The following comes from the book “Disrupting the Game: From the Bronx to the Top of Nintendo.” In this excerpt, former Nintendo of American President Reggie Fils-Aimé looks back on the launch of the Nintendo Wii.
Nintendo’s global president Satoru Iwata and I quickly aligned on launching Wii in the Americas first. This strategy had worked well for Nintendo DS, and the Black Friday shopping occasion was a significant business driver in the Americas that did not exist in Japan or Europe. We also agreed that NOA would receive the largest initial allocation of the hardware.
But just as with the E3 presentation, we had a difficult conversation about how to best use the game “Wii Sports.” We knew we had something magical in “Wii Sports.” It perfectly highlighted how the Wii Remote controller could change game play and expand our customer base. The development team at NCL was adding elements that would give the game enough depth to satisfy the most passionate player. They also included different competitive elements that would encourage groups of people to play together.
I advocated packing “Wii Sports” with Wii so that every consumer would get access to this great content. After I made this suggestion, Mr. Iwata paused long enough for me to notice the faint buzz of the incandescent lighting in his office and get uncomfortable. “Reggie,” Mr. Iwata said, “Nintendo does not give away precious content for free. We work hard to create special experiences. It is unique software that motivates consumers to buy our hardware. And we expect to sell these games over extended periods of time. No, we should not pack in ‘Wii Sports.' ”
“Mr. Iwata, I understand the value of our software. I know unique software has always differentiated Nintendo. But we know that Wii is a very different concept in the history of video games. Wii focuses on unique game play. The goal of Wii is to expand gaming from its current niche to a mass-market medium. ‘Wii Sports’ has the power to do this. ‘Wii Sports’ can be a unifying element for all players of the system and be a key motivation for people to buy the system and have fun immediately.
“Plus, Mr. Iwata, I know Nintendo has history using packed-in software to drive a system.”
I knew this from personal experience as I had bought my Super Nintendo Entertainment System in a bundle that included “Super Mario World.”
This was just the opening discussion on a topic that would last months. Even after convincing Mr. Iwata that this was the right approach, I would also need to get Shigeru Miyamoto, as the head of all game development and the renowned creator of Mario, Donkey Kong and so many other Nintendo franchises, to agree. I knew I was making progress when I was shown a new game on a trip to Kyoto in July 2006.
“Reggie, we understand your point about having a strong software title included with Wii during its launch,” Mr. Miyamoto stated via a translator during a meeting with Mr. Iwata and Mike Fukuda, NOA’s head of product development and licensing. “Please take a look at this game that we are proposing to use for your idea instead of ‘Wii Sports.’ ”
The development team proceeded to show me an early version of “Wii Play.” This was a collection of different mini games that also showed off the capabilities of the Wii Remote. A number of the games had been shown earlier at E3 and had received further development.
The games were fun. One was a shooting experience; another was table tennis; and there was a neat game of billiards. But they lacked the thematic cohesiveness of “Wii Sports.” And the collection did not have a depth of experience that could lead to hours of play. They were the equivalent of cotton candy — fun for a moment, but not very filling.
“Mr. Miyamoto, these individual mini games are fun. I can see how the development teams have added more polish to the experiences we had earlier at E3. And they make excellent use of the Wii Remote,” I said. “However, this doesn’t feel to be the same complete experience that ‘Wii Sports’ is. I don’t feel including this would have the same impact as including ‘Wii Sports.’ ”
“In fact, I have a different idea. Maybe instead of including this with Wii hardware, we should take this minigame collection and include it with a Wii Remote to encourage additional sales of this accessory.”
The room was quiet for at least fifteen seconds.
Mike Fukuda jumped in, speaking in Japanese. I watched Mr. Iwata’s and Mr. Miyamoto’s faces and then heard the translation into English. “Reggie is right. ‘Wii Sports’ does a much better job to achieve our objective of getting consumers to understand Wii immediately. And this minigame collection is not a fully formed game that will command full price in our market. We should think about how to best use this software to achieve our objectives. Including this with the Wii Remote accessory is unconventional, but it would get more Wii Remotes in the hands of our consumers.”
So now Mike and I were trying to get agreement to two different bundles, and the world’s best game designer was not happy. The ever-present smile and impish squint of Mr. Miyamoto’s eyes were gone. “Neither of you understands the challenges of creating software that people love to play. This is something we constantly push ourselves to do. We do not give away our software,” Mr. Miyamoto stated.
Mr. Iwata, however, was already sparking to our ideas. “Miyamoto-san, I am sure that Fukuda-san and Reggie-san appreciate the effort of the developers. They are trying to solve for a different situation than ours in Japan.” He went on to explain the market conditions we faced in the context of different game genres that performed well in the West versus Japan. He also explained how Microsoft’s Xbox 360 had just launched in 2005 and was doing well in Western markets. Clearly, our push to educate executives at NCL on our business needs was taking root.
We did not gain agreement during this meeting. Or the many others that followed. But we did eventually get Mr. Miyamoto and Mr. Iwata to agree to have “Wii Sports” packed in for all the Western markets. They decided to sell “Wii Sports” as stand-alone software in Japan.
This ended up being a perfect test of the different approaches. Wii broke records globally, but it performed the best in the Americas and Europe. It was in these markets that we had the phenomenon of “Wii Sports” competitions in bars, nursing homes and on cruise ships. Including the software in the overall Wii proposition had been a courageous decision, and the right one.
Creating a bundle with “Wii Play” and a remote also was the right decision. This was sold globally — yes, even in Japan — and went on to be the fifth best-selling game in the history of Wii.
From the book “Disrupting The Game: From the Bronx to the Top of Nintendo” by Reggie Fils-Aimé. Copyright © 2022 by Reggie Fils-Aimé. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Leadership.
Reggie Fils-Aimé is the former president and COO of Nintendo of the America Inc. who has helped bring the Nintendo DS, the Wii, the Nintendo 3DS, Wii U and the Nintendo Switch to the global marketplace.