Nintendo has one of the most dedicated fan followings out there.Â
While that often means there’s a whole community of gamers singing its praises, it also often results in crowds of those same gamers angrily rallying together to decry some of its more questionable business decisions.Â
Go on any online forum and you’ll see it: Tons of people questioning Nintendo’s sanity. Why, Nintendo, why?? If only you listened to the screams of fans across the globe, if only you delivered what they so clearly spelled out for you, you’d have a much easier time gaining favor. It should be so simple. Give us Smash Bros. Give us PokÃ©mon. Give us more mini consoles to squee over. Let us mod your games and play in tournaments and back up our saves as we see fit.
And yet, Nintendo doesn’t run its business according to the suggestions outlined by the most fervent threads. Why is that?
I sat down with Reggie Fils-Aime in Los Angeles, CA recently and asked him.Â
“The fans should know that we are not a company that is sitting in a little ivory tower and not thinking about all of these dynamics,” Fils-Aime said. “[We’re] a company that likes to keep our information very close to the vest, and announce information when it’s ready and when all of the elements are fully fleshed out.”Â
“We are not a company that is sitting in a little ivory tower and not thinking about all of these dynamics.”
It’s true, Nintendo has historically been one of the cagier video game companies out there, even in an industry that is known for being extra cautious about what gets announced and when. It’s a common marketing strategy: They want to control the narrative as much as possible before it gets away from them. Of course, that’s not exactly how Fils-Aime framed it.Â
“We love to surprise people,” Fils-Aime said. “We also believe that the consumer should have the information when they’re ready to act on it. Telling someone about a game that’s four of five, six years away from actually launching? Just doesn’t make a ton of sense to us. But sharing information in order to frame how we are looking at a franchise, looking at an IP, that’s something we do very thoughtfully.”Â
He offered the example of two recent Metroid announcements to illustrate his point. Fans of the series got to hear, simultaneously, that they could look forward to not only a 3DS remake in Samus Returns, but a new Metroid Prime title, as well. Nintendo, he says, wanted you to be aware of both at the same time, so that Metroid fans could get excited about their future gaming options. This effectively “frames the conversation” and “gives the consumer information that helps them understand, ‘Ok, Nintendo is thinking about me and knows what I want as a Metroid fan.'”Â
But there’s something else at play here. Tactics for controlling the conversation around a product or brand can only go so far. It clearly doesn’t always work in Nintendo’s favor, despite its best efforts. Gamers on forums and social media will always have their opinions but, to Fils-Aime, framing the conversation means potentially staving off some of the dangers of miscommunication on more open-ended news.Â
“A hypothetical on one message board gets picked up on another message board as fact,” he said. “That is the nature of the state of the industry today. And that’s why we do want to manage our messaging so closely.”Â
It’s a fair point, but you rarely see it turn out that way in practice. In fact, because Nintendo holds its cards so close to the chest, fans are left to make assumptions when hints and rumors surface. Nintendo is notorious for no-commenting most of these, so fans have nothing but their imaginations and Nintendo’s history to play off of.
“As we look at the overall business, we’re constantly looking to do the right thing for the consumer.”
But, Fils-Aime promises, Nintendo is actually listening, and attempting to do right by you whether or not it means placing an NES Classic squarely into your hands, pre-loaded with all of your personal favorites.
“As we look at the overall business, we’re constantly looking to do the right thing for the consumer,” Fils-Aime said. He brought up the Switch, Nintendo’s newest console, as an example. The company made 2 million units available at launch, despite, Fils-Aime said, analyst recommendations that demand would be much lower.Â
“We actually sold through almost 2.8 million units, so we dramatically over delivered. And yet, demand outpaces supply,” he said. “So what do some of the consumers on Reddit say? ‘Gosh, Nintendo, if you would’ve made more you would’ve sold more.’ Well, we did make more! And certainly we’re on a pace to supply in the current fiscal year 10 million units.”
In the end, Fils-Aime believes Nintendo is delivering on all the expectations fans have, albeit not at the rate in which they might prefer it to happen.
“I think if you were to go back and look at some of these comments, you would actually see that the issues have been resolved, but it’s happening at a pace that is later than maybe where the commenters would like the resolution to be,” he said.Â
“But it happens. And the solution is there.”