Reggie E3 2018
Image: Nintendo via YouTube

Reggie has been doing the rounds lately, hasn't he? The former president of Nintendo of America has been promoting his new book, Disrupting the Game, since its release in North America earlier this month. And along the promotional trail, Reggie Fils-Aimé has been dropping tons of nuggets and thoughts about the company so many still associate him with.

The latest stop on his book advertising adventure was with the GeekWire podcast, where Reggie talks about the story behind his book, his time at Nintendo, and the origins of a famous quote. In the second half of the podcast, GeekWire's co-founder and podcast host, Todd Bishop, asks Reggie about Nintendo's approach to online gaming — something which the host admits Microsoft and Sony were much better at investing in — and whether there were any regrets or lessons learned.

Reggie's response is particularly detailed, as he reflects on Nintendo's philosophy and what they excel at, and how that might have influenced the slower response:

First, Nintendo’s business philosophy has always been to do things differently, to innovate in ways that played to the company’s strength versus playing to the strength of others. And so for example, when it came to multiplayer, Nintendo really excelled in what we called internally ‘couch play’ – sitting next to someone playing Mario Kart, sitting next to someone playing a variety of different games like Wii Sports. That in-person multiplayer really was a place the company excelled, and that’s where it placed a tremendous amount of focus.

In order to do online multiplayer, the company really needed to think about what’s the new type of game, what are the different types of experiences that we’re gonna need to create in order to now excel in that form of play. And candidly, it took the company a while to think that through, to come up with something that they believed would be fundamentally different and add value in a new way. I would argue the company’s core success started with their taking Smash Bros. – a key franchise for them – taking that online, which did exceptionally well. That begat a, not quite a first-person shooter – kind of in between a first and third-person experience – with a franchise called Splatoon, which has done incredibly well in the marketplace. So that’s the first part of the answer – the company’s always thinking about how they’re going to enter these markets uniquely, differently, and play to their own strength.

Nintendo started dabbling its toes in the online space in the Wii and DS era — with Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and Animal Crossing: City Folk (among many other games). Many of these proved to be hugely successful, but online gaming has already taken off years prior, back in 2002 and the launch of the Xbox and Halo, and Sega's ill-fated Dreamcast had also jumped boldly ahead into the online market with Phantasy Star Online -- which also had online functionality in its GameCube release.

Nintendo, however, wanted to bring its philosophy into online gaming — it didn't want to compromise. Replicating the feel of 'couch play' or challenging popular genres — like racing games, first-person shooters, etc. — but this approach arguably caused the company to enter the market slower than others.

Reggie also reflects on another aspect that may have affected Nintendo's approach to online gaming, and that's culture:

The second thing I would highlight is – and this is where it gets into some of the cultural differences. Culturally, the company didn’t see a huge opportunity in online. It was an area that the Americas and Europe constantly was trying to educate the company in Japan about the value of online play, investing in the online infrastructure which needed to be done in order for the experience to be a positive one. You’re absolutely right that of the three main hardware competitors in the video game space, this is where Microsoft invested so significantly, and it became their competitive advantage – it still is today I would argue in terms of their connected gameplay. It was a constant area of push by the Western parts of the company to encourage the development and the investment in the infrastructure, and I’m sure that conversation continues today.

Nintendo is now pretty firmly in the online gaming market — Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Smash Ultimate are still played by many online — but not without its hiccups. Nintendo is still considered behind the curve — especially with Smash's online gameplay — but it has been improving recently. Capcom's Monster Hunter Rise was the first game on Nintendo's new online server, and the upcoming Mario Strikers: Battle League and Splatoon 3 should be a showcase for online play.

Still, it's extremely interesting to hear the former Nintendo of America president ruminate on just why Nintendo was slower at adopting online play. And, as he says, "that conversation continues today", so Nintendo is now acutely aware of its importance.

You can listen to the whole GeekWire podcast episode with Reggie below. How do you feel about Reggie's comments? Let us know in the comments.

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