Interview: Reggie Fils-Aime On Garage Devs And The Value Of Software
When Nintendo's global president Satoru Iwata rocked this year's Game Developers Conference with his controversial comments about developers of social and mobile games, there were a lot of questions. Was the company showing fear? Was it being too rigid in its thinking? Was Iwata actually right on the money?
A few people, though, were asking a more practical question: If the company felt this new breed of garage developers (like Rovio in its early days or Tiny Wings developer Andreas Illiger) were undervaluing their games, why not establish an opportunity for them to sell to the Nintendo audience at higher prices?
But Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime says that's not in the cards – near-term or long-term.
"I would separate out the true independent developer vs. the hobbyist," says Fils-Aime. "We are absolutely reaching out to the independent developer."
"Where we've drawn the line is we are not looking to do business today with the garage developer. In our view, that’s not a business we want to pursue."
Many of the developers making the sorts of games referred to in the keynote, he says, are similar to amateur musicians who hold down other jobs. That's a different class than people who make their living creating games.
"Look at the music industry," he says. "There are certainly highly talented people who work other jobs and have a passion to be in the music industry. They work at it. There are reality TV shows that revolve around this concept. … I love it when there's a game that's found that captures people's imagination, just like that … singer toiling in a factory."
Fils-Aime echoed many of the thoughts given at the Nintendo keynote, though noted that Iwata's comments were not aimed at a specific company. The risk the industry is taking with low-priced and free software, he says, is it's quickly training the consumer that there is no value in games.
"When we talk about the value of software, it could be a great $1 piece of content or a $50 piece of content," he says. "The point is: Does it maintain its value over time or is it such disposable content that the value quickly goes to zero? … We want consumers to see value in the software, whatever that appropriate value is. And we want to see that value maintained over time."
On the 3DS, which launches March 27, Fils-Aime says the company has learned from the Wii launch, which saw demand far outstrip supply, resulting in significant retail shortages. This time, he says, Nintendo is determined to avoid those constant sell-outs.
"Our goal is not to have that situation," says Fils-Aime. "Our goal is to be able to meet the needs of every consumer beginning with Day One of the launch."
Gaming elements aside, the 3DS will also be a showcase vehicle for upcoming 3D films for Hollywood studios. Fils-Aime won't detail which studios the company is working with presently, but notes the deals work well for both parties.
"It truly is a win-win-win," he says. "It's a win for the studio, because they get to promote their movies in 3D. You can’t do that with any other marketing medium other than previewing in the theater itself. It's a win for Nintendo because we believe the share-ability is tremendous and its shows off immediately what the device can do with a one- or two-minute trailer. And it's a win for the publishing community [since it] drives the installed base."
Nintendo, of course, will be providing its own non-gaming content to the 3DS as well starting in May, with a channel it will manage filled with items such as 3D music videos and comedy clips.
"We haven’t decided the frequency [of updates]," says Fils-Aime, "but I would describe it as very frequent. In Japan, they’re providing daily updates. Japan is in partnership with two television studios that are each creating daily 3D content that’s being made available to consumers." (Editor's note: This discussion took place before the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami. It's unclear if those daily updates are taking place currently.)
As for the Wii, Fils-Aime downplayed rumors that the company may expedite its next generation machine due to flagging sales – and dropped a possible hint that price cuts could be in the near future for the system.
"The Wii has a long life in front of it," he says. "We're still sitting at $199. There are a variety of marketing tools at our disposal."