge team [now]. When I joined Nintendo back in ’98, there were two of us. We localized games, captured all the screenshots for promotional materials, wrote all of the manuals, captured all of the footage to help with T.V. ads for media…the list gets longer.
From there, the team started to grow, and one of the first things I said was, ‘We really need somebody else to capture the footage [for media], because there’s actual localization work to do, and we can’t do it all,’ so then we added what’s now called our Marketing Support Team.
Then there’s my team. I left out of localization several years ago and started up what is essentially the product marketing team. Our role is to educate the NOA internal marketing teams and their agencies on what the products are and how they can identify the key features of a product.
We also have our brand management/Pokémon team that handles all of the Pokémon products. They do some things around the Kirby franchise. Today, Treehouse is a very large group. Localization alone is 40 or 50 people. It’s hard to imagine that we started by translating text into .txt files.
There also seems to be an element of serendipity around Trinen's relationship with Miyamoto-san — despite his senior role at NoA, he can still be seen accompanying Miyamoto-san at major events, providing translations in presentations and interviews; that continued at E3 2014. Trinen had first worked with Miyamoto-san, and others from the HQ in Japan, in translating calls and emails during the localisation of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Months later Trinen was approached, due to his knowledge of the Japanese language, to assist Miyamoto-san in a speech to the Game Developer’s Conference, a big deal in front of thousands of spectators.
He was really nervous because he had never spoken in front of an audience that large before—and I was really nervous because I had never met Mr. Miyamoto. I can’t remember it exactly, but there was this little joke at the beginning…anyways, we got on stage, and he gets to his joke, tells it, I translate it, and the whole room just busts up.
That’s been our motto ever since—whenever we're doing anything, we don’t really care what the audience thinks, the two of us are just going to get up and have fun.
For some, and despite his many responsibilities behind the scenes, it'll be Trinen's appearances in Nintendo Direct broadcasts and alongside Shigeru Miyamoto that will make him a comforting, familiar presence. Yet still, being associated with Miyamoto-san isn't the worst legacy in the world, and it's one that Trinen no doubt enjoys.
There have actually been rumors that Mr. Miyamoto is going to retire, you know, so this E3 we were going to spread the rumor that the two of us had bought a place in a Hawaii and that we’re going to retire together.
No retirement for either for years to come, we trust.