You will have seen a lot of Reggie Fils-Aime news lately. The man has a book out, telling stories about the notoriously secretive video game industry, so that’s to be expected. Much of it is insightful, some of it emotional, some of it even a little puzzling. One section, though, simply has me upset.
It’s a short passage, shared earlier today by VGC, that covers the release of the Game Boy Micro, a tiny console that holds a very special place in my heart, but of which Reggie was clearly not a fan.
From my perspective, the concept of Game Boy Micro was a nonstarter. The hardware was exceptionally small, not only were the control buttons difficult for any reasonably sized adult to manipulate, but also the screen was tiny. This ran counter to current consumer electronics trends of making screens larger.
But development of this hardware had continued, and now we were forced to launch the system. ‘We should have talked about this long ago’, I told Don James and Mike Fukuda. ‘We should have all agreed that this product would be a distraction for us in our market and either not introduce it here or have it terminated as a project globally. By working together we could have had a different outcome’.
My point was not to rebuke them – at the time we were peers. It was to identify that we were operating in silos and this made us ineffective in managing projects coming from NCL.
My man, allow me to counter with: no. The Game Boy Micro was a little freak. Running “counter to current consumer electronics trends” was exactly the point, and any concerns over its tiny screen and difficult controls were more than outweighed by the fact it was a functional Game Boy Advance as big as a business card.
We’ve spoken previously, at length, of our love for this little machine. How its batteries last for 1,000 years. How it had some of the best limited edition releases of all time. How it was actually a technical improvement on the GBA, since it had adjustable backlighting. The Game Boy Micro ruled.
Was it a distraction for certain profit-conscious elements of the company, and a “nonstarter” (in business/sales terms at least) like Reggie says? Sure, maybe. But here’s the thing with Nintendo: that doesn’t always matter. Firstly, the GBA had sold about a billion units by the this came out,so the company’s handheld profits were not exactly imperilled by this fun little experiment.
Secondly, this is a company that, for all the criticisms of its conservative nature and ruthless sales tactics, has also constantly swung for the fences and released some truly strange and wonderful shit. Sure, maybe some of it never sells, but they all contribute to Nintendo’s reputation for being a company that is willing to think, and act, outside the box. It’s the very essence of their success.
There’s no Wii without an E-Reader. There’s no DS without a Virtual Boy. There’s no Switch without a Game Boy Micro. They’re all one and the same, strands of spaghetti being flung to the wall to see what sticks, and it sucks to see someone who worked so closely there for so long not appreciating the chef’s work!