JUNE 2004
The future of gaming is driven by innovative game play -- not just faster processors and more horsepower, says Reggie Fils-Aime, chief marketing officer of Nintendo.

Reggie Fils-Amie, Nintendo
Nintendo's Reggie-lution
"What's going to motivate my kids to play more games," says Reggie, "are things like touch screen and wireless and other new ways to play."

Actually, what Reggie said was this: "My name is Reggie. I'm about kickin' ass. I'm about takin' names. And we're about making games."

Yes, Reggie really did say that, at the Electronic Entertainment Exposition (a.k.a. E3) in May, as he introduced Nintendo's new game platform -- an innovative dual-screen, wireless handheld, code-named Nintendo DS, and scheduled to hit stores in time for the holidays.

Reggie's high-voltage verbs sent shockwaves of anticipation -- and adulation -- through the Nintendo community. You know, all he really meant was that, unlike certain competitors, Nintendo puts games first. But the way he said it -- man-oh-man-- internet bulletin boards and chat rooms just went bonkers. "Reggie is the light of Nintendo, nay, the light for the world!" posted one true believer. Another wrote: "When Reggie walks, his massive footprints fill with beautiful flowers for the children to enjoy."

It didn't stop there. Reggie's instant fan club created rap songs based on his E3 speech, drew comic strips glorifying his bravado, and, in perhaps the ultimate accolade, fashioned Reggie action heroes to immortalize his prowess.

So intense was the interest in Reggie Fils-Aime that Reveries found itself right in the thick of things. Reggie had participated in one of our roundtable discussions a couple of years ago, back when he was chief marketing officer of VH1. His fans, ravenous for any scrap of information about their new hero, Googled their way to his thoughts on "integrated marketing communications."

Reggie's high-voltage verbs sent shockwaves of adulation through the Nintendo community.
We suspect that maybe this wasn't exactly what they had hoped to find, and so we thought we owed it to them -- as well as to our own community of readers -- to catch up with Reggie and get the full story (but only on the promise that he wouldn't kick our asses).

Seriously, although one of his fans spread the rumor that Reggie "came from a meteor that crash-landed on Earth," the truth is he began his ascent to his current demigod status at Procter & Gamble, right out of undergrad at Cornell University. Reggie then spent six or seven years of his career in the restaurant business, predominantly with Pizza Hut, before joining Guinness Import Company. After a stint as chief marketing officer for an international bicycle company, he led the marketing charge at VH1.

Feeling the itch to get back to his roots in consumer marketing, Reggie became Nintendo's chief marketing officer last November. "For me," says Reggie, "the opportunity here at Nintendo really was to get back to my consumer marketing roots, apply what I've done in the teen and young adult space for the last ten, twelve years and really help take this brand to new heights."


Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo
Why did you threaten to kick asses and take names at the E3 conference? You were just joking, right?

No, I actually wasn't joking. Nintendo is a brand that is truly synonymous with the video gaming industry. Nintendo really turned the industry around with the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System, in Japan, 20 years ago. If you recall, at that point the industry was just about out of business because Atari had some product issues.

The NES system came here to the U.S., really took the industry by storm and started growing this industry. That was further driven by the Super NES, and more recently with other competitors, like Sony and Microsoft, coming into the business. So, at E3, what we were looking to do was "reframe" the perspective on Nintendo and show the industry that we are truly vibrant, that we are the ones driving industry growth, and to make that statement very provocatively for the consumer, the media, and for the industry.

Why do you think the comments generated the sensation that they did? Did you expect that they would reverberate to the extent that they did?

Honestly, no -- not with the fan, not with the consumer. I think it had that impact because the videogaming consumer is a very passionate consumer; games are a way of life. These kids and young adults spend more time playing games than they do watching TV or with any other form of entertainment.

These consumers know that Nintendo really was the forefather of the industry. These fans -- these kids -- want to see Nintendo bringing back fantastic games and driving the industry and driving innovation the way the company has for years and years.

So they were proud -- they were happy for someone like myself to come in and articulate a very aggressive attitude, and frankly, have the games and the innovations to back it up. That's what motivated the response that we've seen on all these websites and that part has truly been fantastic.

Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo
Some observers thought that maybe you were also poking fun at your competitors. Was there any element of that as well?

Well, we certainly poked fun at elements of our competitors and how they go about doing business. Sony and Microsoft are two huge competitors and I take them very seriously. But having said that, both of them have a way of approaching this business and approaching the entertainment industry in total that arguably isn't always in the best thing for the consumer.

You don't need to look very far to see things like Beta Max from Sony -- the memory stick from Sony -- and how they try to drive technology in ways that benefit them and not necessarily benefit the consumer. I won't say anything about Microsoft and their reputation for competitiveness! What we wanted to do is to let the industry know that certainly we're aware of our competitors but that quite frankly we are prepared to be aggressive and to deliver what the consumer wants and, fundamentally, what the industry wants.

So, what is it exactly, if you could distill it down, that separates Nintendo from Sony and Microsoft?

Well, for us Nintendo is about three things. Nintendo is about growth, gamer focus, and the games themselves. So, first, we're about growing this industry -- we're about bringing innovation, true consumer-driven innovation -- to this business versus just delivering faster processors and more realistic graphics. The launch of our new handheld device, still code-named the Nintendo DS, is a perfect example of our innovation. Two screens, touch screen, wireless, voice activation … These are all totally new innovations in the gaming world that we're bringing just to some fantastic consumer response.

When you have all those new features that no one has ever seen before, doesn't that complicate your communications challenges?

It could, but given my background and being a consumerist at heart, we certainly are doing all the requisite work to very clearly and very persuasively communicate the benefits of Nintendo DS and to communicate it in a compelling way that drives interest and drives purchase. The very positive reaction that we've had to date just highlights our ability to communicate what this product is all about in a compelling way.

What will the marketing mix look like?

It's going to be a fully integrated campaign. There will be sampling and other interactive activities. There will certainly be advertising -- both traditional media as well as non-traditional media. There will be a lot of guerilla marketing elements that bring the message right to this young adult consumer. It's going to be a totally integrated plan to do the job of driving intrigue, trial and purchase.

Certainly one of our business strategies is to work with other marketers as a way to help them to reach the key consumer target in ways that are truly new and innovative. We're doing a number of things like that with some key partners that I can't name. But certainly that's an area that I know, as a marketer, is of interest to a number of key players and certainly something that we're looking to push on aggressively.

In general, what would you look for in a marketing partner?

Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo
There needs to be a consistency in terms of whom we're trying to reach, and in the messaging. I'm focused on growing Nintendo's image and making the brand feel cool and vibrant. So other brands that are cool and vibrant are certainly more up our alley than brands that, if you will, try to hold onto our coattails. It really is an opportunity to work with other brands that are trying to reach this key consumer audience in new and provocative ways.

Might this new platform attract more adult usage, or even within that, more women?

In fact, we envision the consumer target for Nintendo DS to be slightly older, and by that I mean a core audience of 18-25. It's going to be a consumer who is an early adopter -- not only of media, but also of other innovations. It will be a consumer who is likely well educated, and slightly more affluent. The price point hasn't been decided, but it will certainly be above the price point for our current handheld.

Will we attract more women? Certainly more women are playing computer games than ever before. We will certainly have some software titles that will appeal to women. One of our key franchises -- the Metroid franchise -- is very appealing to women. And certainly that's one of the games we highlighted at E3. So yes, against a traditional 14-, 15-, or 16-year-old consumer, this will open up slightly new markets. But this product truly is in the wheelhouse of your traditional gamer. And we expect a lot of 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds to be buying this product as well.

As you start to broaden your appeal, how do you make sure you don't lose your base?

The key way that we will retain our base is in the way that we communicate to our gamers and the way that we launch specific titles. Because of our gamer focus, we know that consumers as young as seven or eight, as well as into their 40s and 50s, play games. They truly enjoy playing video games. What we look to do is to communicate to these consumers on a one-to-one basis, in their voice -- with their sensibilities -- and do it in a way to make the titles provocative to them.

So, how do we add some of these older consumers while maintaining the younger base? We do it by maintaining our relevance. We do it by targeting young adults differently than we do slightly older consumers. It is truly the fundamentals of marketing, which, given my background in Procter, and given some of the other things that I've done in my past, is really what I'm looking to bring here to Nintendo of America.

Is there any danger, though, that some of these new features like instant messaging and chat could conflict with the gaming aspects of Nintendo DS?

I don't think so. We are offering a chat feature because we know that young adults today are using instant messaging more than they are e-mailing to their friends. Being able to use DS in this format certainly makes it relevant to their lifestyle and what it is that they do.

We know that, fundamentally, what's going to get the consumer interested in any piece of hardware are the games that you offer them. We will have a plethora of titles to make sure that we have relevance both with the younger part of our demo as well as the older part. We will continue to market Game Boy Advance SP as well as Nintendo GameCube. All of those products will have very focused marketing strategies that are really designed to appeal to the core demographic and get them buying more games and spending more time on our systems.

Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo
So Nintendo DS does not spell the end of Game Boy?

No, by no means. By the time Nintendo DS launches we'll have sold somewhere in the range of 25 or 26 million Game Boy Advance systems. We will continue to provide innovation on Game Boy Advance. We view Nintendo DS as truly a third business leg of a three-part strategy and how we grow the Nintendo franchise. GameCube has the home console Game Boy Advance SP potentially for a younger demographic -- call that 12 to 17 years old -- and then DS for an older demographic.

You've said that DS stands not only for "Dual Screen" but also for "Developers' System." What does that say about the Nintendo philosophy and its strategy?

It says that at the heart of our success is not only the games that Nintendo develops and launches, but also the games that third-party developers launch behind our systems. So when we talk about Nintendo DS standing for Developers' System, what we want it to highlight is that the games that Nintendo envisions for DS only scratch the surface.

There are many, many, many smart developers who will look at our list of features and functions and will create tremendously new games that even we have not thought about so far. So, by providing this great technology and this great gaming platform, we believe that we are sowing the seeds of innovation for all other developers to take advantage of.

Is there also the possibility that they might develop software that has nothing to do with games, that they take advantage of the messaging capabilities of the devices, for example?

That's a potential. The only issue I would raise there is that as you look at devices that are multi-functional devices -- phones that take pictures as well as play games for PDAs, that play games and do other things -- there aren't a lot of successful business models out there. Certainly, Nintendo DS is meant to be, first and foremost, a great gaming system. To the extent that the developers create breakthrough software that adds other functionalities or takes advantage of our hardware to provide other benefits to the consumer -- we're certainly intrigued by that. But, first and foremost, it's meant to be a great gaming platform.

As Nintendo looks to shape the future of gaming, it is also looking back, with retro games.

Yes. We have just launched eight retro titles; everything from the original Super Mario Bros., to the original Donkey Kong and Pac Man. Eight specific titles were all launched on Game Boy Advance. In addition, we've launched a retro-design Game Boy Advance SP.

Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo
These classic games are phenomenal because, for older gamers, it's an easy way to get back into the gaming platform. These games are easy to pick up and put down. For younger consumers, many of them have heard about these games but have never had the opportunity to play them -- and they all look fabulous on Game Boy Advance.

Frankly, we believe we've gotten into this business in a better way than these other systems that plug into your TV. We think the element of portability is a big added benefit in playing these "throwback games," as we call them. So, it's a very strong opportunity for us. We launched these titles very recently and they're selling very, very well.

So, Reggie, exactly how many asses have you kicked and names have you taken since the E3 conference?

You mean it wasn't obvious from all those great pictures on the web, mock-ups of me with two bags -- one labeled "asses kicked," and the other one, "names taken"?

All I'll tell you is that our retailers feel it and our consumers feel it. I think employees here at Nintendo of America feel it. I'm certainly bringing a huge amount of passion and energy to this business, and a tremendous focus on growth and success and winning out in the marketplace.

I'm fortunate to look at my background and have had a lot more successes than failures. Certainly, I'm looking to have success here at Nintendo. So, while I do smile at these visuals of asses kicked and names taken, the mentality certainly is what I'm all about, and it's what the new Nintendo is all about.

It really highlights how the Nintendo fan has been hoping and waiting for a leader to come into Nintendo of America and really recapture some of that passion.