With the recent release of Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo has pulled off a seemingly impossible feat. In one year, the company released one of the best Zelda games ever made and one of the best 3D Marios ever. Considering the time and talent both franchises span, this is no small feat. How did they do it?

Nintendo and other Japanese game developers (who have really had a renaissance this year with Persona 5, Nioh and Resident Evil 7) understand something their Western counterparts do not.

Japanese game developers understand not to listen to players. Because of this, they understand delight.

Exhibit A: Western game devs doing it wrong

Remember EA's blog post announcing the closure of Visceral Games? (I hated this). In the first paragraph, EA VP Patrick Söderlund wrote something very telling:

In this fast-moving space, we are always focused on creating experiences that our players want to play [...] Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play.

This blog post truly is my Rosetta Stone. It is a perfect distillation of everything I dislike in the gaming industry, and there are few things I dislike more than bland games. The worst crime a game can commit is to be boring. It is better to be exciting and weird and flawed than safe and dull.

Focus testing your games? Good lord. No wonder EA is putting out tripe like Mass Effect Andromeda. Focus groups mean you'll end up with a game that's been watered down to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It is almost inevitable you will get something boring.

Exhibit B: The difference between good and delightful

One of my absolute favorite blogs is Stratechery. The writer, Ben Thompson, covers tech and business, but in an old post he wrote something highly applicable to games. In "Christmas Gifts and the Meaning of Design," Thomson recalled receiving two Christmas gifts from his wife.

The first was an iPad mini, which he had asked for. This was a good gift. However, she also surprised him with a dapper hat. This gift, which was unexpected, was the best gift, because it was unexpected. Thompson is a giant nerd, so he drew a chart to explain how Christmas gifts make you feel.

What works for Christmas gifts also works for games. A good game is one you asked for and liked. A great game is the surprise favorite you didn't know you wanted. Only great games make you feel delight.

Great designers understand this. "It's really hard to design products by focus groups," Steve Jobs famously said. "A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

Of course, the cost of giving people Christmas gifts or video games or tech products they did not ask for is that you, the giver, need to be very good at knowing what is good and what people will like.

Exhibit C: Japanese devs doing it right

As I said, great designers understand the value of ignoring their audience. As legendary Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto said (emphasis mine):

I could make Halo. It's not that I couldn't design that game. It's just that I choose not to. One thing about my game design is that I never try to look for what people want and then try to make that game design. I always try to create new experiences that are fun to play.

This attitude pervades Nintendo and Japanese game development as a whole. Jordan Amaro, a rare Westerner who works for Nintendo's Japanese game development unit, told Rolling Stone Japanese culture makes them look at creation differently.

In Japan, Amaro said, everything is tailored. "In Japan, there's a sense of, 'We're making this thing for you, and this is how we think this thing is better enjoyed.'" Japanese game developers, in his opinion, are happy to ignore players.

"We think we know what you don't know you want," he said. "You think you know what you want. But we know what you will want once you understand it."

Exhibit D: Mario Odyssey, Breath of the Wild and Resident Evil 7

I love the Japanese attitude toward game development. I love that they think they know what I want better than I do. I love that Japanese developers have the confidence to make something great and trust that I am an intelligent person and will get it.

I love it because they are right, and this year is proof.

Look at the three games I named above. If you had asked players, I don't know if any of them would have asked for Mario to wear a hat that allows him to possess people. I don't know what players could have come up with the open puzzles of Breath of the Wild. What Resident Evil fan would have asked Capcom to strip out almost all the mythos and previous characters for 7?

And yet all three of these games are hits. Japanese developers were right. We fans didn't know what we wanted, and they did. Those games crossed the curve from being just good to delightful.

Of course, this boundary-pushing is still within limits. Zelda, Mario and Resident Evil are still recognizable entries in their respective franchises. They contain a lot of new things we didn't want, but also a lot of things we fans did want. Japanese devs probably have focus groups, though it sounds like they don't rely on them as heavily. Everything in moderation.

Still, in a year full of terrible focus-tested open-world snorefests, I am glad some designers want to create something different. Some of my favorite games are ones I could not imagine liking before I played them. Pyre is one of my most-loved releases of 2017 because I had no idea how much I needed a fantasy sports RPG.

Thank god the Japanese game industry is still here and still surprising us. We need it.