Nintendo of America's Reggie Fils-Aimé on Switch success and his life as a meme
President and chief operating officer known for memorable quote, 'My body is ready'
In the 1990s and early 2000s, news conferences at the Electronic Entertainment Expo were relatively dour affairs.
Executives from companies like Nintendo, Sega and Sony gave investor and retailer-focused speeches full of spread sheets and sales projections.
In 2004, Nintendo of America's new executive vice-president of sales and marketing, Reggie Fils-Aimé, decided to shake things up.
"My name is Reggie. I'm about kicking ass, I'm about taking names, and we're about making games," he said as he entered the stage.
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From the very beginning, Fils-Aimé was more than a talking suit: he was an executive with personality, who understood the news conference as a performance rather than a PowerPoint presentation.
Since then, E3's news conferences have become overwhelmingly more about performance than spread sheets. Developers and executives with panache share the stage with YouTube personalities, sports celebrities and dance numbers.
Fans' positive response to Fils-Aimé mirrored Nintendo's response behind the scenes, and in 2006 he became the first American president and chief operating officer of Nintendo of America, a post he continues to hold.
It was a fortuitous path for the son of Haitian immigrants raised in the Bronx in New York, and who had previously worked in marketing for companies like VH1, Guinness and Pizza Hut.
"I was a fan and a player before I was an executive with the company. I grew up playing the Super Nintendo. My favourite game is The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past. And for me, it was serendipity," he told CBC News of the chance to join Nintendo.
Since then he's developed a cult fan following of his own, largely thanks to his penchant for going off script. In 2007, as he prepared himself to test the Wii Fit balance board at E3, Fils-Aimé declared, "My body is ready."
I'm fortunate that some very creative things come out of my mouth, and then the fan base just takes it and runs with it.- Reggie Fils-Aimé , Nintendo of America
A YouTube clip of that moment has been viewed more than a million times. The phrase is widely used in anticipation of Nintendo's announcements and live streams throughout the year.
Fils-Aimé takes his status as a living meme in stride.
"I think what our fans see is someone who loves the content, who loves the company. I'm passionate about what I do. I'm fortunate that some very creative things come out of my mouth, and then the fan base just takes it and runs with it," he said.
Since the days of "kicking ass" and "my body is ready," he's become less of a meme factory and more focused on delivering the 128-year-old gaming company's vision for the coming years.
Fortunately, this year's message is a good one: the Switch is a runaway success.
Since the hybrid home-and-portable console launched in March, Nintendo has sold 2.74 million units worldwide, and plans to sell 10 million by the end of the fiscal year.
"We wanted to make sure that the consumer proposition was clear and easy to understand — console gaming that you could take with you anywhere and play with anyone. And consumers loved the concept," Fils-Aimé said.
Marketing the Switch was crucial, as Nintendo largely failed to sell the concept of its previous console, the Wii U. Many consumers were confused about whether it was a brand-new machine or an accessory for its predecessor, the Wii.
The Wii U sold just over 13 million units since it launched in 2012. It was a cavernous drop compared to the Wii's industry-smashing lifetime sales of over 101 million worldwide.
"We wanted to make sure we had great new games launching on a regular basis," Fils-Aimé said of the Switch.
It has enjoyed what Fils-Aimé calls "a steady cadence" of high-profile, made-by-Nintendo games that should continue at least through 2017.
The Switch's library started with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the latest in one of Nintendo's marquee franchises. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, an upgraded version of the Wii U game, came a month later. Titles like ARMS and Splatoon 2 are set to follow shortly, capped off with Super Mario Odyssey this October.
Sales for the games have kept in lock step with the console. Zelda: Breath of the Wild sold more copies than the Switch itself at 2.75 million copies. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe enjoyed the best launch of any Mario Kart game to date, selling nearly half a million copies on launch day in the U.S. alone.
Nintendo hopes to continue the momentum beyond 2017 — it's announced it is working on games in the Metroid and Pokemon series for release on the Switch, neither with a hard release date. But wherever the company's fortunes turn in the coming years, it's a safe bet that Fils-Aimé will be along for the ride.
"It's been a fantastic journey, now coming up on almost 14 years."