Reggie Fils-Aime obliterated me once during a live game during Wii Sports Tennis. He retired after 15 years at Nintendo of America, ending his tenure as president and chief operating officer in 2019.
The Regginator has come back as the author of a new book, Disrupting the Game, and he spoke with Gamertag Radio cofounder Danny Pena during our GamesBeat Summit. During the meeting, I met Fils-Aime with him, and I highly recommend it as a different type of memoir and business advice book. I apologize for the fact that today we do not have a similar person in gaming leadership.
Fils-Aime was an aggressive defender of the Nintendo brand, and he enjoyed the intellectual sparring that comes with press interviews. However, many other leaders are afraid to express their opinions in the open. It was a lot of fun to have a long conversation with him once more.
He dodged a few tricky things like the F-Zero franchise. He addressed head-on a question about Nintendo''s recent use of contractors. He fought for non-fungible tokens as a business model with significant potential in gaming. He also spoke about the Square Enix sale of its Western studios to Embracer Group, his comments on E3, and his time on the GameStop board.
I appreciated the fact that his father was growing up in poverty in the Bronx after his parents fled Haiti, leaving him with a rich life for poverty in one of New York''s poorest neighborhoods. It turned out that one of his passions that he discovered constantly playing Nintendo games would later be so important later in life, giving him respect for Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata. And I appreciated that his book outlines some difficulties or difficulties, including his management of the Bigfoot Pizza brand at Pizza Hut, the pricing for
Fils-Aime''s friendship with Iwata was fantastic, as he was an outsider as the only high-ranking black executive at the Japanese business. It was also interesting to see how Fils-Aime approached his company when he was a third-party developer. And it was fascinating to see how he approached the industry and made diversity advocacy and mentorship his mission. We discussed that, as well as the My name is Reggie''s comment.
Here''s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: I got through the whole book. I''d not say it was a tell-all, but it''s a helpful one.
Reggie Fils-Aime: It was never meant to be a tell-all. It was more about teaching lessons and sharing principles rather than being at every location where decisions were being made.
GamesBeat: It must have been helpful to have the ability to discuss certain things that you would not have been able to while you were still president.
Fils-Aime: For me, the stories I told were profoundly clear. Not only in terms of key lessons, but I think it provides a peek into my role in the company. Some of the key decisions that were made ahead, as well as decisions that were not, and perhaps their outcomes in the marketplace.
GamesBeat: Did you have to to deal with Nintendo in order to discuss anything?
Fils-Aime: The approach I used with the book because it was focused on my own journey and conversations, making me realize that it was a pleasure to read the book without having to request permission.
GamesBeat: One of the most interesting stories was about transitioning from employee to friend with Satoru Iwata. What was the reason you wanted to make sure the stories were revealed, about that ongoing relationship?
Fils-Aime: There are a few reasons. First, I doubt I would have been nearly as successful in the role if Mr. Iwata had not been present, and if he had not expressed desire to work with me and to leverage his skills and capabilities to Nintendo. In another case, in another scenario where he wasn''t in the role, or if he behaved differently, I think my experience at Nintendo would have been quite different.
That''s why I thought it was important to share how we worked together, how many conversations we had, and how it wasn''t always leading to positive outcomes. I thought it was important to share that even when you have a situation with a company that isnt performing well in the market, not every decision, or not every situation, is terrible either. This is why I begin the book the way I do in terms of highlighting his relationship, and recognizing how that affected my time at Nintendo.
GamesBeat: These stories of either mistakes or challenges, such as the Bigfoot Pizza story, or the Wii U launch, or pricing the 3DS, seemed to be more real.
Fils-Aime: Yes. As I wrote the book, or as I prepared to read it, I became a business memoirist. Several of them did not work out, but I did well out of it. I wanted to be clear that even if someone has a broad success career, there are still things you regret or that you wish would have done differently.
GamesBeat: I like how you connected growing up in the Bronx with this post-retirement mission, focusing on diversity and mentorship.
Fils-Aime: While im hoping to give back in a variety of ways, im fortunate that some of these opportunities provided themselves. As an example, the fact that Harold [Goldberg] and the New York video game critics Circlethe fact that they reached out was a bit of serendipity. The fact that I was able to perform that role before COVID impacted universities in the United States and the globe, however, I did not take for granted. While I was able to assist and to be able
Youre is still as outspoken as ever. You dont appear particularly prey on any response. The example around the Nintendo of America labor practices with contractorsyouve mentioned this. How do you feel about that, and generally about the fear of speaking out?
Again, im in a fortunate situation where even in my retirement career, I may provide a point of view or make a statement. These are areas in which I have a strong point of view. Im fortunate to be in a position where people still care what I have to say.
GamesBeat: I felt like you enjoyed discussing and the reshuffle that would come there. I don''t know if there are some executives out there who would rather avoid the press. How would you counsel someone like that to use the opportunity to speak out?
Fils-Aime: It''s a tough one. For me, I''ve always believed that being a spokesperson is important. Or in the future, being in a position where im trying to provide some perspective or to share what Ive learned in this book and in retirement. It''s important that the person you speak with has their own personal purpose to play. Theyre looking for information. Theyre looking for advice. There must be a fair and even exchange. It''s important that you continue to be fearful or
GamesBeat: Youve received some criticism for your NFT position. How did you come to that position? Has your criticism increased your interest in it?
Fils-Aime: I guess im fortunate to have lived in this field for long enough to see parallel situations. When free-to-start mobile experiences began, there was a segment of the population that didn''t like the gameplay. It was disruptive. So today there are experiences that can be seen, whether you look at Fortniteyou or a mobile app. They are converse with tactics that, early on, players may not have been excited about.
I believe that with proficient developers and monetization schemes that work for the game, and that it may, on the whole, be achieved. I believe that it may be done, whether it be with blockchain technology or NFTs as a particular device. I believe that it will take for the wide gaming audience to be supportive is a positive experience. I believe that this is how it will be performed. It must be that very first positive experience with a high-end mobile game that was monetized in-game. In the end
What are your opinions about this most recent transaction, where Square Enix stated its selling off its western game properties to focus on blockchain games, AI, and the cloud? It appears like a choice between what Embracer wants, those IPs, and these more futuristic innovations.
Fils-Aime: That one is a more difficult one for me to explain. First, I think Embracer actually agreed with these studios. These are proven companies, and the IP went along with the transaction. It appears like an option for Embracer. Finally, I think it will take some trials to get a blockchain game to work efficiently, both for the gamer and from a commercial perspective.
My idea would have been to keep up with, if you choose, the current types of games and use that to assist fund my experimentation. I would have figured out how I would have approached it. However, I am not an employee or leader at Square Enix, but my opinion is very clear.
GamesBeat: I believe there are still some players in the entertainment industry that have been stuck in the past. E3, for example, or GameStop. How do you think they may try to progress?
I''d like to clarify the point briefly because I think the E3 situation is quite different from the GameStop situation. However, broadly speaking, I believe you have to be constantly looking at your business model. It is important to remember that in the case of E3, the system was historically the first place to play the big new games. It is an industry that publishers were eager to participate in, and they need to make sure that they do it. If they do it, others will take that position.
His main advantages have been the passion of the store associates, who enjoy games, play games, and articulate for the consumer to walk in the types of games they may be interested in, or the types of consoles they may be interested in. In this case, learning how to capitalize on software is critically important, while also developing strategies to assist individuals in transforming the world.
Is there any technology you see right now that might be a big disruptor in the future, like NFTs? GamesBeat: Is there any technology you see today that can be a big advantage in the long run?
I believe that blockchain can play the role as a disruptive piece of technology. Cloud is coming. I would be learning how to create a complete experience via the cloud. By that I mean, for example, permitting consumers to play content on their choice''s screen where all they need is the appropriate controller, and not necessarily needing a piece of hardware to play it. I think that is where the company is going to be in excellent position.
I have publicly stated that I am not as positive on VR. I''m more positive on AR, specifically for gaming. I think VR might be useful in other business applications. However, to the example I used earlier with NFTs, I''ll be much more of a believer in a VR experience when I see a great one that makes use of the technology and delivers something I cant experience anywhere else.
You talked a lot about the Reggie speech in the My Name. Could you explain why Nintendo should be more aggressive at that point? Why was it the correct speech at the correct time?
Fils-Aime: It was the right speech at the time because the business had to push more aggressively with its consumers and within the industry more broadly, given it was under so many threats at the time. Microsoft''s entry into the video game industry, a company that had significant resources to put against this business versus Nintendo.
We had solid first- and third-party support for GameCube, including Resident Evil 4, the Star Fox game we highlighted, and the second in the Metroid Prime trilogy. It was also a great experience for participants at the close of that show. And it was the perfect presentation for a company that required to pivot and aggressively.
When we were playing Wii Sports Tennis, I thought about how a lot of this book focuses on you figuring out how to be an outsider. However, that playability seemed crucial to your success at Nintendo. Did you feel like you might be well-equipped for that job your whole life?
Fils-Aime: The fact that I play games, the fact that I knew the franchises so well not only Nintendo franchises, but franchises that existed on other platforms that absolutely gave me credibility. It allowed me to speak with confidence about what was going on. I also needed to work hard playing our content, keeping us comfortable with it.
I did not share the story of that GDC, but I think it was a GDC where I took on all comers at Wii Sports Tennis. In part it because it wasnt a So what? I can say that when I unveiled Wii Fit and I played against Mr. Miyamoto in the Wii Fit soccer experience, you had to punch balls into the net. I can tell you that on the big stage at E3, in my presentations, since I can say that given all of the different product demos
Believe me, we walked to a point where people wanted me to win on the big stage. In the three-point shooting contest we had with Wii Sports Resort, Bill Trinen wanted me to win. He did not.
You are promoting diversity in your stories, and one of the most interesting things about your story is that you offered Japan this ground truth about the United States market. You proved that a diverse perspective was beneficial to Nintendo, and in retrospect it was a no-brainer. Why do you still oppose diverse perspectives, do you believe?
Fils-Aime: While an executive has experience personal, considering the benefit of a different viewpoint from one another, and who may potentially look different from the executiveuntil they see the benefits of that diversity, until they experience the business benefits, they do not. Until they see the business benefit, they tend to just give it lip service.
What do you think of where the #MeToo movement came from and where it grew up in the game industry? In the last several years, we have heard a lot about toxic culture in gaming, and how the industry is dealing with it.
Fils-Aime: Unfortunately, our industry has a long way to go to create positive culture and talk about them within organizations. I do believe that the tone is absolutely set at the top, and that until leaders across our industry fully accept the necessity to address their culturesuntil that happens, the progress will continue to be slow.
You may look at any of the organizations that have encountered an issue, and most fundamentally, you may trace it back to the seniormost leaders in the organization: their belief, their approach, and their actions. That''s our terrible reality. If those leaders cannot modify their behaviors and change what they value, then the leaders themselves will need to change.
Why was F-Zero abandoned in GamesBeat?
Fils-Aime: Why was F-Zero abandoned? I think that while my tenure was constant, Nintendo developers were constantly developing different gameplay strategies, always thinking about when and where a unique experience might be applied back to the franchise. My point is that somewhere in the Kyoto development centers, some developer is making a conscious decision not to continue supporting the X-Y-Z franchise. Historically it has just failed, not when I was there.
When I was young, I played in the arcades or on a PC. But I have these fond memories of playing Mario Kart with my mother and mother-in-law during the holidays. How do you look at the contrast between people who are notoriously talented Nintendo people, but those who have been able to touch in different ways?
Fils-Aime: That''s because most Nintendo games are approachable, and as long as you have these fantastic and in-depth experiences like Zelda, you also have more accessible experiences like Mario Kart. I must admit, however, I believe Nintendo is unique in the industry as far as having that wide range of experiences.
GamesBeat: While Microsoft and Sony competed in a technological arms race, it feels like Nintendo was always more involved in a creative arms race. Is that still the case today, do you think, or has it changed?
Fils-Aime: I do believe historically your description is quite correct. I do believe that both Sony and Microsoft have gained more developers and expanded first-party studios. I do believe that it will lead to more unique content from both Sony and Microsoft.
As acquisitions happen, I think that the development of more independent studios will be successful. There will be great developers, developers with a lot of knowledge and experience, who choose not to be part of a big corporation, part of the Borg, and instead go to their own projects, which will give us a new era of creativity.
Is there anything you can say about the SPAC status? Ive heard you talk about a date before, but I''m not sure if there''s anything to do there.
Fils-Aime: The SPAC was oversubscribed by about $1 billion, which shows how successful the sponsors and individuals involved with the SPAC. Right now, we were in the position of having a number of conversations with a number of private companies that we can potentially take public. We have a long journey. Right now, we must have all of these conversations and find the appropriate company to take public.
With the Wii and the Switch, it was great to see how things turned out so well. I liked the connection to the Blue Ocean Strategy and the Innovators Dilemma books. Im curious if you see those books as still being applied in interesting ways to the game industry right now.
Fils-Aime: The core themes for each of these books can absolutely be applied. Blue Ocean Strategy requires being focused on your point of difference, and how to constantly push into markets or opportunities that can leverage your key capabilities, instead of just going head to head against a competitor where the result is, as they say, a blood red ocean. The core concept absolutely holds true, whether you are looking at brand-new businesses in Web3 or looking at the current issues that, for example, the video streamers are battling with.
Innovators Dilemma''s aim is that when you look at how you innovate, you must be constantly thinking about the value of that innovation versus what the market is willing to bear. Often, pursuing an innovative, but also low-cost approach can be the better option. Today''s examples are fundamentally different than when these books were first created in the 80s.
Ive heard that blockchain game pitches are now up to 90% of what comes into gaming VCs. That''s starting to sound like a red ocean.
Fils-Aime: Yes, it''s not just a red ocean, but again, where are the concrete ideas, the concrete examples, that give me a reason to believe that these approaches will make sense? There must be a bit of thought.
What does your new Reggie pin say to you? GamesBeat: What does your new Reggie pin mean to you?
Fils-Aime: As I retired from Nintendowell, I should step even further back. In this book, I highlight that lapel pins were something that I had always enjoyed, whether it was having my Procter and Gamble lapel pin, or the pins from all my previous companies. I instilled in giving employees pins as a thank-you for hard work.
I asked my daughter to make me a new pin, which she could own, and use as a constructor for a pin, and it was incredibly helpful. But it''s also significant because of the memory of pins and the desire for a 32-bit pin.