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The best moments from Reggie Fils-Aime’s keynote at PAX West 2023

Posted on September 3, 2023 by in Features, General Nintendo

One of the high-profile events at this year’s PAX West was the presence of former Nintendo of America president and chief operating officer Reggie Fils-Aime, who presented a keynote address to a room full of fans. As this year marked my first time attending PAX, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to hear him speak in-person – after all, you never know when that next bit of interesting Nintendo history might be revealed, right?

Well, yes and no. Reggie’s keynote – “Storytime with Reggie Fils-Aime” – felt more like a business presentation, the type of leadership seminar you’d hear about at a marketing convention. While his time at Nintendo certainly came up, the focus was mostly on the story of how he rose through the ranks of the business world to become the iconic industry figure he remains today. It echoed a lot of the notes in his autobiography, Disrupting the Game ­– I’d wager that even folks who haven’t read the book will likely find a lot of his stories familiar.

That said, there were a few funny or otherwise interesting moments that seemed to stand out for the audience. Here are a few of the best:

The Highlight Reel

The whole keynote began with a 2–3-minute highlight reel of Fils-Aime’s time at Nintendo. If there’s a viral clip of him that you’re imagining, it was probably here. One of the first soundbites in the video was Reggie’s “kicking ass” quote, and what followed were short vignettes of big moments from throughout his time at Nintendo – Wii demos at E3, skits, etc. The point of this was probably to introduce him to folks in the audience who might not have known who he is, but the whole crowd seemed engaged.

“…PAX 2003…”

Reggie seemed genuinely excited to be onstage, so much so that he greeted the audience with a warm welcome to PAX West… 2003. “Is it a time warp, what is that?” he said with a smile. “That was a bit of a Freudian slip because I have attended so many PAX events… I was here at the very first PAX event.”

Reggie’s Career

You may not know this, but before he joined the ranks of Nintendo, Reggie worked his way up in the business world by working for brands like Proctor & Gamble, Pizza Hut, and Panda Express.

“So now in retirement, as well as really throughout my career, I would often get asked the same question or some derivative of the same question… and it’s this. How did you do it?” he said.

The focus of the keynote, as he introduced it, was “Capability Meeting Opportunity,” referring to what he said he felt helped him find career success. And it was at this point that some of the folks around me had, unfortunately but perhaps understandably, started to check out a bit. The camera operators in the room cut away to a shot of some fans in the crowd, and one of them yawned live on the jumbotron. Oops.

“That’s the Regginator at 4-years old!”

For those who managed to pay attention, though, there were some great personal anecdotes in the presentation. Fils-Aime told the story of how his parents fled to the US from Haiti to escape the “brutal dictatorship” there, and how he and his brother grew up in the Bronx as a result.

We got to see photos of a young Reggie at 2 and 4-years-old, back when he was living in the Bronx.

“There was a stabbing in the building, there were gang fights… my brother and I were mugged,” he shared. “I’m not unique; I’m not the only person that’s grown up in a rough area. I believe that the past may shape us, but it doesn’t define us; it doesn’t dictate our future.”

“I was president of my college fraternity.”

This could mean so, so many things, Reggie. First, which fraternity? Second, was this a “keg-stand competition on the back patio every Monday” type of fraternity? Did Reggie have to haze some innocent freshman back in the day? I have so many questions!

But based on his other stories, I get the sense that Mr. Fils-Aime was more of the booksmart type. He told a story about how, as a kid, he read his family’s encyclopedia from cover-to-cover, and how his “great grades” led to “literally hundreds” of colleges reaching out to him and mailing him brochures. Also, he went to Cornell.

“I firmly believe you need to learn from the best,” he said.

“High quality Chinese food is the last bastion…”

Some context might be useful for this one. Reggie talked for a while about his career at Panda Express, and how he helped innovate the chain’s retail presence beyond the shopping mall food courts they had previously been confined to.

This segment was interesting enough – although I’ll admit I could care less about the economics of a fast-casual restaurant brand while attending a videogame convention – but really, all this talk just made we want Chinese food.

“…the driving mantra of Nintendo.”

22 minutes into the presentation, the Regginator finally started talking about Nintendo. And he opened with a photo of the late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata; a classy move.

“The plaque over his head is Japanese for ‘create something unique’, which is the driving mantra of Nintendo,” Fils-Aime said. “This idea of ‘create something unique’ perfectly dovetailed my own passion for disruptive innovation…. It was a fantastic opportunity.

What followed were a couple more photos throughout his career at the Big N.

“Being thought of as a member of the Nintendo Triforce was truly humbling,” he said when a photo of him with Mr. Iwata and Mr. Miyamoto came up.

“What I heard from retail clerks was that the inventory of GameCube was piling up in the back of the store.”

When discussing the GameCube, Reggie heaped high praise onto Sony’s PlayStation 2, which was market leader by a wide margin during that generation. Reggie spent some time discussing why the GameCube struggled to compete, citing in particular the cadence of game releases.

“It was, technically, a very strong machine, and it boasted an incredible first-party lineup right at launch,” he said. “But then there was about a yearlong gap until the next wave of fantastic software.”

This, combined with the fact that the PlayStation 2 was basically the cheapest DVD player on the market at the time, were things that he said contributed to Nintendo’s uphill battle that console cycle.

Xbox came up too, of course, with Reggie gently poking fun at the size of Microsoft’s debut console.

“I have to apologize for this slide because it’s not to scale,” he said before making the Xbox bigger onscreen.

The Wii U:

This graphic really says it all – and got quite a few laughs from the crowd.

“It’s no secret,” Fils-Aime said, “Wii U didn’t capture the emotions and the pocketbooks of or consumers.”

Reggie even candidly mentioned that the consoles sales were “second only to the disastrous Virtual Boy. Luckily, I had nothing to do with that.”

But it was the Wii U, he said, and player feedback about their love for playing traditional built-for TV games in a handheld form factor, that led to the Switch.

Reggie wants you to buy his book.

Towards the end of the presentation, Reggie was eager to plug his book to the massive crowd at the show. He mentioned that pre-signed copies were for sale outside the theatre, and that the audiobook version has bonus content he recorded with Geoff Keighley.

“Yes, the book was a Wall Street Journal bestseller at launch, but it’s also received over 1500 5-star reviews, which I’m incredibly proud of.”

In case it wasn’t clear: Reggie is very proud of his book.

“I’d like to call him the King of PAX.”

Okay, so this is a quote from Ryan Hartman, Vice President of Penny Arcade, who came out on stage to ask questions for Reggie during a Q&A session.

He said they reviewed thousands of questions sent in by fans. The ones they asked him were the predictable ones, and it was hardly the thrilling conclusion people had probably hoped to see. Hartman said they filtered out all the Mother 3 questions in advance.


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