The Techland Interview: Nintendo of America’s Reggie Fils-Aime

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While at GDC, Techland was lucky enough to get a one-on-one interview with Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America. As we talked about his take on the threat of Playstation Move, Reggie showed off a little bit of the swagger that’s made him a sometime-controversial figure in the games business. We also discussed why and when Nintendo lets others baby-sit its characters, and why Nintendo will still do motion-controlled games better than Sony or Microsoft, even after Project NATAL and the Playstation Move come out.

Would it fair to characterize last year as challenging? Wii sales have plateaued and there’s been concern about momentum…

Are you talking about the industry or Wii specifically?

Both, actually.

I would separate the two. The industry as a whole had an up-and-down year. A large part of 2008’s success was due to the growth of the music genre and you didn’t see that replicate in 2009. As far as Nintendo specifically, our DS business did its best year ever. Not just for a handheld, but for a platform total.

You’re comparing it to other consoles?

That 11.2 million beats anything that’s ever been done here in the US, handheld or console. It actually beats the Wii record that we set the year prior ago. Now, when you look at the Wii business, we did 9 million units last year and that was the second best console year on record, second to what we did the year before. A purist could look at that and say Wii sales are down year-over-year and someone else clearly had a better year…

But your off-years are better than someone else’s best year.

Ever! When you compare the Wii’s performance after four holiday seasons to the PS2’s at the same point in time, we’re tracking 5 million units ahead. So, our performance is where we want it to be and it continues to be all historical records. But we’re constantly challenging ourselves to do better.

So what’s the next challenge?

The immediate challenge is getting back consistently into stock. We sold so well during the holiday season that we’re chasing demand again. That’s a situation that will be solved over the next few weeks. From there, we need to figure out how to excite existing consumers and new ones that haven’t decided to jump in yet.

Four years ago, during the Wii launch, you talked about Nintendo being a company that has a legacy of being a disruptor. There have been accusations that the Wii’s just a fad. And, some could argue that, with NATAL and the Playstation Move, your competitors are catching up to that disruption. How do you disrupt again?

For us, it’s all about, “How do we keep bringing about fantastic new experiences?” 27, almost 28 million units into the life cycle for Wii hardware, clearly we’re not a fad. How do we keep it going? With great content like Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M and new content from licensees like Capcom’s Monster Hunter Tri.

Yeah, but you’re talking about content and not a wholesale seismic shift like the Wii generated. Is that genie out of the bottle?

I would argue that what caused that seismic shift WAS the content.

Not the interface? Or are you lumping both of those togther?

The interface needs to be brought to life with the content. Those two are so closely linked. Bu, in the end, it was Wii Sports and the ability for the consumer to do something that they never thought of before. That’s what we see as our mission.

So, let’s talk about interfaces. 2010 looks to be the year where interface in this industry changes, with NATAL and Playstation Move both coming out. Sony was not shy about name-checking you guys in their press conference. What do you think lies ahead about the way content’s going to be structured? Is motion control now a new evolutionary branch that everybody’s going to have to support? If that’s the case, how does Nintendo, having been first-to-market, continue to provide a more robust experience? Or, is that even possible?

Motion control’s a whole new chapter, maybe even a whole new book in the history of video games. But, again, it’s not just about interface, you have to have the content. It needs to be fun and entertaining and until that is fully disclosed by our competitors, and until we fully disclose what we have up our sleeves, all of this is talk.

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