On February 21st 2019, Reggie Fils-Aimé, President and COO of Nintendo of America announced his retirement from the game industry in order to "spend time with his friends and family". Having served as President of The Big N’s American branch for 13 years, with an overall 16 year tenure at the company, and with his retirement approaching in just a few weeks (as of this writing), now is as good a time as ever to reflect on his legacy.
As noted by other outlets, Fils-Aimé's pre-Nintendo corporate adventures were at Pizza Hut, Panda Express and VH1. It's my understanding that at those companies, he developed a reputation for being some kind of marketing wizard. And yet, neither the Bigfoot Pizza, nor being responsible for raising VH1's “young people” views are going to be what he’ll be remembered for. It’s his showmanship that will have future generations gathering around the campfire to sing songs about Fils-Aimé.
In late 2003, hot off the heels of his gig at VH1, Fils-Aimé joined Nintendo of America as Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing. A few months later, at E3 2004, Fils-Aimé made his immortal entrance right before the Metroid Prime 2: Echoes trailer:
“My name is Reggie, I’m about kickin’ ass, I’m about takin’ names, and we’re about makin’ games.”
Who was this hotshot?
This grand entrance was part of a calculated effort to make up for Nintendo's 2003 E3 show which critics considered to be both a downer and a snoozer.
(I'm paraphrasing) His brazen attitude and mild profanity went against Nintendo's docile, good-guy almost Disney-like, quasi-family-friendly image and near instantly made Fils-Aimé a household name to gamers.
After a few more trailers, Reggie proceeded to attack Sony and Microsoft:
“One of our competitors is a manufacturer in Japan who wants to capture every one of your entertainment dollars, transporting all your content between all your electronics devices on THEIR memory sticks. We’re not THAT company. And there’s another company who doesn’t care what you do, as long as you do it on THEIR operating system.”
Shots fired. After that point he was just "Reggie" to most people. Reggie wasn’t even the president yet and he already was chomping out the sound bytes.
In 2006, Reggie succeeded Tatsumi Kimishima as Nintendo of America's 3rd president, becoming the first American to act as president. Reggie was already a meme machine at that point, and now he was the All-American face of the company. If you’re not familiar with Kimishima, I don’t blame you. NOA’s first two presidents (Minoru Arakawa and Tatsumi Kimishima) had no media presence to speak of. Reggie on the other hand had quickly built cult of personality about himself. In 2007, Reggie introduced the phrase "my body is ready" during a demonstration of the Wii Balance Board, another group of words that the man would never be able to live down, for better or worse.
"My puppet body is ready."
For the rest of his tenure, besides being the head of the North American business side of things, Reggie was essentially a comedic actor in a series of corporate promotional films. Lifting GameCubes as dumbbells, Puppet Reggie, having a kung-fu fight with Iwata... he was unpredictable and willing to go to great lengths to make himself look silly all for the sake of publicity. He was like Walt Disney and Jim Carrey rolled into one. What other game companies had a Reggie? The closest thing might be that Caffine Guy from Ubisoft. But the less said about him, the better.
“I gotta be honest, right? I SUCK at Smash!”
Besides his quirky, living cartoon persona, Reggie was an excellent pitchman. When he promoted products -- be it games or game consoles -- there was a certain down-to-earth vibe about the way he explained things that made everything feel accessible. In the Super NES Classic Edition Player’s Guide, he describes the Super NES as his first game console and Super Mario World and A Link to the Past as his first gaming obsessions.
"I was transfixed."
He had professed his love for Mario Kart and Animal Crossing 3DS. During the promotion circuit for Breath of the Wild, he said that even though BOTW was the Zelda game he spent the most time playing, A Link to the Past is still his favorite. He had professed a love for Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid. He had admitted in the mid 2000‘s that he owned a PS2, even! This honesty and recounting of personal experiences gave him the image of a buddy, not just a businessman. He's someone who you wouldn't mind going to a bar or go bowling with.
Not everything was perfect, though. Some of the more vocal Mother/Earthbound fans blamed him for the lack of Stateside presence of those particular games. As early as 2006, he was asked about a North American release of Mother 3. As the years went on, he would be asked frequently about Virtual Console re-releases or Game Boy/DS/3DS ports of Mother 1, 2, 3... anything Mother related!
“Not yet, not yet.” -- April 2006 at Nintendo World
“When we have something to announce, we will.” -- E3 2018
He himself admitted to not really understanding the series and requiring a certain degree of briefing on its cult status.
“I never played the game.... it’s something that I need to get smart on.” -- 2007 MTV Interview
“I’m still being bombarded with Mother fans asking for [Mother 3] to be translated to English and launched here in the US..." -- 2007 quote
“It’s not on our announcement schedule” -- 2009 MTV Interview
At the time it did suck and... it still does suck for the Mother fans, but I don’t entirely blame him. Earthbound bombed stateside initially. It’s not the smartest business decision to release a game that isn’t expected to sell well. But still, it seems that Nintendo of America underestimated the free publicity and intrigue towards the Mother series that the Smash Bros games provided. Although with Earthbound getting released on Wii U VC in 2013 (and also it’s inclusion on SNES Classic Edition in 2017) and Mother 1 FINALLY getting a release as Earthbound Beginnings (in 2015) at least the dogs were thrown a few bones. I still think the Mother fans’ best hope for a Mother 3 international release all boils down to if a new version is made for the Switch.
For an even bigger blunder, look no further than the Wii U. Now, keep in mind I LIKED the Wii U, but it was a financial failure and it’s inability to move units hurt Nintendo. I don’t think Reggie deserves the brunt of the bane; he didn’t design it nor did he name it, but it was his job to market the damn thing in the US. There was no major advertising hook. Furthermore, I don’t think he did a very good differentiating it from the original Wii and I wasn’t totally sold on his E3 presentations featuring the Wii U, either.
Still, Nintendo rebounded majorly with the Switch, so I don’t think Reggie will be remembered entirely by the Wii U’s failure. Rather, he'll be remembered simultaneously as one of Nintendo's cheerleaders and as one of their star players. With the Switch being a new beacon of prosperity for Nintendo, it’s sad to see him go, but he’s leaving on a high and going out entirely on his own terms. Fare thee well, Regginator. Thanks for the laughs, thanks for the games; enjoy your retirement.