The annual South by Southwest SXSW 2022 festival is underway in Austin, and the big topics in the early going has been NFTs, the metaverse, and other such sectors that were all but nonexistent the last time the festival convened in person back in 2019.
Those topics and more were addressed in the Saturday keynote by Reggie Fils-Aime, the former president and CEO of Nintendo of America. Fils-Aime was famed for helping to bring Nintendo into its very successful Wii era, while also delivering 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 his retirement in 2019, while also sharing his stories from his career and making some eye-opening comments about the metaverse space — including his dislike of Meta’s approach to it.
The hourlong keynote took the form of an on-stage interview of Fils-Aime by journalist Emily Chang of Bloomberg News. Naturally, he was asked about the metaverse, which is a big component of online gaming now and in the future.
“I think metaverse is just like the cloud of five years ago, and even the Internet of 20 years ago. It’s a label that every business is trying to grab on to, to say that their business is part of the metaverse,” the former Nintendo executive said. “For me, the metaverse is a digital space where you interact with your friends in a social and, I believe, gaming type of environment. So it’s social, it’s digital, and there’s an ability to interact with friends and people who have potential to be your friends.”
He added that elements of what’s being viewed as the metaverse already exists, in such places as Fortnite’s in-game concerts, and some of what Roblox is doing.
“I believe that we are well on our path to this type of metaverse opportunity,” he said, “but my definition, and my visual is maybe a bit different from how other people are talking about it.”
And by “other people,” Fils-Aime meant Facebook, which changed the name of the overall 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. They have either acquired really interesting things, like Oculus, or Instagram, or they’ve been a fast follower of other people’s ideas. That’s Facebook.” With the exception of the original social network concept, which, truth be told, was derivative of early platforms such as Friendster and Bebo, the company formerly known as Facebook hasn’t come up with much that is truly new. Fils-Aime also said that he hasn’t been impressed with Meta’s history with physical devices.
Fils-Aime believes that companies succeeding in the metaverse space will probably need to have a consumer-first approach, and he believes 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’s more of a believer in augmented reality (AR) than virtual reality (VR.)
In that space, Fils-Aime believes more in smaller companies, in their seed rounds currently, although he didn’t mention any companies specifically.
The executive also talked a bit about both his initial decision to join Nintendo, as well as his decision to retire, when he was only in his late 50s. Both involved the famed Nintendo executive Satoru Iwata. While many of his advisers had advised Fils-Aime not to go to work for Nintendo, he met with Iwata in 2003 and established a rapport with him.
His decision to step away, meanwhile, was in part precipitated by Iwata’s death from cancer in 2015.
“I wanted to share my learnings on a much broader stage, like this,” Fils-Aime said. “I wanted to help young executives go on their own pathway. I wanted to do board service, I wanted to spend more time with [my alma mater] Cornell, and you’re running a company… you can’t do all of those things. So that drove my thinking to do something new, and begin laying the groundwork of when’s going to be the right time for me to leave.”
Part of that board service was his brief tenure as a board member of GameStop, between 2020 and 2021, which included the famous GameStop short squeeze in early 2021. Fils-Aime said not only that he stepped down from GameStop last year, but also that he is no longer a shareholder in the company.
Fils-Aime has also written a memoir, Disrupting the Game: From the Bronx to the Top of Nintendo, which is set for release in May. His other post-Nintendo executives include acting as a non-executive director for 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 U.S. to fall by the wayside in the early days 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 to those who have registered.