In America, we hear about Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime as much as we hear about the company’s consoles – and twice as much as we hear about their games. He’s essentially their pitch man and spokesperson, and the enthusiast press is allowed to have a filed day with rumors until “The Regginator” gives us the official word.
Though recently, Fils-Aime has shown that he’s certainly capable of missing the mark. Especially in The Age of the Internet (where likeable personalities are a dime a dozen) it may be time for Nintendo to rethink how they engage their audience.
Nintendo’s problem is unique. Their upcoming Wii U console will beat next-gen consoles by Microsoft and Sony to market, but it isn’t a significant technological leap and will ultimately reside in the same category that the Wii is in now. Furthermore, the public perception of the new console is clearly going to need some work. In 2011, Nintendo appeared to show off what amounted to the long-rumored Wii HD with a funny new controller, but fast forward to 2012 and suddenly the company has no choice but to be on the defensive.
After a year of press and interest, confusion still seemed to reign supreme following Nintendo’s showing of the Wii U at E3 2012. Not only did CNN incorrectly report that the controller was actually for the Wii and not for the new console, but Jimmy Fallon made the same mistake. Fallon’s gaffe in particular should be most telling to Nintendo, because while his level of expertise could be called into question he very clearly represents the person in the middle that Nintendo is desperately trying to reach with the Wii U — not quite hardcore, but certainly interested in more than casual games.
Unfortunately, the bigger concern at this point may be Fils-Aime, who seems to address all questions and problems with an air of incredulity and ignorance.
Companies obviously only want to show the positive aspects of new products, but it’s an incredibly fine line when well-educated and tech-savvy consumers can smell bullshit a mile out. Pitching new products can be done with honesty and reverence while still admitting their technical limits. (You know, just… for example.)
Nintendo’s entire push for the Wii U has been in the hands of Fils-Aime, and perhaps that’s where part of the problem lies. Geoff Keighley asked him some pressing questions during E3 2011, only to be met with tightly-scripted spin. Fils-Aime started by mentioning that the Wii might have left some hardcore players out in the cold, but basically retracted that sentiment when Keighley asked him if that was an admittance that the Wii wasn’t successful with those gamers. Later on in the interview, Fils-Aime employed the Chewbacca defense and said that the audience buying the Wii was a “different consumer” than the hardcore audience.
“Online capabilities? Got it,” proclaimed Fils-Aime. Or, not.
Most recently, Fils-Aime was interviewed by Kotaku and bemoaned the typical fan reaction (to their announcements) as being “ho-hum.” Whether Fils-Aime is choosing to ignore the actual issue or simply doesn’t understand it is anyone’s guess, but the complaints aren’t as shallow as he leads us to believe. The simple fact is that we desperately want some innovation from a company with an impressive track record in that regard. However, that isn’t what we’ve been shown – we’ve essentially been shown Pikmin HD and yet another side-scrolling Mario title.
To his credit, Fils-Aime was correct about internet trolls and journalists citing the lack of a Mario title at launch as a recipe for failure. But lending credence to that theory was Nintendo’s most recent console release, the portable 3DS system, which stagnated initially and really only took off (in terms of sales) once Super Mario 3D Land (A, uhh… Mario title) was released.
Also to Nintendo’s credit, while the recent rash of 2D, side-scrolling Mario games is mostly seen as creatively bankrupt, from a sales perspective these games are guaranteed money in the bank. Fils-Aime understands the business, and is trying to address fans’ concerns from a myriad of angles knowing full well that classic Mario is the safe bet.
But that isn’t the issue — when it comes to talking directly to the players most invested in these games and the company’s history, Nintendo could do better than Fils-Aime as a spokesperson.
Across interviews, podcasts, and even his own Twitter feed, Cliff Bleszinski is a person who is clearly invested in the industry and has product to sell, but he’s also honest. Whether he’s admitting his disdain for on-disc DLC, speaking to the growth of his public persona, or referring to the Gears of War titles as “dude bro” games, he usually comes across as what we colloquially refer to as a “straight-shooter.”
There is no shortage of other great orators in the game-space, either: Peter Moore is practically a legend in this regard. Randy Pitchford and Peter Molyneux are great in front of a crowd, too. They tend to let their excitement and ambition get the better of them (and are thus prone to over-selling their games), but they never cross the line into leaving their audiences ill-informed.
Fils-Aime is a great President for Nintendo of America, and his obvious enthusiasm is refreshing for a businessman. But when it comes to the public face of Nintendo, it may be time to find someone who can be more open with the press and a fraction less rigid. Or, at least let us have someone we don’t have to surreptitiously label as a peddler of snake oil.