In the inaugural edition of our latest interview series Talking Fatherhood and Nintendo with…, we were fortunate enough to chat with game’s media maestro, amiibo aficionado and original Nintendad, Peer Schneider.
Hi Peer, I hope you and your family are staying safe during these unprecedented times. Thanks for agreeing to chat with us a little, I’m sure the Nintendad community will enjoy this. First, can you introduce yourself for anyone who inexplicably doesn’t know?
My name is Peer Schneider, I run the content and product teams at IGN. I was born in Germany but have been calling California home since the 1990s. I started as an editor on N64.com (before IGN was IGN) more than 20 years ago.
Can you isolate the moment you first became a Nintendo fan?
Yes! I was attending college in Tokyo, Japan and my best friend my then-girlfriend bought me a Super Famicom with Super Mario World for my birthday. I had actually stopped playing video games after high school — I pretty much grew up on Atari, both consoles and home computers. So I had missed the entire NES run and jumped in at the beginning of the Super NES era. And I was instantly hooked. After that, I stood in line at Japanese game stores early in the morning to buy the big games right when they came out.
What is your absolute favourite Nintendo-related memory?
My favorite memory is getting to play Ocarina of Time at a preview event before it was finished, with Mr. Miyamoto in attendance. After playing for hours, I had a glass of wine with him and Mr. Minagawa and they asked me what I thought of their little game.
You launched Nintendojo and watched it grow into IGN. You turned a hobby into a passion, and turned that passion into one of the biggest outlets in all of games media. What was the focus of Nintendojo? What inspired you to start the website?
So Nintendojo was actually my little university time experiment. While attending grad school, I wanted to get my hands dirty and work with html and web design tools. Being a big Nintendo fan and dying to play N64, I just started publishing articles. At first, I focused on translating Japanese Nintendo news. Then I started to write features and, after it came out, N64 game reviews. Somehow, the site caught the eyes of folks in the magazine publishing business as well as some game developers. I was able to freelance for a few magazines, including EGM, and started to seriously consider a career in games journalism. Then I saw that Imagine Media’s Nintendo editor had left his post to take on a new job — and I instantly reached out and asked who would be replacing him. Julian Rignall, the editorial director over there, encouraged me to come in to interview for the position. The team over there had read my critical story about Next Generation Magazine’s Nintendo coverage — one of their mags (which I actually really liked). So then I started at N64.com, one of a set of console-specific websites Imagine Media ran. In my time there, I helped relaunch it as IGN64, I took on the EIC role, and then helped pull together all the websites and relaunch them as IGN.com.
I ran Nintendojo on the side for a while, but it just became too much and I donated it to the people who were actively running the site after my departure.
Did you ever envision it growing to the scale that it did? Aside from the increased scope, what are the key differences between the philosophy that launched Nintendojo and the philosophy that continues to grow IGN?
After I started at Imagine, I applied the same passion I had for Nintendojo to N64.com. There were already some very capable editors there working on the magazines and, of course, my partner in crime, Matt Casamassina. We just hit it off and made a great team. While Dojo was more of a one-man show, N64.com became about our personalities. I’d run a fan Q&A section every day and Matt would run a feedback letters column. We had fun with our audience and at the same time worked our asses off to get scoops on everything Nintendo.
In 1999, we were given the opportunity to become founders of what would eventually be called “IGN Entertainment”. A small group of people, with the backing of the print-focused parent company, spun out IGN and a few other properties into a standalone company. We took it public at the worst possible time, right when the stock market crashed. Which was a pretty humbling experience. But it led to IGN — which had grown to a widely-read site amidst a big portfolio of brands, much through our editorial team’s passion and creativity — becoming the centerpoint and namesake of the company. The philosophy was basically: “audience first”. We worked really hard, very late hours, and tried to create something that wasn’t just straightforward information, but a collection of voices audiences could relate to.
What advice would you give a humble fan-site like Nintendad, given your own success? Obviously the landscape is different now compared to 1996. But, is there anything that you believe remains constant?
I think you guys are on the right track: find an angle that allows you to express your unique viewpoints. And then, keep moving and exploring new things when others replicate your approach. For us, it was the “guy next to you on the couch” approach at a time when everyone wanted to be taken seriously. For you, it’s celebrating gaming with your fellow dads. I think there are way, way too many “IGNs” nowadays. When we made IGN about games and entertainment — movies, TV, comics — in 1999, there was no other publication like that. Now, everyone’s covering Marvel and Star Wars on top of their Zeldas and God of Wars and publishing daily news programs and podcasts around it all. When that happens, and there are a dozen Nintendads and Nintendpapas and Nintenfather sites out there, you know it’s time to take the next step and write a new playbook for everyone else.
Beyond being an icon in the games industry, you’re a father.
How did the birth of your kids change your relationship to your Nintendo fandom?
Everything changes when you have kids. I remember the trepidation I felt when hearing our daughter was on the way. As one of three boys in my family, I had always envisioned hanging out with sons of my own playing video games. But this gamer dad couldn’t have asked for a better Player 2. My daughter is the biggest Nintendo fan I know, whereas my two sons play very different games — even from each other — and are mostly into PC gaming. It’s through them that I discovered different game experiences that I wouldn’t have pursued on my own. I also started to think differently about games that I had once dismissed as “too easy”, for example. Your perspective changes and things like couch co-op or games with smartly designed tutorials take on new importance. So while I may not be pulling all-nighters today as I did when Final Fantasy V came out, we’ve had quite a few very late night sessions playing Mario Kart or Smash as a family.
You talk often about playing games with your kids, what does it mean to you to be able to pass down your love of Nintendo to your children?
My daughter is staying with us right now as her college is still closed and she’s taking the time to catch up on GameCube games she missed because she was too little when they came out. She played the first two Pikmins, for example, and is playing Thousand Year Door right now. I inspired my oldest son to go back and play through all the 2D Metroids. They all played and finished A Link to the Past. I’m proud that they’re able to go back to these older games and experience the genius game design that Nintendo is so famous for. The only downside is that when a major Nintendo game comes out nowadays, I have to buy it four times. Nobody wants to wait for the others to finish.
I remember you mentioning that your daughter played Wind Waker when she was three. My own daughter just turned three herself. Was this an organic process? Was she immediately enraptured or did you have to give her little nudges to keep her engaged?
She basically walked into the room and started to stare at the screen and singing the music. I have a video of her going “oooooh, GANON!” when he appears in the opening scenes. It’s so cute. It was just organic in that she was taken with the visuals in Wind Waker the moment it appeared on screen. I’d hand the controller to her every once in a while and she’d accidentally drop Link into the ocean and go “oh, no!” and immediately hand it back. But I do think it formed the basis for her Nintendo love. She called Zelda games all “Zeldas” as a little kid — and she still jokingly calls each game that today. Kirby Air Ride was her favorite game on the console, by the way.
As we get older and play more, we become more jaded. Has watching your kids experience games for the first time reconnected you with the youthful magic of gaming?
For sure. When you work as a games journalist, you start to see through “the Matrix” after a while. You talk about how Nintendo pulled off the rotating market place in Ocarina of Time. Or you rave about how clever the programmers were when they pulled off a working jumbotron in a racing game. Or complained about Yoshi’s Story being way too easy. Or the opening music being the most grating thing ever. And then you see your kids’ eyes light up and getting immersed without thinking about the tech. They’re not annoyed by the Yoshis singing and think it’s amazing. And Yoshi’s Story is not too easy for them and you start to appreciate things from all sorts of new angles. My dad didn’t grow up with games — and I remember the special times he’d come into my room to play Donkey Kong or Dig Dug on my Atari XL. I chuckled at his inability to get past the second level. My relationship with my kids is so different, having grown up with gaming as our predominant entertainment medium. It’s through them that I saw the genius of many games that I would’ve otherwise ignored in favor of more story-driven experiences that I like to play on my own. We’ll always have Nintendo Land. We’ll always have Mario Party. And I can still beat them anytime in Dr. Mario and Puyo Pop. Don’t show them this article.
Thank you so much for your time!