Nintendo Feels Like a Corporate Entity I Can Love & Trust

People shouldn't get sad at the leaders of large corporation announcing their retirement. Fundamentally, we should not care about these people; they are executives who lead these companies and make boatloads of money. We should be suspicious of them and the decisions they make that are often in favor of them having a better relationship with their shareholders instead of the wellbeing of their employees.

And yet, I cannot deny the fact that I love Nintendo and trust them. I certainly really like lots of developers across the industry and have a high amount of respect for the visions of people such as Phil Spencer, but Nintendo is in a camp of its own. From the likes of Bill Trinen to the always smiling Shigeru Miyamoto, I feel OK about saying that Nintendo's higher ups seem like fantastic people.


Reggie Fils-Aime just announced that he is stepping down as president of Nintendo of America, and is retiring. It's an event that shocked me and has left me feeling very sad and odd. Even though I'm 23 and had ample opportunity to play video games a bit before Reggie came onto the scene, I didn't start playing pretty often until I was about 9 or 10, and started to follow the industry more around 13 or 14. He's been a major face of Nintendo since I started playing, and his absence will be noticeable for me. Sure, he hasn't appeared in as many Directs as he used to, but his presence, his unwavering commitment to the Brand has always been felt and knowing he isn't there is going to change things.

Nintendo as a company is special in so many ways. They're the ones who were around when things more or less started for this industry, and they've been a constant since. Atari is just a brand name nowadays. Sega still makes (great!) video games but is far less of a presence than they were in the 90s and doesn't make consoles anymore. Nintendo is still here. Every two years or so conversation crops up again of Nintendo's imminent demise for one reason or another, but the company is still here, and for the first time in awhile I actually do feel more confident in their ability to stick around and adapt to the changing landscape. Their ability to endure and mostly maintain that mysterious quality that only they have over multiple decades is astounding.

What other company has put their executives in the positions that Nintendo has? Shawn Layden may come out wearing a Crash Bandicoot shirt and Phil Spencer is generally an awesome person, but Nintendo had Reggie and Iwata trying to punch each other in a Smash promotion. One of the developers of Splatoon 2 gives updates on the game wearing a labcoat and being a bit wacky. A gag for the video where Nintendo revealed its plans for E3 2015 involved Reggie firing Bill Trinen.

That Smash bit is probably the peak of the whole thing. The reveal that Miis were playing in Smash 4 was handled by first showcasing Reggie and Iwata competing in over-the-top hand-to-hand combat, with Iwata even having moves referencing his "Direct" pose. Some people at the time noted that the executives had become characters just as much as Mario or Link had to the world at large, which is accurate, but it all still feels genuine.

Although, it only is some select individuals that Nintendo elevates to these positions. Tatsumi Kimishima, Iwata's brief successor, was a much more serious individual and never appeared in a Direct wearing Mario gloves or having Bowser spray fire at him. Shuntaro Furukawa, the current president, is young like Iwata was when he took the position, but has failed to make any major sort of impact in the company's Directs or presentations. Instead, Yoshiaki Koizumi, a longtime developer of both the Mario and Zelda series has risen up to be the company's main face, thanks to his involvement with the development of the Switch. It does bum me out that the bigwigs of the company aren't the ones doing the fun, cute things anymore (well, we'll see how much Doug Bowser gets involved. He's off to an OK start), but I'm happy that the company still feels like this place of wonder, and that its developers feel genuinely enthusiastic about sharing their creations with the world.

How could you not trust him??
How could you not trust him??

In the past I've definitely thought about how Nintendo's leads differ from their competitors, but recent events have made them stand out even more. Anthem released (in several ways) this past week, and has been receiving a lot of criticism. This resulted in Mike Ybarra, a higher-up dude on the Xbox team, calling out reviewers for whining about the game failing to explain an aspect of its combat. It felt really gross and also like a suggestion that streamers were the only ones worth paying attention to for coverage, not game critics. Sony also appointed Jim Ryan to be the new head of PlayStation a few weeks ago, which has been viewed questionably given his opinions on backwards compatibility and other consumer-friendly practices.

And then of course there's Bobby Kotick. The Activision-Blizzard layoffs are terrible for lots of reasons, but unlike some other recent massive layoffs (i.e. Telltale), the company actually reported record revenue; they just didn't meet their projections. Kotick is still making millions, and when the company hired a new CFO at the start of the year they gave him $15M up front. It is infuriating to see thousands of jobs lost around the industry, but executives make a tidy profit.

In contrast, the late Satoru Iwata is noted as taking two(!) cuts to his personal salary (along with members of Nintendo's board of directors) when the 3DS had its major price cut and when the Wii U showed that it was not going to be the success that its predecessor was. Yes, Japanese businesses operate differently from North American ones, but it's still worth comparing the two because of the drastic difference in what happened I feel. Satoru Iwata respected his employees, and valued them and their views. We saw this time and time again with him personally sitting down with many developers to talk about their games in Iwata Asks features. He felt like he cared about everyone and what they were doing, while Reggie was over there being the larger-than-life powerhouse that he is.

Having this sort of relationship with an international entity like Nintendo can be problematic. It can! It's still a company that exists for the purpose of making money. Corporations want their consumers to view their leads as personable, charismatic, and worth admiring. Sometimes that admiration is for their vision, or their effort, their quirkiness, or just that they're real people and they too like listening to the music you do and all that jazz. The way that social media brands are now tweeting about weirdly specific fanbases or how they're super depressed like you too. It's cute in some ways but comes off as trying too hard, even when it's part of that brand's industry at times. When it comes to Nintendo, it doesn't feel like PR managers trying to make their company look good. OK, that's wrong, it kinda does. I know that Reggie doesn't write every speech he has, and that the company controls how their employees are portrayed; there's the infamous example of Shigeru Miyamoto getting very angry after the awkward Skyward Sword E3 demo. But I don't doubt that they enjoy the way they present themselves; I don't believe they're wearing heavily crafted masks. Maybe that's me being naive, but I can't ignore my willingness to trust Nintendo and its people with their messaging and sincerity. I just trust the people that they put forward to speak on their company's behalf, like they've earned my trust. It's rad.

Nintendo isn't perfect. Reggie isn't perfect. Even Iwata wasn't perfect. Their games have had representations I'm not thrilled with, and they are, again, a corporation attempting to make a profit. I still can't help but respect and love them, even as I let my Switch collect dust, because it's Nintendo, and they're not like other companies. I hope Reggie has an amazing retirement, and that the Japanese giant continues to show a commitment to being the way they have been for years.

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