Disrupting the Game by Reggie Fils-Aime

When I first heard the news that Reggie Fils-Aime was writing a book, I knew this was a must read for me. Reggie is the former President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Nintendo of America. He’s loved by business leaders and fans of gaming for his help in bringing some of Nintendo’s top releases to the world — the Nintendo DS and 3DS, the Wii, the Wii U, and the Nintendo Switch.

It was interesting to read some great stories from both his early days and his days at Nintendo, while learning some valuable lessons from each one. Reggie was the first American and African American President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Nintendo.

Reggie the Padawan

My goal is not to dive too deep into any of the stories from the book, mainly because I think any Nintendo and Reggie fan should read this book. That being said, there were some lessons and stories that I dissected for this post because they seemed important to me. I did attempt to not share too much details about these stories.

Last year, I read Satoru Iwata’s book Ask Iwata. Iwata was the fourth President and CEO of Nintendo. Reggie’s book Disrupting the Game begins with the death of his mentor [Satoru Iwata], before focusing on Reggie’s early life. This book sort of feels like the spiritual successor to Ask Iwata.

It was almost like reading a book by Obi Wan Kenobi (Ask Iwata). Then, one year later, jumping into a book by Anakin or Luke Skywalker. Let’s say Luke, because Reggie is full of pure goodness. He’s no Vader.

The first half of Disrupting the Game follows Reggie’s humble beginnings — from growing up in the Bronx to his education and finally leading up to his career as a business executive at a few different companies. The second half of the book focuses on a few big projects and key learnings from his days at Nintendo.

Key Points

I wanted to go over some of the key points that stood out to me from Disrupting the Game. I chose only a few, although there is much more to learn from this book. The following is a collection of some of the most influential stories and lessons from Reggie to me.

Immigrant Parents

Hearing about Reggie’s parents and their immigration from Haiti reminded me a bit about my parents and their move from Cuba to Miami. I know that the Haitian and Cuban immigration experiences are very different in America, but in his writing I found a common thread. 

He mentioned how he came from a wealthy, political family in Haiti, who was forced to leave everything behind to start over in America. I have many family members and friends who’s families went through this same experience. Doctors, Lawyers and other professionals who had to move to this new country, learn a new language and start from scratch.

Business & Life Lessons

Reggie goes over different “business lessons” which he has taken away from his many years as a leader in different industries. It was interesting to learn about these practices in specific industries, and relate with them through my own work.

For instance, Reggie mentioned that at Procter & Gamble (P&G) he learned how to write The “Perfect Memo.” It was something they aimed to teach all employees. The “Perfect Memo” is all about using precise language to get your point across and keeping it short with the right number of supporting statements (three). 

I myself do not create business memos, but there are some great points here for other types of writing. For instance, creating better and concise game reviews on my site (myVGBC.com). At times, I feel like I’m rambling on from topic to topic, and not relaying a clear point. Focusing on a few key elements may be a better strategy.

The So What

At the end of each teaching moment Reggie adds in “The So What” section. Here Reggie discusses the true lesson he learned from each story. Many of them start out with, “You may think I learned [this one thing] here, but no, I actually learned [something else].”

Some of the key “The So What” moments include creating real personal relationships with those you work with, being open to changing your planned path to reach different outcomes, and embracing failure. Disrupting the Game is full of these and more, plus he does a way better job at explaining them.

Nintendo Fanboy

Over the years, I always wondered if Reggie was really into video games, or he was just a great salesperson. As a fan of Nintendo, I was always excited to see Reggie talk during presentations. Phil Spencer (Head of Xbox) also has that Reggie quality to him.

One of my favorite stories was the one that proved that Reggie truly was a big fan of Nintendo and video games. Although he had played video games at arcades and at friend’s homes as a kid, he didn’t own his first console until the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in the 90s.

He became obsessed with beating games like Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and many others. He was a completionist, who would stay up late after dinner trying to beat whatever game he was currently playing. Then, he would wake up the next day and go be an important business executive.

I never doubted Reggie’s love for video games, I was just hoping it was real — and it was. Reggie’s authenticity is what makes him so lovable. He really cared about what he was showing us in those E3 presentations and Nintendo Directs. He was just as excited to share the news with us as we were to hear it.

Nintendo Calling

When Reggie left Nintendo, just a few years ago the company was and still is at a great place. Currently, the video game industry in general is at a pretty good place where everyone is doing their own thing and consumers get to choose what they want based on their preferences.

Back in the day, when someone asked, “What’s the best console?” Depending on what you had at home, you would probably answer with that console. Today, it’s different. The answer now is, “Well that depends on what you’re looking for? Xbox has Game Pass, PlayStation has their exclusives and DualSense technology, Nintendo Switch has Nintendo games and portability.”

When Nintendo came knocking at Reggie’s door, they were seen as a company on the decline in the gaming industry. The market was dominated by the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, while Nintendo was doing their own thing with the GameCube.

Even though others were against it, Reggie decided to go for the Nintendo job because he knew he could help the company get back to where they belong — and he did.

Imposter Syndrome

Reggie shares a story about Iwata and himself butting heads on a decision. They ultimately went with Reggie’s choice. Although it was the right choice and led to great success, Reggie was still worried when Iwata was scheduled to visit the office the following week.

This showed me that even the most successful of people still deal with things like imposter syndrome. It’s nice to hear that someone you look up to and even see as a role model still deals with the same issues we deal with. Even after a big win Reggie was worried for the worst.

Nintendo’s Strength

Reggie was there for many big Nintendo launches — the DS, 3DS, Wii, Wii U, Nintendo Switch. Sony and Microsoft are always looking to create a stronger and faster next generation console. One with more features and the highest quality visuals. 

Nintendo asks one question — How do we create something new that can do what the old one cannot?

The story of the Wii U coming out and not doing great, is a perfect example. From the Wii U came one big learning, “Sure, you can play on your Wii U GamePad without using the TV, but you can’t leave the room.” Players want to leave the room, or even the house. This led to “How do we create a handheld/TV gaming hybrid?” Which led to the Nintendo Switch.

Reggie’s Philosophy

The book takes us right up to the launch of the Nintendo Switch, Reggie’s decision to leave Nintendo, and he actually speaks a bit about the beginning of the pandemic. In the end Reggie left Nintendo because, “Great leaders exit a role knowing that their group will continue to perform well even when they are gone.”

I always thought that most CEOs and other Executives would try to remain in their role for as long as they can. They planned to either retire or die in their CEO chair as long as nothing went wrong, making them leave early. I thought the common mentality would be, I made it to the top. Now what?

My biggest takeaway from Reggie’s stories is to care. Reggie has always been a great leader because he cares. He cares about what he’s working on. He cares about his employees and coworkers (at all levels). He also cares about making his company and team better.

No one can be the CEO, President or any part of a company forever. So, why not focus on making it a better place while you’re there in a way that will live on even after you are gone?

Having that mindset of “I’ve done my work here, now it’s time to move on,” must be very hard at a place like Nintendo — I would think. Especially for someone who was already a huge fan of Nintendo before working there. Today, I get excited when Reggie pops up at a video game conference, as a guest on a podcast, on IGN’s Rogue Jam series and anywhere else. It’s great to see that his work in the video game industry is not done.

I really enjoyed reading this book and hearing Reggie’s stories from his point of view. Reggie is such an interesting person to learn about and from. Even if you don’t plan on being an executive some day, I think we can all learn something from this book.

Disrupting the Game: From the Bronx to the Top of Nintendo by Reggie Fils-Aime is available wherever books are sold today, May 3, 2022.

myVGBC.com was provided an advanced copy of Disrupting the Game by the book’s publisher.

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