Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo’s always lovable President of its America division spoke to Stephen Totilo about gamer reactions to the Wii U and its associated titles recently and, well, it’s causing quite a stir. He rails on audience expectations and reactions to Nintendo’s actions, describing gamers as being impossible to please. While some can argue he’s got a point, the bigger issue is that he seems to be listening to all sides at once and losing who’s saying what when and why.
And so for years this community has been asking, ‘Where’s Pikmin?’ ‘Where’s Pikmin?’ ‘Where’s Pikmin?’ We give them Pikmin. And then they say, ‘What else?’
And he’s right. We did say that. But Reggie, you’re missing the when and why here. Like you said, we’ve been asking about it for years. Eight years now. The problem is that for six or seven of those eight years, we were asking about it for the Wii. We were asking about it as another game we would get to enjoy on the Wii with its new control scheme that seemed perfectly suited to a Pikmin game.
That said, when did people ever intimate that they would be excited for and purchase a Wii simply because there was a Pikmin game for it? Where did you get this impression from? Sure, we’re all thrilled that there’s a new Pikmin game after all these years, but you’re using it as the crux of a new console here. Forgive us if we like Pikmin for being a simple, fun game instead of a console-defining series like Halo or Uncharted.
For years, this community have said, ‘Damnit Reggie, when you launch, you better launch with a Mario game.’ So we launch with a Mario game, and they say, ‘So what’s more?’
Well, it’s not like you announced something like Super Mario 64, Sunshine, or Galaxy here. What you announced was basically a retread of a previous Mario game with some new features here and there. I’m sure we all know it will be awesome and cool and great but we all think it looks just like that last Super Mario Brothers game we played on the DS and Wii.
Besides, Mario is just for posterity, really. There will be many loud voices who proclaim to live or die by them but the fact is that Mario is a staple of gaming. A high quality staple, no doubt, but a staple nonetheless. It’s like asking someone what they want for dinner, Thai or Mexican, when a nice old fashioned hamburger is also an appetizing choice. Yeah, we’re going to expect a Mario game. Yeah, we’re going to seem like we’re feigning interest. Yeah, we’re going to ask what else you’ve got. But do you know what else will happen? That Mario game is going to sell insane amounts of copies anyway and people will buy a copy of it alongside the Wii U. I’ve worked retail for years, I’ve seen this happen. Just go over your numbers, you’ll see it too.
So why does it matter if we expect more than a Mario game? We all know we want and love Mario games, even if we don’t actively talk about them, get excited about them, or plaster r/gaming’s frontpage with screenshots of funny moments in them. You know we’ll buy them. But we also want more than just Mario. Especially a Mario that we’ve all played before.
I have heard people say, ‘You know, you’ve got these fantastic franchises, beyond what you’re doing in Smash Bros., isn’t there a way to leverage all these franchises?’ So we create Nintendo Land and they say, ‘Ho-hum, give me more.’ So it’s an interesting challenge.
Dude. Dude. I don’t think anyone said they wanted more of Nintendoland. What I do remember people saying is “What the hell is this?” and “Why is this taking up half their freakin’ conference?”
All Nintendoland is is Wii Sports but with minigames based around the Wii U gamepad and based on famous Nintendo franchises. When did anyone even ask you guys to make more minigames based on the Legend of Zelda? Was it some eight year old kid who wrote a letter to you one day? Because I can’t remember anyone ever saying “Hey man, Nintendo should totally make a game based just on the mine cart ride in Donkey Kong Country.” What I do remember hearing is “Hey, remember Donkey Kong Country? I wish Nintendo still made those.”
When we show a game like Brain Age or when we show a game like Nintendogs, what’s the fan-based community reaction? ‘Ho-hum.’ Until it sells millions of copies.
The fan-based community reaction is still “Ho-hum.” That never changed. Do you know who bought Nintendogs and Brain Age? Clueless middle-aged to elderly who think their toddler nieces/nephews/grandkids/stepkids/orphanrium urchins would like a game that has something to do with puppies or puzzles. Middle-aged women who wanted a simple and fun game or challenge while they rode the commute to work or had free time. Young children who love animals or wanted to prove their brainpower to their friends.
Trust me, I’ve sold at least a thousand copies between both of those series for you guys over the years. I have never once seen your average gamer buy a single copy of either Nintendogs or Brain Age for themselves. The thing is, these are the same gamers who watch your conferences and whose reactions you gauge. Your market for Nintendogs and Brain Age was completely different and there’s no way you would know their reaction until sales figures come in since a boxed copy on a shelf or a copy in their friends’ hands is the only way they know your product exists.
So, Reggie, keep this in mind: a large portion of your consumer base has absolutely no idea who Reggie Fils-Aime is or what an E3 is. They just know that there’s a Nintendo game about puppies and little Debbie might just love it for a month before she puts it away and never touches it again.
It’s the question of, as a gamer, ‘Is this for me and something I can get excited about?’ And Wii Fit did not get that reaction. And yet 43-million copies around the world, it’s a phenomenon. And so I would argue that the gaming community actually is unable to differentiate between a phenomenon and something that is ‘ho-hum.’
Your stuff always sells like hotcakes even when it doesn’t make any sense, like Wii Music. People actually bought that because Nintendo + Guitar Hero/Rock band fad = $$$. You can slap your name and packaging aesthetic onto anything you want and you’ll make money. I mean, you literally just sold a music product that had barely a thing to do with music outside of erratic flailing to familiar soundtracks. I’m fairly certain you could make a ripoff of Street Cleaning Simulator with some cutesy graphics and sell millions.
Point is, you can’t use copies sold as a metric for success to gamers or else you’re making the argument that Twilight would be the greatest book in the world and Justin Bieber is the next Beatles. Gamers don’t care how well crap sold. It’s still crap. There are dozens of great games that gamers love and get excited over flopped commercially. Psychonauts and Okami, for example. Discuss the possibility of a sequel to those and people go nuts.
It’s not that gamers are unable to differentiate between a phenomenon and something blase. They’re just not mutually exclusive ideas, as shown above. Wii Fit sold like crazy, sure, but why would a gamer care? That’s not a product for them. The gaming community doesn’t care that the Wii Fit series sold 43 million copies, it’s still just another exercise game for the Wii they don’t really care about. It’s stupid to wave sales figures in the face of gamers and effectively say “We sold millions so you’re dumb!” considering that the only people you’re waving this in the face of are the same who didn’t buy Wii Fit, didn’t buy Nintendogs, didn’t buy Brain Age, and are the ones telling you that your Wii U showings were disappointing. Sell all you want, that doesn’t make it good or exciting for gamers. That just means you’ll be taking a few million dollars out of the pockets of people who don’t really follow or care about video games all that much.