For a period of time, Nintendo’s Wii Sports was pretty much a global phenomenon. It was a launch title for the Wii, and thus was greatly responsible for helping the system introduce millions around the world to the wonders of motion-controlled gaming. After all, Nintendo designed the Wii to be simplistic enough for anyone to play, so Wii Sports served as one of the tentpole titles to carry out that objective.
It became one of the Wii’s best-selling games ever. But, that primarily has to do with the fact that it was sold as a pack-in game alongside the Wii, meaning that customers essentially got it for “free”. While this one-two combo proved to be a massive success for Nintendo, it almost didn’t even happen. As it turns out, we all have one person to thank for that—Reggie Fils-Aime.
Fils-Aime has become a popular face in the gaming industry, primarily thanks to his long tenure as Nintendo of America’s president, having lasted throughout the Wii era, and then on into the Wii U/3DS era before finally culminating in the early years of the Nintendo Switch after the system was well on its way to success.
Thus, Reggie helped to navigate Nintendo through some of its highest highs and lowest lows. Seeing that, prior to a recent milestone achieved by the Switch, the Wii was Nintendo’s best-selling home console in history and one if its best-selling systems of all.
With Wii Sports having played a big part in that, it seems absurd that Nintendo actually at one point resisted the idea of offering it as a pack-in game. But, as Fils-Aime reveals in his new book “Disrupting The Game: From the Bronx to the Top of Nintendo”, he had to coax his executive Japanese counterparts to go through with the idea.
He explains in the book that he “advocated” for the idea of packing in Wii Sports for the benefit of the consumer. He wanted “every consumer…[to] get access to this great content.” Despite this positive intent, the late Satoru Iwata, then CEO of Nintendo, initially resisted Reggie’s perspective. When Reggie explained this idea to Iwata, there was a long pause before he replied by saying that “Nintendo does not give away precious content for free.”
Iwata wanted to hold true to Nintendo’s long-standing format of creating unique, exclusive software and using that software to promote the sales of its systems. Thus, that’s the same idea that he had in mind for the lifecycle of Wii Sports; making it a system-seller, by also making it its own, stand-alone product, thus leading to two revenue streams.
Reggie then explains that he tried to persuade Mr. Iwata by pointing to the fact that the Wii was a “very different concept” compared to traditional systems and the way their software is handled. He believed in its ability, its purpose, of expanding gaming beyond being a niche in order to appeal to the mass market. To Reggie, Wii Sports was an essential component in this operation.
Mr. Fils-Aime admitted that this first meeting about the matter was the start to a process that would “last [for] months”. Though he did succeed in swaying Mr. Iwata around to being fond of the idea, he then also had the challenge of convincing Mr. Miyamoto.
Miyamoto had the counter-offer of Wii Play being the bundled title, but Reggie didn’t think it matched up to the “completeness” of Wii Sports. Instead, he thought it would be better to include that bundled in with a Wii Remote to encourage the sales for the new controller.
Mr. Mike Fukuda was also present in the meeting, and he agreed with both of Reggie’s ideas. As it turns out, this rebuttal caused Mr. Miyamoto to get uncharacteristically upset and echoed the early sentiments of Iwata, stating that Nintendo “does not give away [its] software”.
Mr. Iwata appealed to Miyamoto by offering the perspective that Reggie was trying to tackle market issues in lands outside of Japan, where tastes are buying habits are different.
Reggie admits that this meeting became one of several, ultimately culminating in all parties agreeing that Wii Sports would be the system’s pack-in title, but only in western markets. It remained as standalone software in Japan.
Nintendo Everything provided a full excerpt about this interesting part of Nintendo history in their original post.
It’s amazing to think that if Mr. Miyamoto and Mr. Iwata stuck to their guns, Wii Sports likely would have also been a standalone release globally. Had it been so, there’s no telling how much that would have altered the early performance of the Nintendo Wii.
If anything, we can at least expect that the need for convincing was probably significantly less than when it came time to release Wii Sports Resort in 2009. Nintendo went ahead and launched it not only as another pack-in title with the Wii, but also as a double-pack-in alongside the original Wii Sports.