Video games are more technologically sophisticated than ever these days – virtual reality headsets, augmented reality integration, and some of the most powerful and realistic graphics yet.
Ultimately, a good innovative video game needs an important element. According to industry veteran Reggie Fils-Aimé, former president of Nintendo of America, it’s simply to make the game good and fun.
Fils-Aimé retired in 2019 but reflects on these ideas and his story of disrupting the gaming industry in his new autobiography, “Disrupting the Game: From the Bronx to the Top of Nintendo.”
Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams spoke with him about where innovation is happening in gaming right now. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Reggie Fils-Aime: Key innovation will come from small independent developers. They are developers who find ways to deliver great content, often on your mobile phone, with better access. It is the developers who take more risks by coming up with new ideas. [A small example] in the game space, but not a traditional game, you look at what Wordle was able to do, the word puzzle. It has taken popular culture by storm and it was created by a single individual.
Kimberly Adams: Still on the subject of innovation, there are discussions about integrating new technologies into the next generation of games, like blockchain and cryptocurrencies, perhaps creating ecosystems where players can Earn money just by playing the game or collecting digital items. Skeptics worry about potential scams or exploits. If we integrate these systems into the games, do you think there is a way to integrate this type of technology in a constructive way here?
Son Aimee: I really do. And I say that because not so long ago there were similar concerns about free games, games where you start playing a game and then have to invest a lot of time or small amounts money to progress in the game. And there was a very strong initial negative reaction to this concept. But as the developers have found the right balance, encouraging players to play in the game to progress or to spend small amounts of money, the developers have found a way to achieve this balance and to provide exceptional content. But there is a big caveat. And the caveat is that it has to be done smartly, it has to be built into the game from the start, as opposed to something like a bolt-on attachment that really doesn’t serve the player. And it has to give the player compelling and unique benefits that they can’t get today and that don’t exist in games.
Adam: You know, when I was a kid you could borrow games from friends, you could rent them, you could buy them used because they were physical cartridges, and that gave people access to games they might not otherwise have been able to afford. With games now being digital or streaming more often, how can we maintain this kind of access to top games across different economic groups?
Son Aimee: You know, today, physical games still represent about 40% of the software sold. And that specifically pertains to dedicated gaming consoles like the Nintendo Switch, like Xbox and PlayStation devices. So it’s still quite significant. But what you’re arguing, which is absolutely true, is that the industry needs to ensure that attractive software is provided or offered at different price points, with a range of different accessibility in order to continue to grow. This is done, for example, on the Nintendo Switch, as long as another person has their own Nintendo Switch, you can share the game electronically, as long as you do or as long as you have downloaded the game to your system. In the work I do now in retirement, working with independent developers and helping them create content that is engaging and generally at lower prices, it is essential to ensure that accessibility to quality content is as wide as possible.
Adam: You’re a bit of a rarity, in terms of diversity and leadership in the gaming industry. Have you seen any moves to improve on that? What do you think needs to happen to change the look of the gaming industry?
Son Aimee: Progress, unfortunately, has been quite slow. Leaders need to focus on this issue of diversity thoughtfully and with purpose. This is to ensure that slates for key positions represent a diverse background and set of life experiences. He must ensure that there are opportunities for mentoring, training and development. This is real work that needs to be done and it needs to be done and approved by the highest leadership in any organization.
Adam: What was your favorite game when you were a kid?
Son Aimee: You know, when I was a kid…and let me rephrase the question, maybe: as a young adult, I had the first dedicated gaming system in my own home, which was an entertainment system Super Nintendo, my favorite game was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It’s a game that attracted me [with] a combination of puzzle solving and adventure. And to this day, I am an avid lover of The Legend of Zelda series. So this was the game that really changed the game for me on my personal journey in gaming, and it just happened to be a Nintendo franchise, and in a game where I would continue to invest my time and effort.
Adam: So what’s your favorite game now?
Son Aimee: Ironically, it’s still a Legend of Zelda game, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which launched about five years ago on the Nintendo Switch. I was lucky enough to be a part of that launch and it’s a game I’ve invested hundreds of hours into and to this day about every three months I go back and pick it up and I replay. So I would say it’s my favorite game of all time.
Related Links: More from Kimberly Adams
Reggie has a lot to say about corporate culture in his new book. Video game publisher and developer Activision Blizzard is still grappling with the continued fallout from accusations of racism, sexual harassment and assault within the company.
And Microsoft is still on track to acquire Activision Blizzard, after shareholders approved the merger last month. But, as Bloomberg and others have reported, that merger is still pending Federal Trade Commission review.
In his book, Reggie also talks about the rollout of products like Nintendo’s Wii console and what it was like to get people playing golf and bowling virtually and rocking the “Wiimote” controller in their living rooms.
Which brings me to a review in The New York Times’ Wirecutter, highlighting a problem the company can’t quite seem to fix. The new Nintendo Switch Sports game that was released this weekend has a similar challenge to the Wii – or, I guess, it’s the users who are the real problem – people keep accidentally throwing their controllers movement in their televisions.