The annual South by Southwest SXSW 2022 festival is underway in Austin, and the big topics early on have been NFTs, the Metaverse, and other similar industries that were virtually non-existent the last time the festival met in person in 2019.
These topics and more were covered in Saturday’s keynote by Reggie Fils-Aime, the former president and CEO of Nintendo of America. Fils-Aime was famous for helping usher Nintendo into its highly successful Wii era, while providing legendary product presentations at E3 and other shows. The Bronx-born son of Haitian immigrants, Fils-Aime also brought a compelling personal story to his work at Nintendo.
Fils-Aime shared what he’s been up to since retiring in 2019, while sharing his stories from his career and making some revealing comments about the metaverse space – including his dislike of Meta’s approach to it. .
The hour-long speech took the form of an on-stage interview of Fils-Aime by Bloomberg News reporter Emily Chang. Naturally, he was asked about the metaverse, which is an important component of online gaming today and in the future.
“I think the metaverse is like the cloud of five years ago, and even the Internet of 20 years ago. It’s a label that every company tries to hang on to, to say that their company is doing part of the metaverse,” the former Nintendo exec said. “To me, the metaverse is a digital space where you interact with your friends in a social and, I believe, game-like environment. So it’s social, it’s digital, and there’s the ability to interact with friends and people who have the potential to be your friends.
He added that elements of what is considered the metaverse already exist, in places such as fortnite‘s in-game gigs, and some of what Roblox made.
“I believe we’re on the right path to this kind of metaverse opportunity,” he said, “but my definition and my visual might be a little different from how other people talk about it. “
And by “other people,” Fils-Aime meant Facebook, which changed the name of the entire company to Meta last year.
“I’m not a buyer of that idea,” he said. “You have to admit that Facebook itself is not an innovative company. Either they acquired really cool things, like Oculus or Instagram, or they quickly followed other people’s ideas. It’s Facebook. With the exception of the original social networking concept, which truthfully was derived from early platforms such as Friendster and Bebo, the company formerly known as Facebook hasn’t come up with much really new. . Fils-Aime also said he was unimpressed with Meta’s history with physical devices.
Fils-Aime thinks companies that succeed in the metaverse space will likely need to have a consumer-centric approach, and he thinks Meta is more concerned with ad revenue. And also, because he doesn’t believe most people will want to wear headsets for most of their day, he believes in augmented reality (AR) more than virtual reality (VR).
In this space, Fils-Aime believes more in small businesses, in their seed tours currently, although he didn’t mention any specific company.
The exec also spoke a bit about his initial decision to join Nintendo, as well as his decision to retire, when he was only in his late 50s. Both involved famous Nintendo executive Satoru Iwata. While several of his advisors had advised Fils-Aime not to go work for Nintendo, he met Iwata in 2003 and established a relationship with him.
Meanwhile, her decision to walk away was partly precipitated by Iwata’s death from cancer in 2015.
“I wanted to share my learnings on a much larger stage, like this one,” Fils-Aime said. “I wanted to help young executives follow their own path. I wanted to do service on board, I wanted to spend more time with [my alma mater] Cornell, and you run a business…you can’t do all of these things. So that pushed my thinking to do something new and start laying the groundwork for the right time for me to leave.
Part of that service to the board was his brief tenure as a GameStop board member, between 2020 and 2021, which included GameStop’s famous short squeeze in early 2021. Fils-Aime said no. only that he had resigned from GameStop last year, but also that he is no longer a shareholder of the company.
Fils-Aime also wrote a memoir, Disrupting the game: from the Bronx to the top of Nintendo, slated for release in May. Among his other post-Nintendo executives, he notably acted as a non-executive director of Spin Master Inc. (TOY.TO) and Brunswick Corp. (BC), and as Chairman of the Board of a SPAC called UTA Acquisition Corp.
SXSW was canceled at the last minute in 2020, the first major, large-scale event in the United States to be scrapped at the start of the pandemic. It was held entirely virtually in 2021. While the event is in person this year, many elements, as well as the majority of the film festival, are available online for those who have registered.