Omar L. Gallaga | For the American-Statesman
If there’s a single video game industry executive who knows more or is as savvy about the world of gaming than Nintendo of America’s former president Reggie Fils-Aimé, I don’t know who it is.
In a keynote talk on Saturday at South by Southwest, Fils-Aimé discussed his new book, why he left Nintendo in 2019 and what he thinks the future of gaming, including the much-hyped Metaverse looks like.
Bloomberg Technology journalist Emily Chang began the talk by discussing Fils-Aimé’s Haitian immigrant background, as well as his new book “Disrupting the Game: From the Bronx to the Top of Nintendo.”
Fils-Aimé said education — including a scholarship opportunity at Cornell University — got him on the path to working in the video game industry. But it was Nintendo’s acceptance of his brash, aggressive approach that really changed his life, he said.
“What was great for me was that the company saw my ideas and my aggressiveness as a very positive influence. They wanted that,” he said. “I was very transparent that I would be pushing for new and novel things because the company needed that injection of new thinking. What was being done wasn’t working.”
The mix between his ideas and Nintendo’s more traditional approach to gaming led to a golden age: the Nintendo Wii, the Nintendo DS and other portable gaming system, the Nintendo Switch, and many successful and award-winning games.
His 15-year term at Nintendo, Fils-Aimé said, wouldn’t have lasted if those ideas for unusual approaches and novel products hadn’t been successful in the marketplace. But he said he’s most proud of the culture he helped change at Nintendo, which became more focused on diversity and developing talent, he said.
The 2015 eath of his mentor Satoru Iwata of cancer led Fils-Aimé to reexamine his life and prioritize developing new companies and contributing to educational boards.
Once known as “the Regginator,” these days he’s become an incubator with a new acquisition firm called UTA. Most interesting in the talk were his opinions on what companies like Facebook and Epic Games are doing in the marketplace.
Of Facebook, he said: “They are not inherently an innovative company.” Facebook has acquired all of its technologies except the original social network and the company doesn’t have a strong track record with original hardware, he said.
That said, Fils-Aimé said he thinks companies like Epic are on the right track by mixing gaming, social spaces, tools for filmmaking and a move toward augmented reality instead of virtual reality.
Fils-Aimé briefly discussed being rebuffed from the GameStop board in 2020 despite his extensive games industry experience. Even with the epic short that took GameStop’s value from $3 to $4 a share to several hundred dollars per share, he said he believes the company still hasn’t given anyone a compelling roadmap and that it might not have a bright future.
“Let me put it this way: I’m no longer a shareholder,” he said.
The future of gaming, he said, is likely to be innovated by companies that are still in their early stages.
“You have to constantly challenge to deliver something new and different. Focus on what’s relevant and unexpected to be successful in the marketplace,” he said.
Lastly, he suggested that recent scandals at game companies such as Activision Blizzard, which was disinvited from SXSW 2022, show management and boards should be held accountable.
“Leaders set the culture. And that was a bad culture,” he said. “Culture is set at the top. It’s the air that all the employees breathe. The board is responsible for keeping management accountable. The board didn’t do its job.”