Contained in the Rising Discontent Behind Nintendo’s Enjoyable Facade

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In 2010, Nintendo of America opened its brand-new headquarters in Redmond, Washington on a 10-acre plot owned by the corporate for the reason that early Nineteen Eighties. The late Satoru Iwata minimize the ribbon on the state-of-the-art facility alongside then-Washington State governor Chris Gregoire on a “gleaming 300,000 sq. foot facility” with “cushioned benches formed like d-pads” and a “Mario Kart-themed parking storage.” It was all the pieces a Nintendo fan might think about, proper right down to the principle boardroom being often known as “The Grasp Sword.”

Throughout the way in which, previous a soccer pitch of the type one typically sees on West Coast tech campuses, is a a lot older constructing that is not almost as well-known. A former warehouse that homes a hodge-podge of departments starting from knowledge science to Product Testing and Growth (PDT), it in some methods hearkens again to the times when NOA was merely an arcade distributor working out of New Jersey. The warehouse doorways are nonetheless seen, and the freight elevator close to the greeting desk will typically get caught open and make loud grinding noises. Whereas Nintendo has spruced up the ornament with some Mario-themed diagrams, it is in any other case a nondescript work space with an environment akin to a library.

In distinction to the ultra-modern services close by, lots of the staff are toiling away on outdated tools and software program, with software program that appears prefer it’s working on Home windows XP and a database that dates again to the 90s. Till only a few years in the past, it was nonetheless potential to search out bins of outdated VHS tapes full of bug recordings within the PTD space. Secrecy, fixed software program crashes, and the ever-present want for translation of messages from the Japanese headquarters regularly slows work to a crawl.

Nintendo of America's Redmond headquarters. (Image: ZGF Architects)

Nintendo of America’s Redmond headquarters. (Picture: ZGF Architects)

A big proportion of the employees inhabiting this constructing are contractors, lots of whom more and more see themselves as second-class residents with no hope of incomes one of many coveted pink badges that may grant them unfettered entry to the constructing simply throughout the way in which (and even simply the soccer pitch, which can be off-limits). That constructing doesn’t simply signify extra consolation; it stands for job safety, profession development, and even a primary skilled respect that many contractors don’t really feel of their day-to day life on the firm.

The distinction between the 2 buildings displays the distinction in how Nintendo likes to current itself – a technological imaginarium that places “smiles on folks’s faces” – and the much less glamorous actuality. Exterior of fastidiously managed advertising moments, NOA has hardly ever afforded a glimpse of what it’s truly wish to work for one of the vital well-known online game firms in the true world. However current reviews have former workers and particularly contractors lastly opening up, and their tales reveal a Nintendo that may be very totally different from its cheery advertising.

Pink Badgers and Blue Badgers

On the face of it, Nintendo of America is not so totally different from different Seattle space tech considerations like Microsoft, which surrounds it on all sides. For full-time workers, at the least, NOA presents loads of facilities, taking part in varied neighborhood occasions whereas touting its headquarters as being environmentally pleasant. Based in 1980 by Minoru Arakawa, son-in-law of Hiroshi Yamauchi, NOA is at coronary heart a really massive advertising division. In all probability its biggest achievement is the Nintendo Energy journal, which satisfied lots of of 1000’s of youngsters to purchase what amounted to ads for Nintendo video games.

Nintendo of America began as one thing of a shoestring operation. It was exemplified by workers like Howard Phillips, who joined NOA at 24 and was quickly chargeable for “the most important transport quantity within the Port of Seattle.” He went on to function a tester, market analysis analyst, and journal editor, within the course of creating into one thing like a mascot for Nintendo due to his acquainted bowtie.

At the very least a few of that DNA nonetheless stays in NOA’s tradition. When full-time workers reward Nintendo, they normally speak about how a lot they like their coworkers, and the way it presents enviable job safety in contrast with the sometimes risky video games trade. However Nintendo can be a really outdated and conventional firm, and that may make it appear restrictive, old school, and demanding. Including to that’s Nintendo Co. Ltd’s (NCL) affect over the corporate, which has been described in conversations through the years with sources conversant in Nintendo’s inside workings as regularly distant and heavy-handed.

Speaking about what it was wish to work at NOA, one former contractor describes the tradition of their division as “stilted” and oddly formal, with workers apologizing profusely in the event that they left even quarter-hour early.

“At first I attributed it to being a Japanese firm and the expectations that got here with it, however it was very a lot bolstered by the full-time staffers… It appeared such as you needed to be related on a regular basis,” they inform IGN.

Contractors more and more see themselves as second-class residents.

They speak in regards to the paperwork concerned with being a contractor at NOA, describing how they must account for nearly each minute of their day on a timesheet, breeding paranoia about leaving their desk for even a minute lest Microsoft Groups mark them as idle. At one level, drained and unwell amid a strict schedule, they tried a tried-and-true trick from The Simpsons — utilizing a family merchandise to depress the insert key to maintain the idle message from showing.

“It was like Homer with the fowl, besides I did not trigger any issues on the Nuclear Plant… You could not even actually go to the lavatory with out somebody noticing you had been away out of your desk,” they keep in mind.

At Nintendo of America, many workers are paranoid about posting on social media lest they be reprimanded and even fired. Translators are a relentless characteristic of life as messages are translated and re-translated. Taking break day may be frowned upon and considered as placing extra of a burden in your teammates. Sick days embody fervent apologies and guarantees to be in contact.

It contrasts with the typically overbearing positivity of workers always speaking about how fortunate they’re to be at Nintendo, particularly in areas just like the advertising and localization division.

“It was to the purpose that I used to be very shocked to see [threads criticizing Nintendo] as a result of I didn’t assume there have been that many individuals who can be keen to speak about it,” IGN’s supply remembers.

The threads they’re referring to stemmed from an April 15 Nationwide Labor Relations Board grievance, first reported by Axios, which shortly drew discover each inside and out of doors Nintendo. It alleged that Nintendo of America and recruiting agency Aston Carter violated an worker’s legally protected proper to arrange, sparking a number of threads from aggrieved former contractors and workers who shared their very own tales.

A couple of days later, Kotaku printed a narrative shining a lightweight on Nintendo of America’s remedy of contractors. Within the prolonged report, former NOA contractors talked about being discouraged from utilizing services like Cafe Mario, strict attendance schedules that might result in them being fired in the event that they missed three days of labor, and different restrictions. The report made waves all through Nintendo of America as workers mirrored on the remedy of contractors and the corporate’s seeming refusal to supply a path to full-time.

“Proper now the temper is basically tense,” says a longtime contractor inside Nintendo who declined to be named. “Worst case situation, as a result of Nintendo of America is a advertising firm, any article like Kotaku’s is advertising. And you actually fear that Japan goes to see this and say, ‘Okay, what are we going to do about it?’”

IGN’s personal reporting corroborates these tales, the harshest of them largely coming from contractors in areas like buyer assist and testing. Talking with a dozen present and former full-time workers and contractors at Nintendo of America throughout a number of departments, the image that emerges is of an organization that has steadily change into extra heavy-handed and restrictive regardless of the continuing success of the Swap, significantly in issues just like the current closure of the Redwood Metropolis workplace. Nintendo was contacted for touch upon these reviews however didn’t reply by press time.

It has made the perceived reluctance to rent new full-time workers a flashpoint inside NOA. Regardless of the careers website presently itemizing greater than 100 jobs, the notion is that there’s no path for contractors to change into a full-time worker. As a substitute, NOA is seen to be relying an increasing number of on a military of perma-temps who’re handled as second-class residents regardless of being full-time workers in all however title.

“Nintendo is a really massive and complex and secretive firm. And that is what sort of causes the issue,” the present contractor says. “Every contractor begins with the hope they may change into a daily worker, and really, very, only a few folks do.”

Altering Occasions for Nintendo

Most workers IGN spoke with agree that NOA tradition began to shift round 2015. It was a very tumultuous interval in Nintendo’s historical past, famous for the struggles of the Wii U and the sudden demise of CEO Satoru Iwata. It was a pointy distinction to the opening of the brand new NOA headquarters simply 5 years earlier than, when the corporate was nonetheless having fun with the double success of the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii — two of the largest bets in Nintendo historical past.

Jenn, a former contractor who was at Nintendo for 10 years, remembers each of those eras. Talking with IGN over Zoom, she talks about how there have been many extra alternatives to change into a full-time worker at NOA when she first began, even for assist specialists working in areas like the decision heart.

“After I was there, contractors truly had a path to employment. [In 2009] you possibly can be a telephone rep and an NOA red-badger. And I began aiming for that. And I aimed fairly excessive making an attempt to get as many circumstances as potential,” Jenn says.

Enterprise was booming for Nintendo in 2009. In December alone, Nintendo offered some 3 million Wii consoles, fueled by a worth minimize earlier that 12 months. Nintendo’s massive guess on movement controls and the “blue ocean” had paid off spectacularly. However the good instances would quickly be coming to an finish for Nintendo.

“Proper now the temper is basically tense. You actually fear that Japan goes to see this and say, ‘Okay, what are we going to do about it?’”

The Nintendo 3DS was launched in 2011 and instantly stalled, burdened by the dearth of a compelling launch line-up, the rise of smartphones, and a $249.99 worth level. Nintendo was compelled to maneuver aggressively, slashing the system’s worth and rolling out particular advantages for current house owners. A 12 months later, Nintendo launched the Wii U, which fared even worse.

Regardless of the downturn, nobody at NOA anxious an excessive amount of about layoffs. Nintendo was not that sort of firm. In reality, Iwata famously took a 50 p.c pay-cut following the 3DS’ sluggish launch, with different board members additionally taking smaller pay decreases.

“I do know that some employers publicize their restructuring plan to enhance their monetary efficiency by letting quite a lot of their workers go, however at Nintendo, workers make invaluable contributions of their respective fields, so I imagine that shedding a bunch of workers won’t assist to strengthen Nintendo’s enterprise in the long term,” Iwata advised traders in 2013.

Iwata’s phrases had been lauded throughout the gaming neighborhood, however NOA was seemingly compensating in different methods.

“After I first bought there, they had been making an attempt to do away with folks. You would inform as a result of they wished folks to retire, they had been getting a lot of advantages, so they may get new folks in. They sort of gave up on that. Now they’re simply terrified to rent folks,” says the present contractor.

Jenn, who additionally rejoined the corporate after an prolonged break in 2015, echoes these sentiments.

“Simply earlier than I got here again, I truly bought a name from a supervisor who mentioned, ‘Pay attention, we would like you again’… However she was like, ‘Issues have modified right here. Issues have modified lots. And you should know we’re evolving into a brand new sort of name heart.’ And I used to be sort of anxious about that, as a result of once I labored there it was a really household ambiance, it was a number of enjoyable. A number of the managers from then are my private buddies at the moment,” she says.

What she found was that the alternatives to realize full-time employment had largely dried up, and that she herself was taking over an increasing number of accountability. In the meantime, she says, NOA continued to dangle the potential for lastly incomes an elusive pink badge.

“Towards the top I used to be managing a group of 13 folks throughout a product launch, appearing as a chat lead, publishing data base articles on WiFi for not simply Wii however Wii U and Swap,” she says. “I used to be doing discussion board moderation and was a discussion board lead at that time and had written documentation for it. On high of that I used to be nonetheless anticipated to take chats and take calls. And I used to be trying round questioning, ‘Why am I not a pink badge?’”

Nintendo’s public nadir was in 2016 — a 12 months that noticed its earnings plunge a dizzying 60 p.c. Nintendo scrambled to launch the Nintendo Swap, which might in impact mix its residence console and handheld companies into one machine. As has occurred so many instances all through Nintendo’s historical past, the gamble paid off. However NOA didn’t broaden in variety, whilst demand elevated throughout the board.

One supply estimates that demand for localization writers and editors has almost doubled – however there have reportedly been no full-time hires.

One supply estimates that demand for localization writers and editors has almost doubled over the previous three years – significantly as Nintendo has solid its method into areas just like the cell area – however that there have reportedly been no full-time hires inside Nintendo’s localization group in that interval. As a substitute, NOA has relied an increasing number of on contractors, recognized internally as “associates,” who make up almost half the English localization workers.

It has put a pressure on not simply contractors, however on full-time workers as nicely. With associates required to take a two month break between 11 month contracts, challenge managers must scramble to arrange and reorganize workloads in an effort to account for the various assets and bandwidth.

One other hidden value of counting on contractors is the next price of turnover. At simply 4.7 p.c, Nintendo of America has notably decrease turnover than different tech firms, which common nearer to 13 p.c. NOA workers are recognized for staying for years and even many years at a time – lots of the folks that IGN spoke with know at the least one one who had been round for the reason that NES period. By comparability, contractors are much more prone to depart after lower than a 12 months with the corporate, leaving full-time workers to begin from scratch by way of expertise and coaching.

It contrasts sharply with The Pokémon Firm, an organization with monetary ties to Nintendo, however which operates individually so far as hiring and labor practices go. Whereas Nintendo of America continues to defer changing many contractors to full-time, or hiring new workers, The Pokémon Firm has labored to carry its personal localization group onboard full-time, with all the advantages that include it.

“It’s identical to throwing our bodies at issues,” our supply says. “It simply appeared just like the full-time workers was nearly drowning on a regular basis. They didn’t rent sufficient full-time folks, so full-time folks simply ended up managing an increasing number of contractors, getting an increasing number of slowed down, and there was this bottleneck… That’s how contractors find yourself coaching one another, as a result of the full-time workers is simply buried.”

‘The Melancholy Mode’

One among Nintendo of America’s chief fashionable architects is former NOA president Reggie Fils-Aimé. Recognized to followers because the affable pitch man who appeared in movies like “The Regginator,” he was an influential determine from his arrival at NOA in 2004 to his eventual retirement in 2019.

In an interview with IGN supposed to advertise his new memoir, Disrupting the Recreation, Fils-Aimé talks about his first encounter with NOA’s work tradition and his subsequent position in defining what it will appear like going ahead.

“After I was being recruited, I’m at lunch with the pinnacle of human assets for Nintendo of America. No job provide in hand, first go to to NOA headquarters, assembly with the pinnacle of HR, and I’m asking about people-oriented initiatives. What do you do from a studying and growth perspective? What do you do from the angle of enabling folks to get publicity to new and totally different pondering and different methods of upskilling the group? And his reply to me was, ‘Reggie, we don’t do this right here.’ I’m bowled over and he continues, ‘Japanese dad or mum, our dad or mum doesn’t imagine on this, due to this fact we don’t implement it.” And I actually mentioned, ‘This isn’t according to my beliefs. It’s not according to what I imagine a frontrunner must do to develop a company and to allow it long-term to achieve success,” Fils-Aimé remembered.

Based on Fils-Aimé, former NOA president Howard Lincoln subsequently approached him and promised that he would have the prospect to implement his personal cultural initiatives throughout the firm, which Fils-Aimé says he did as each head of gross sales and advertising and later as president. Over the following 15 years, Fils-Aimé says he labored to create a tradition centered on creating “the following group of leaders” whereas “producing new and totally different concepts.”

“Ultimately, I choose my legacy by that once I retired, in addition to the pinnacle of HR who I had that preliminary lunch with… he and I retired the identical day. And as we retired, we promoted folks internally into quite a lot of totally different roles versus bringing folks in from the surface. To me that was a testomony that we had carried out an excellent job of enhancing and rising the tradition at Nintendo of America,” Fils-Aimé says, referring to the promotion of now-president Doug Bowser.

Requested for his response to the controversy surrounding NOA’s dealing with of contractors, Fils-Aimé says that they had a path to full-time employment throughout his time on the firm.

“At this level I am three years retired from Nintendo of America, and I am unable to touch upon what is going on on at the moment throughout the firm. What I can say is that whereas I used to be there, we routinely employed [contract employees] in as everlasting workers. We did it repeatedly,” Fils-Aimé mentioned. “And curiously, in case you have a look at quite a lot of well-known personalities inside Nintendo of America, a number of them began as contract workers 10, 15, or 20 years in the past. So it is all the time been a constructive a part of the tradition to recruit in the easiest of the contract workers into the corporate. So I’ve learn the identical tales, this division between contract and full-time worker. All I can say is that isn’t in any respect the tradition that I left as I retired from Nintendo.”

A method or one other, although, contractors appear more and more satisfied that they haven’t any future at NOA.

“You’ll be able to see the levels of despair and loss in every totally different individual in several methods,” says the supply inside Nintendo. “I all the time advised myself that I used to be a child, and that was my rationalization for why it was okay to be on this scenario. I loved my time. I used to be new and it wasn’t an enormous deal, and I nonetheless thought of myself younger… however I wasn’t that younger.

“As I used to be there longer, and I bought extra tasks, I noticed how a lot the distinction between what a contractor does and what an worker does is meaningless. One of many issues I used to be actually disenchanted by was seeing them rent no extra challenge managers. A challenge supervisor is the direct liaison between NCL and PTD for a single challenge normally… solely now as a result of we’re jamming an increasing number of work onto single people, I believe you are likely to have two tasks now.”

These emotions are exacerbated by a mixture of restrictions that employment specialists inform IGN are sometimes commonplace amongst contractors, however are described as demoralizing by those that expertise them. Contractors are excluded from all the pieces from the corporate vacation get together (although they are often invited by a full-time worker) to the corporate’s varied variety teams. The phrases “second-class residents” are frequently used to explain workers who carry a blue badge as an alternative of a pink or gold badge, they usually regularly really feel unwelcome even setting foot in Nintendo’s glittering headquarters to journey in teams by means of the principle foyer, or staying too lengthy in Cafe Mario.

Nintendo of America's Cafe Mario. (Image credit: ZGF Architects)

Nintendo of America’s Cafe Mario. (Picture credit score: ZGF Architects)

“[I] actually began to really feel a number of resentment due to the massive disparity between us associates and the precise NOA workers. We had been excluded from just about each exercise or occasion. There was a information part of the interior webpage we had been inspired to have a look at that confirmed all of those occasions and actions and advantages (like a large Christmas bonus) that we merely weren’t allowed to take part in. It was extraordinarily demoralizing to me,” says Melissa, a former chat shopper companies rep who in the end determined to not proceed at NOA after changing into discouraged about her future there.

Jenn remembers the battle to permit contractors to march with Nintendo of America within the annual Pleasure parade.

“Right here I’m ⁠— transgender, bi, and on high of that, Mexican…I am sitting there with a straight white lady and a straight white man discussing the Pleasure parade, and but I used to be the one one there who was certified to be in it,” she says. “My supervisor on the time truly requested about it and took it to a combat with higher administration, and that’s the solely time I’ve ever seen the place the associates had been allowed to mingle with the NOAs [a colloquial term for full-time employees] was the Pleasure parade. As a result of he had fought for it, and he had fought for that arduous apparently. And even then so far as I do know it was solely the one time…and several other of my homosexual, and bi, and lesbian buddies had been amazed that occurred in any respect… and so was I, actually.”

In areas like buyer assist, the attendance coverage is so strict that it is potential to be fired for lacking three days of labor. Jenn describes an incident in late 2019 by which a sick worker got here to work so they would not be fired, sending their sickness sweeping by means of the decision heart.

It’s not simply contractors, both. It additionally goes for anybody engaged on an initiative that has misplaced its luster, like Nintendo’s cell video games, which have been steadily shuttered as the corporate has moved in different instructions. Even profitable cell video games like Hearth Emblem Heroes undergo from this, with writers being anticipated to analysis characters by way of fan wikis because of the lack of inside documentation. The obvious lack of regard for stylistic consistency makes the sensation of being relegated to the B-team that rather more acute.

“[I] actually began to really feel a number of resentment due to the massive disparity between us associates and the precise NOA workers.”

“I actually do just like the folks there,” says the supply inside Nintendo in a remark corroborated by conversations with different workers. “There are only a few who’re troublesome to work with. Most of them are within the despair mode. Discovered helplessness. Even the NOAs. They see what occurs to the contractors, they usually can’t assist however be responsible.”

Nintendo of America’s scenario is widespread within the tech trade. A 2018 CNBC article refers to contractor labor as “Silicon Valley’s soiled secret”, and a New York Occasions report describes Google’s “shadow work pressure” of temps and contractors, which reportedly outnumbers the corporate’s full-time workers.

However reflecting again on her time at Nintendo, Melissa pushes again in opposition to the concept that contractors working in areas like name facilities should inevitably be handled as disposable.

“Since I left I’ve had very blended emotions about my time there, questioning if possibly I used to be simply anticipating an excessive amount of. I’ve seen quite a lot of folks commenting on these tales saying that that is simply how contracting is and you may’t anticipate extra from it,” she says. “However the backside line is that workers, contract or not, wish to be handled like precise human beings and never simply changed machines. And I believe that applies to almost each labor dialog that has been occurring currently. Is it actually an excessive amount of to ask for?”

Quitting Time

In October 2021, Nintendo of America instantly closed its satellite tv for pc workplaces in California and Toronto. Staff in California had been advised that they wanted to rally round one workplace and relocate to Washington.

Nintendo’s workplace in Redwood Metropolis had housed a lot of NOA’s advertising and gross sales core, together with Nintendo Minute hosts Equipment Ellis and Krysta Yang, who had been a number of the workplace’s first workers. The closure was broadly seen as arbitrary and never significantly empathetic, and plenty of workers struggled with instantly unsure futures.

“The sense that I bought was that lots of people had been working from residence efficiently, then Nintendo closed the Redwood Metropolis workplace and mentioned none of you possibly can keep in California, you need to transfer right here or depart,” a supply says. “And that was simply one other nail within the coffin of the backward, antiquated mind-set about an organization.”

Maybe conscious of the discontent inside NOA, workers discovered playing cards and balloons at their desks earlier at the moment with playing cards that includes the next message signed by the “Government Management Crew:”

“Over the previous two years we’ve been by means of experiences none of us might have imagined — each personally and professionally. However it all we, as a group, by no means misplaced give attention to what’s vital to us — creating smiles. For many who have been on-site, you continued to ship with excellence, and we so recognize your dedication. For these working offsite, you discovered methods to come back collectively nearly to assist each other, and to drive outcomes. And collectively we had been capable of proceed to shock and delight our followers throughout the Americas at a time when smiles had been wanted most. As we now transition to our new work environments, please take a second to replicate, with pleasure, on all the pieces you might have completed as people, as groups, and a Nintendo of America household. Additionally know, the very best is but to come back. We missed you and welcome you again.”

For Ellis and Yang’s half, they might depart collectively just a few months after the workplace’s closure. They might later reward NOA for giving them the liberty to construct out tasks like Nintendo Minute, but additionally spoke frankly about not desirous to relocate. (Ellis and Yang declined to be interviewed for this text).

In a bittersweet farewell to the corporate that they had every labored at for greater than a decade, they posted photographs from previous E3s, journeys to Japan, and different reminiscences. Considered as lifers by some inside NOA, their departure was nearly as a lot of a shock because the closure of the Redwood Metropolis workplace.

Jenn, in the meantime, left for very totally different causes, although it was no much less bittersweet. After years of pursuing a full-time place at NOA, she lastly gave up after being declined a place. Jenn had been earlier compelled to return residence within the midst of the interview course of because of the demise of her sister, main the interviewer to inform her that she had “attendance points.”

Jenn had been compelled to return residence because of the demise of her sister, main the interviewer to inform her that she had “attendance points.”

Demoralizing as that second was – Jenn says she roughly checked out after that time – it was solely after departing Nintendo and discovering a job that supplied her what she describes as “3 times as a lot cash for a lot much less work” that she was capable of correctly replicate on her time at Nintendo.

“You don’t know that you simply dwell on the demise planet till you allow the demise planet,” she says. “[After] my 10 years there, I used to be very disenchanted on the finish. I used to be very disenchanted that I didn’t get the dream job…I might have labored for Nintendo ceaselessly if I might. I liked it there. I liked the job. I used to be a Nintendo fan, I’ve completed each single Legend of Zelda sport.”

She relays the story of awarding an worker “Burst of Brilliance” factors that might be used to purchase objects like a Wii U on the firm retailer for going out of their technique to discover a Zelda map for a struggling buyer, and the way it was value it as a result of the shopper “walked away completely happy.”

“We liked working there, we had been simply being so exploited. We didn’t actually understand it till we left…At Nintendo I did it out of ardour and a love of the product, they usually know that there’s a line out the door of people that will do precisely that for pet food. And that’s the unhappy half. They know that in case you complain and also you don’t wish to be there, they’ll allow you to go and rent the following Jenn.

“And that’s what pissed off me in the long run,” she says. “I didn’t know I used to be on demise planet till I left demise planet.”

Correction: Jenn was compelled to return residence because of the demise of her sister, not her mom. IGN regrets the error.

Kat Bailey is a Senior Information Editor at IGN in addition to co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Ship her a DM at @the_katbot.

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