I am now a month removed from my first ever E3.
As I have been following E3 since its inception in the late 90's, the anticipation of actually attending the notoriously closed-to-the-public trade show coursed through my senses the entire week I was in LA: it was hard to sleep each night, I was charged even when I was starving, and whenever I was walking, my eyes hardly even knew where to go. But the event finally came and went by us all, and while I was left with overwhelming amounts of joy and permanent memories, the truth is that I was left equal parts psyched and disappointed.
Though I was hesitant at first, I now finally feel comfortable enough discussing this hilariously unlikely, somewhat uncomfortable truth.
Reggie Fils-Aimé personally and directly rejected me four separate times.
As I stood near the "invitation only" Smash Bros. line for Nintendo's room-sized screen at their E3 booth, Reggie approached me.
An interview for Fox Business was being prepped and necessitated a scenic overlook of Nintendo's operation in action. What better view than the elevated platform that overlooked the entire Nintendo show floor?
Reggie passed me on my left before stopping at the base of five, small steps leading up to the Smash Bros. stage. I had not been expecting to actually see him in person, let alone this close, this suddenly. His surprising height (yes his "body") was somehow fully contained in a sharp suit that would double as the wardrobe for a Talking Heads tribute band on anyone else. His personal assistant, an older woman I would learn acted as chauffeur to several key Nintendo figures kept near Reggie: to approach him was to approach her.
I couldn't help but become nervous from what had unbelievably snuck up behind me from my left: Reggie was under the glow of a Pikachu final smash aside him, a TV crew in front of him, fans wide-eyed behind him. What on Earth were the odds? This might have been my only chance. My camera phone was clutched.
The kids at the head of the line waiting to play Smash had the right idea when they called him down from the platform, doing what I had hoped to do for myself. Reggie initially seemed hesitant answering their pleas, but came down for one, then two, then three "hyper-quick" photos. I deduced that my own turn in this faux selfie-line logically came next, but the moment was slipping away from me as Reggie's obligation was pulling him back up the stairs. A show-goer leaped out from behind me and got him to do one more photo, which left me internally enraged. I kept cool.
I was next. Reggie and I locked eyes, and then he turned away from me and my outreached phone. I'm completely sure he considered my disappointment before walking away and rejoining his interviewee back over at Fox.
At least, that's what I told myself after walking away empty-handed for the first time.
If Nintendo's reveal of the Wii-U name back in 2011 was any larger of a red flag, a bull surely would have charged it.
Recent history has been vindicating to the naysayers: the continuous usage of the Wii brand, at least in terms of how it was utilized, has proven to be unwise. The Wii turned a vowel sound into an unforgettable proper noun, but the Wii U has had almost the opposite effect by alienating consumers. Whether this is due to its branding alone is only the beginning of the debate; Two years in, the Wii U has hung an albatross onto the neck of the mighty Kyoto giant.
To wit, there is next to no major third party support for the Wii U. For whatever reason, the system is not compelling (or perhaps powerful) enough for third parties to develop for, and its first party strengths are a sermon to an already assembled choir of Nintendo fans. The proof is in the sales.
As Reggie and several of the Nintendo brass have stated time and time again in industry interviews, "Software sells Hardware".
Yet as Metacritic reflects back the early "next-gen" landscape, Nintendo sits comfortably ahead of competitors Sony and Microsoft with an already handful of critically praised titles, including "Super Mario 3D World", "Mario Kart 8", and "Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze". Nintendo's next-gen market share, on the other hand, sits just as sizably behind its major competitors, all the same. So what gives?
If E3 2014 offered any response from Nintendo, their answer is, "We need more software!" Walking around Nintendo's booth was a frying pan to the face of first party support. "Super Smash Bros." for Wii U and 3DS literally and figuratively pillared the entire booth, with titles such as "Captain Toad's Treasure Tracker", "Yoshi's Wooly World", "Mario Maker", and "Wii Sports Club" aiding in showing off differing approaches to the Wii U's gamepad-centric gameplay, which Nintendo is still in the market of selling.
Nintendo has oft reiterated the Wii U needed further elaboration and emphasis regarding why they feel two screen gaming is different, and these games are an indication that they were not joking around.
Newcomers "Splatoon" and "Project S.T.E.A.M.", as well as Shigeru Miyamoto's alpha builds of Wii U game concepts were also shown, which helped in alleviating gamer's call to arms for new IP's from Nintendo.
Amongst the very few third party efforts on their entire floor ("Hyrule Warriors" notwithstanding) were "Sonic Boom" from Sega, and Platinum's "Beyonetta 2". The "Just Dance" dancers also spent three days chipping in quite loudly to the third party cause.
In 2012, Reggie telegraphed hopeful words regarding the third party support drought, one interview in particular painting a Nintendo that had seemingly "learned from their mistakes" by alienating industry leaders: "... (We hope to) essentially create an environment where teams like Rockstar can bring their very best content to our platform, and if we do that hopefully the very best content throughout the entire industry will show up on Wii U".
The topic was third parties. The specific title in question was "Grand Theft Auto V", and Reggie made it no secret in a series of relevant interviews at the time that he wanted the content Nintendo missed out on the last go around with the Wii. Of course, this has not come to pass. GTAV has remained exclusive to Sony and Microsoft's hardware, and not even a handheld spinoff, as was the case with the Nintendo DS's "Chinatown Wars", is in Nintendo's immediate future.
Fast forward two years, and Reggie takes on the topic of GTA with far greater reserve. In a 2014 E3 interview, Reggie responded to a question about the industry outside of Nintendo's booth: "I see things that trouble me. I don't like the concept of a game where you're shooting at policemen. I think that's bad for our industry."
Quite a turnaround.
Of course, the place of ethics in video games, as well as their lasting affects on those who play them, is a healthily plump debate, and one that is worth having. But as the COO of Nintendo of America, the crossroads of divisive debates are not a place Reggie ever wants to find himself, nor is it a place Reggie necessarily should find himself. That is, if he is aiming to make the bosses at Nintendo of Japan happy.
Reggie got to where he is by maintaining the role of an opportunistic business man, and an extremely good one at that.
No, this was not a new side of Nintendo's conscience. Yes, these latter comments about the industry are business first, as usual.
To put an emphasis on this point, Reggie's plugs are infamously shameless. (Once regarding what Reggie was playing lately, he sneakily answered "Steel Diver" at the eve of the game's launch window. Reggie's response to the good will Nintendo generated in 2006 through the "Wii60" campaign was met with, "Why not Wii and DS instead?" He sidetracked a 2014 Nintendo Treehouse interview to interject, "Let's talk about Tomadachi Life!")
A lesser known fact about Fils-Aime is his marriage to author Stacey Sanner, an acquaintance met during his successful tenure at VH1. Sanner's first published book, "Keeping a Blue Light On: A Citizen's Tribute to the Seattle Police Department.", seems a dead giveaway to the types of direct ethics Reggie may in fact espouse in his private life. This gives the impression that Reggie's own views are more likely in line with his newer comments than those of "Pre-Wii U-release-Reggie". But it is Reggie the businessman that will ever be heard so long as he remains employed at Nintendo, and both he and Nintendo have their business cut out for them.
Two years ago Nintendo had prospects of gaining back a larger swath of third parties and becoming a one stop shop for third party headliners and Nintendo exclusives. Now they don't. And they have to do everything themselves.
"I have to run. I'm sorry, man."
He trudged off in a hurry, and suddenly, I was left an official paparazzo: I held a big fancy camera and I had been hastily told off by a celebrity.
My second rejection, here, just aside from a Nintendo Treehouse interview, again.
Still, I could take his dismissal at his genuine word. In the interim between my Reggie encounters, I had met Charles Martinet, voice of the Mario Brothers and kinder-than-life personality. Several Treehouse members were overwhelmingly game for photo-ops and impassioned conversation. Over at the Microsoft booth, indie devs couldn't get enough of exposure by film, and big-time game developers were an open forum to even run-of-the-mill attendees such as myself. But ask yourself, were these people running as many high-stake business meetings, shareholder briefs, private events, marketing appearances, and interview requests as important as the ones Reggie-Fils-Aime was doing?
I have to assume not. It's just a shame that Reggie was turning down a five second encounter with a lifelong super-fan whose Nintendo log-in credentials were so old they simply were his first name, who is a seven time (yes, seven) platinum Club Nintendo member, a professional smash brothers player, someone who was literally wearing (and actively uses!) a Wii fit U meter, and whose purchases of the Virtual Boy, e-reader, and Wii Speak weren't in the slightest bit ironic. Not that he had any way of knowing this, as I was dressed in a button-up and tie.
I pondered the next time Reggie might make another appearance. He would probably make more Treehouse appearances the next day, so I figured to be free to roam the show floor and check out the other booths.
Best to stick around Nintendo's booth a little longer though, just in case.
The Super Smash Brothers Invitational was a Smash Bros Wii U tournament featuring a sample of 16 of the best Smash players in the world. It ran concurrently with E3, which of course was right next door in the LA Convention center.
More importantly, this event was open to the public.
Possibly unbeknownst to, or at least under appreciated by the Treehouse members, their live interviews were being simulcast not just online, but to several thousands of acutely interested fans in the Nokia Theater as a clever form of pre-event entertainment.
I held an official E3 badge that got me into E3 proper, as did many of the Smash Invitational attendees. But we were vastly outnumbered. The crowd was made up of hardcore Nintendo fans. (Reggie would eventually show up on stage to greet them, but he left the stage before I could get him to sign my character voting card. Don't worry, I don't count this as rejection number five.) Many of the fans were dressed as their favorite characters, and all of them acted like bouncing little children attempting to escape a giant, seated crib.
Amusingly, the crowd often would break into very long and somewhat nonsensical chants. (My favorite being, "Cap-tain Fal-coooon! clap-clap-clapclapclap".) Despite the fact that attending E3 had been a lifelong dream, the shame that I was able to go to the show floor while all of these fans were stuck over here never induced more guilt than when I witnessed their raucous reaction to "Mario Maker", of all things, up on the big projector.
Howls of "WHOOOOOA" and deep bellied laughter soundtracked every step of the live demo, dwarfing the polite golf claps I had witnessed the Treehouse interviews receiving from their true, live audiences next door.
These, here, were my people.
These, here, are also the people Nintendo has had a hard time truly satiating over the past several years. Some may even say decade. While it is true that Nintendo has found broader audiences that have conveniently encompasses these "hardcore" fans, as evidenced in the trailblazing sales of games such as "New Super Mario Bros. Wii", "Wii Sports Resort", and "Brain Age", it is also fair to say that Nintendo is missing that true branch of (Nintendo would say) niche, but crucial, "gamer" market.
Fortunately for Nintendo, the enduring public love of their characters has often covered for this glaring strategic oversight, explaining in full the people all around me dressed as Little Mac and Luigi. Nintendo's games are never anything but carefully crafted, and they rarely misfire in what they set out to accomplish.
Yet unfortunately for Nintendo, their miscalculations with the Wii U have thus far cost them dearly in the next-gen race, a scene complicated further by the fact that video game media makers are dominated by journalists and writers who do not - and have never - made major headlines with stories that read: "Wii Fit appeals to all ages", and, "New Super Mario Bros. series a smarter investment than Mario Galaxy series".
Nintendo however is atoning. Somewhat. The new legend of Zelda game for the Wii U figures to be an "it" game that hopes be spoken of in the same breath as "The Last Of Us" and "Skyrim". Gamecube controller compatibility for the new Smash Bros. was surprisingly announced just before E3.
Splatoon is a new IP currently a little rough around the edges with its lack of reticle and featuring a curious, auto-teleport-me-to-the-action mechanic, but is undeniably fun to play and is beaming signs of a potential multiplayer hit. Star Fox also looks to be back after a confoundingly prolonged hiatus, as does Metroid after having been officially teased just as we near half a decade of its absence.
Nintendo figureheads have more liberally been sharing their philosophy that gameplay precedes IP implantation. Nonetheless, the company letting multi-million selling franchises bypass an entire generation of players is less an artistic stroke, more a tell that Nintendo is forced into making surer bets with Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon these days.
Meanwhile, the success of a title like "Donkey Kong Country Returns" surely guided the talented team at Retro Studios known for their Metroid games towards that aforementioned better investment; DKCR sold far better than any "Metroid Prime" game ever had. Heretofore, the Wii U, with its splendid party affairs and multiplayer gems, still lacks that "it" game that the veteran gamer loves to buzz about, and that presumably a Metroid Prime may have provided, if it weren't otherwise put on the back burner for the surer bet.
As it is, Nintendo's accountants know something we all don't know. But the loud crowd gathered that night at the Nokia Theater definitely knows something that Nintendo doesn't.
As I was leaving the Nintendo booth towards the end of the second day, I walked straight into him. The bright glare of portable lighting set up for a field interview stopped me cold as I saw Reggie was standing right there.
Three times in one E3 certainly was fate; I figured this was it. After he would finish the short interview, I knew I could take, literally, five seconds of his time, get my photo, and be done with this built up treasure hunt. To this point in my E3 experience, I had gotten pictures with Rocco from Mega 64, Geoff Keighley, and even freaking Eiji Aonuma, who was kind enough to stop for a photo and autograph my 3DS game case.
The standing reporter asked Reggie, "What is your all-time favorite video game?" A waste of a question, as any Nintendo fan could tell you that his stock answer is always "A Link to the Past", and of course the answer was trotted out.
I wondered to myself the types of questions I would have asked in his place, daring to ask, "Your release calendar lists several months in between each of your heavy hitting releases. Why have you not utilized your resources by more aggressively using the Virtual Console as a way to combat this gap?", or, "Nintendo's business model continues to see a passive, reactionary model towards online gameplay. Is this the preference of Nintendo of Japan, Nintendo of America, or both?"
To that point, the hardest-hitting question posed involved which video game from Nintendo's competitors Reggie looked forward to playing the most, a difficult question porously entering through Reggie's brain and sliced to pieces out his mouth, as any critical thinker could see he had likely already prepared for the question ahead of time. "Assassin's Creed Unity" was the almost flirtatious answer, as the series was previously well represented on the Wii U. Titles such as "Destiny" or "Sunset Overdrive" could never see the light of day on a Nintendo system, so why go there? He still paused ahead of his answer, for effect.
The lights go off, and it's my turn to shine.
"No. Sorry, I have to go, bye."
His words fall terse over my outreached camera, and Reggie is escorted out from the crowd and into the Nintendo backstage bunker. Dang it.
The last day of E3 sadly arrived, and I knew I needed to make deeper explorations of the third party hall, as well as the Microsoft and Sony booths. I tried paying little attention to the Reggie-shaped chip stuck to my shoulder as I made a day of taking in and interacting meaningfully with all the games and events throughout the whole of the convention center.
As the evening was coming to an end and my E3 experience was about to close, I just so happened to have caught a tweet from Nintendo's official Twitter account teasing Reggie as a Treehouse guest in just about five minutes.
I was reading from the line to play Sunset Overdrive, for which I had been parked in for nearly an hour. Having already seen Shigeru Miyamoto and met Peter Moore ("How did the picture turn out? Well, *I* look good, I don't know about you. Ha!"), a part of me knew my dream-like experience could never truly be complete if I didn't take one final shot at meeting Reggie. While the energy drink at the end of my Sunset Overdrive line seemed neat, that was peanuts to a subscriber of Nintendo Power since the SNES who certainly didn't invest a trip to LA and spend three body-beating days on the show floor just to give up now.
And Let's face it. What are the odds Reggie would say no to a picture four times?
I left the line - to the surprise of the people behind me - and walked over to that familiar one foot stage. Reggie was talking 3DS.
Definitely, I figured, he must have recognized the dork who kept hounding him all three days for a quick photo by now. I must have subconsciously assumed that the X factor in gaining Reggie's time might be his potential soft spot for "Nintendo fans", as I came ready to the final day of E3 attired in mushroom t-shirt and jeans - not to mention my gold Super Smash Bros. medal hanging from my neck earned for triumphing on the big screen. I knew I wouldn't be stopped.
I spotted the charming Nintendo lady at the edge of the stage waiting for Reggie to finish his business, as routine. Knowing that she knew I had been after a photo, I chose to approach her directly this time.
"Hi! Do you think Reggie will take a photo with me when he's done?"
She smiled, "You'll have to ask him when he's done."
When the Treehouse interview finished, Reggie walked up to the edge of the stage, took some wipes to clean his face of makeup, then stepped down among me and a couple other fans. I walked up behind him as he signed what would be just a single item, locked eyes once again, and asked him directly the exact same question I had been asking all week, "Hi Reggie, can I please have a photo with you?"
His assistant looked over at me, her expression suddenly flipped to match Reggie's. "Sorry, bye."
Reggie walked right through me and back behind the Nintendo headquarters. I stood shattered, my disappointment raw, my heart doleful.
And I was surprisingly overtaken by laughter. I had been identically and directly rejected by a semi-hero four separate times in just three days. Hilariously, Reggie was gone, this time for good.
I left a walking, talking, microcosm of the modern day Nintendo fan.
If Nintendo is in fact seeing a rebound from their early slump, only the sales of not yet released titles will tell the true impact of their positive E3 showing. In a rare year where all three major E3 participants could easily claim themselves the "victor", Nintendo made their strong case with everything from M rated exclusives, first party franchise blockbusters, and even action figures.
A cynic can point out holes in Nintendo's approach. Some choose to make their dissent known in between frantically manic breaths. Some choose to do so by dumping stock. Others are themselves proof just by committing the crime of not having yet noticed the Wii U.
But Nintendo thinks the page is turning, and a month removed from their big event, some of the naysayers have changed their minds too - even if many of them have simply scheduled their changes of heart to the release date of Super Smash Brothers.
As for me, I can easily say I came away from my trip to E3 anything but empty handed. Many of my childhood heroes were met up close and joyfully, I mingled with long time smash brother pals from other states, and I played many of the newly announced games that I previously would have feverishly pined over online. Hardly anything could have gone better.
And the twist ending?
I finally did get to meet Reggie after all.
Here he is posing with me, straight from the gold 3DS he held on stage.
Although...I couldn't help but notice that his personal Mii that Reggie explained on the Treehouse stage "fans had been streetpassing...back and forth all day" had 36 streetpasses for its' entire existence. (For reference, a person I streetpassed in traffic, presumably a kid in some backseat who was playing DC Scribblenauts, had 38, and he wasn't even at E3.)
Oh, Reggie. You always know what to say.
Alan is a grad student studying the psychology of Creativity in southern California. He plays all the video games you do, and also MC Kids for some reason.