We’ve been saying goodbye to a lot of old friends lately, and it’s making us, or at least me, feel old. But Reggie, as everyone called him, was an original. He shook up stodgy Nintendo by giving it some edgy personality.
Who can forget his memorable monologues at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3)? At his first E3 in 2004, he took the stage and said, “My name is Reggie. I’m about kickin’ ass, I’m about takin’ names, and we’re about makin’ games.” I remember doing a double-take because no Nintendo executive had ever spoken that way.
And what about, “My body is ready,” when Reggie was introducing the Wii Fit fitness game accessory. It turned into a huge internet meme.
Among the leaders who recently left their longtime jobs are Mike Morhaime, cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment; Eric Hirshberg, former CEO of Activision; and former Sony leaders Kaz Hirai, Jack Tretton, and Andrew House. I’ve done so many homages to long careers lately, I feel like I’m on the retirement beat. So it’s only proper for me to give a proper homage to Reggie.
“Reggie was the only remaining board member who was on the search committee when I was hired,” said Mike Gallagher, the former CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, in an interview with GamesBeat. “Reggie was one of the most consistent people in the industry. Relentlessly positive. A big enthusiast for E3. And for the industry. Showing the world what the future of entertainment looks like. He was also someone who challenged everyone around him to reach higher.”
More recently, Reggie appeared onstage at The Game Awards with Sony leader Shawn Layden and Phil Spencer, head of Xbox of Microsoft. They extended a message of togetherness and unity in fun. That was the first time I’d see the leaders of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo together on stage since one of my first E3 events in the early 2000s. That simple act was a sign of respect for gamers, and it had taken show organizer Geoff Keighley five years to make that happen.
Spencer tweeted his own farewell to Reggie yesterday.
All the best to Reggie Fils-Aime on the next phase of his life and career. Great leader, industry partner and friend.
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) February 21, 2019
I think of Reggie as one of the best ambassadors that Nintendo ever had. He took what could be the clumsy communications from a Japanese company and made them accessible on a global level. He helped humanize Nintendo and make it seem like it was cool. Gallagher said that behind the scenes, Reggie was able to positively impact government leaders’ views of the industry.
And he behaved in a presidential way, trying to bridge to the mainstream.
Criticizing the industry in 2014, he said, “I have to say, I see a lot of me-too content. I see a lot of shooters that don’t seem very differentiated. I see a lot of zombie games that don’t feel very differentiated. I see games utilizing gore and violence for the sake of gore and violence. I see things that trouble me. I don’t like the concept of a game where you’re shooting at policemen. I think that’s bad for our industry.”
I didn’t get any chances to interview Reggie recently, which has been a sore point for me. But I enjoyed the time I had with him. When I saw him last year at the Game Developers Conference, I asked him if he was ready to turn down the offer I made to have him speak at our conference. He said, “But you haven’t asked me yet.”
He liked to banter. He wouldn’t go off script or share many secrets, and he had fun holding things back. The executives back home in Japan were never good about disclosing a lot of information, but Reggie turned that into a kind of mystique, rather than offering boring “no comments.”
In 2008, I mentioned he didn’t say how much memory was in the new DSi handheld onstage. I brought that up, and he laughed and replied, “And I won’t in this conversation.”
He was personable, and he made Nintendo seem like the most important company in the world. In that same interview, he said, “For me, when someone sees the Nintendo tag on my bag, they react with enthusiasm. I never played video games for a long time. But I love the Wii. I love Wii Fit. I love Mario Kart. I love Wii Sports. I love Guitar Hero on the Wii. To me, that’s the personal side of how we have expanded the market.”
I found that Reggie was a formidable Wii Tennis player. He destroyed me with serves that were extremely fast, yet seemed to be made with a minimal expenditure of energy.
“He was very engaged in the brand,” Gallagher said. “He was the face of the brand for so long. He’s leaving at a high point.”
Reggie was good with the put-downs when they were called for. In 2009, OnLive made its case for cloud gaming. In our interview that year, he replied, “As far as the home console market goes, I’m not sure there is anything they have shown that solves a consumer need. What’s the better experience in what they have described?”
I replied, “I think much of their argument is economic.”
He responded, “So did they disclose pricing?”
I also asked him about used games. He replied, “We believe used games aren’t in the consumer’s best interest.”
I asked, “Because?”
He said, “Describe another form of entertainment that has a vibrant used goods market. Used books have never taken off. You don’t see businesses selling used music CDs or used DVDs. Why? The consumer likes having a brand-new experience and reliving it over and over again. If you create the right type of experience, that also happens in a video game.”
We went on like this for a while. Eventually, I asked him a tough one. “What’s the toughest question I could ask you in this interview?” He laughed and said, “So you want me to do your job for you?”
During the dark days of the Wii U, Nintendo’s consoles sold poorly and the company had to reinvent itself once again.
Back in 2014, I asked him about what Nintendo was doing to make a comeback, and how it was going to change itself before it successfully launched its Nintendo Switch console.
He said, “You’re talking about a 120-plus-year-old company that started by selling paper playing cards. We know all about change. We know all about evolving our entertainment capabilities for the current marketplace. I would argue that we have changed and we’ll continue to change….We’re not so arrogant to believe that we have all of the answers. That’s why, at an event like this, Mr. [Shigeru] Miyamoto and the key developers walk the floor. They see interesting examples of what people are doing. That’s why I walk the floor, to see what others are doing that’s interesting. It’s a very fast-moving category. We have to be smart in looking at what others do.”
And since the Switch has become so successful, Reggie can retire with his held up high, after one of the greatest runs and greatest comebacks in video game history. We can only hope that Reggie’s replacement, the aptly named Doug Bowser, will be as entertaining.