This year’s E3 was a bit of a mixed bag. Sony was completely absent, Microsoft was looking toward the future and Nintendo, as ever, was all about the games. The show came at an odd time in Nintendo’s release cycle.
The company recently spilled all the details about soon-to-be-released titles Mario Maker 2 and Pokémon Sword and Shield, making Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Luigi’s Mansion 3 the foundations of the company’s big Nintendo Direct unveil on Tuesday morning.
The long-awaited Animal Crossing title, sadly, came with the caveat that players are going to have to wait until even longer (2020), but the company had plenty of playable titles at the show, including the Link’s Awakening remaster and the aforementioned Luigi sequel. That featured arguably was the surprise hit of the show, Gooigi — which, as the portmanteau suggests, is indeed a gooey version of Luigi.
Absent during the event were any new hardware announcements and any new news on the fourth Metroid Prime. The company did, however, have a major surprise up its sleeve in the form of a teaser trailer for an unnamed sequel for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
We sat down with Nintendo’s Senior Director, Corporate Communications Charlie Scibetta following the big unveils to discuss the company’s take on streaming, mobile and what things look like following the departure of Reggie Fils-Aimé.
TC: I wanted to start off by talking about some broader trends. Microsoft, Sony and even Apple see streaming as being the future of gaming. Where does Nintendo come down on that, from both the point of potential hardware agnosticism and subscribing versus buying?
CS: Streaming is certainly interesting technology. Nintendo is keeping a close eye on it and we’re evaluating it. We don’t have anything to announce right now in terms of adopting that technology. For us, it’s still physical and it’s digital downloads through our eShop. Certainly a lot of downloadable content to keep the games fresh, but in terms of streaming as a way to run the games, we don’t have anything to announce on that front.
TC: Hardware’s always been a big differentiator for Nintendo. Do you think we’re moving toward a point of hardware agnosticism? Or is hardware going to be a major differentiator for Nintendo?
CS: Well, we think our games really come to life best on our hardware because our software and hardware developers work closely together to make the best performing game based off the way to bring that software to life. You go back to the Wii, for example, the way it brought tennis and bowling to life was with motion control. That really worked well for that, it was a launch title that came with every system that really sold the system because you understood the value proposition right away. Just even by walking by somebody that was playing that you understood it, and we think we caught lightening in a bottle the same way with Nintendo Switch because it’s a whole console you can play at home, enjoy on a big screen TV, and then you can take it with you.
And the market has responded. As of the end of our fiscal year which, ended in March 2019, we sold over 34 million units worldwide. Fourteen million in North America. People are buying the software. This past fiscal year extended over 70% more software than the previous year, over 23% more hardware. So, people are buying the games to play on the system. And a show like this, at E3, is all about showcasing the games that are going to power that system. So for us, it’s about unveiling games and getting people to interact with the games. They’re going to have a good time on the system.
TC: Obviously the line has softened a little bit on Nintendo’s stance when it comes to mobile. The company had taken a very hard line against that of only offering gaming experiences on first party hardware. How important is mobile? How important are iOS and Android, to Nintendo’s play going forward?
CS: Mobile is very important to Nintendo. You’re right that we did not participate with mobile gaming for a lot of years, but we have jumped in headfirst now and are bringing a lot of our most valuable IP to mobile — Mario Kart being the one that’s upcoming. And what we like about it is, as I was talking about with the combination of the hardware and the software, we only bring the software to mobile that we think you can really play well on a mobile device with the control speed that a phone offers, so not every single IP is appropriate. The ones that have come out are the ones that our developers have determined are appropriate for that. So people can have a good time with our IP on a mobile device.
TC: Sony’s absence looms large on the show. It’s shifted some focus and the spatial dynamic in this hall. Nintendo obviously made a shift into Direct and Treehouse, so all of the content is being fed to the general public, and us as well. How important are shows like this for Nintendo?
CS: We’ve been to many E3s. We’re a supporter of the show. We think it’s a great way for us to interact with people, like yourself, journalists, influencers who make YouTube videos, retail partners and, most importantly, most recently, with consumers. We like seeing the reactions of consumers to our games in the booth. We do interviews here and try to bring those game to life by explaining more; the Treehouse Live approach is nice because we do a Nintendo Direct the morning on the first day. Then, we go deeper on those games with people that are interested in those with our experts and with developers.
We think it’s a great way to showcase, not only our offerings and what the industry is as a whole. We’re part of the industry, so we support the show. Other companies have to make their own decisions based on what’s right for them, but for us, we like E3. We think it does a great job of helping connect us with the consumers and the people that cover the industry so they can learn about the products.
TC: Doug [Bowser] took over for Reggie [Fils-Aimé]. Any time that happens, even with a really large company, it tends to be a good opportunity to reassess things, rethink things, look at the broader context. Do you see there being any change in direction or a reassessment of the role that Nintendo is playing in the industry at the moment?
CS: Reggie was a great leader for us for a lot of years. We wish him well and he’s still a fan, in his own words. He said he’ll always be a Nintendo fan, so he’s always going to be with us. Doug is an industry veteran himself and he’d been with many companies and he’s been at Nintendo for over four years, so he’s well-grounded in the way that we do marketing. I would say that thing that hasn’t changed is that we’re a product-first company. We always like to bring our messages back to what is the game about, how does it make you feel, what is the emotion we want to generate with that game, and so Doug is really carrying on the legacy of Reggie and others that went before him.
TC: There have been a lot of rumors about a Switch Lite and Pro, having the devoted portable, and things of that nature. Does it make sense to have a Switch that is purely portable? How integral is that hybrid experience? And are we getting close to or approaching that point of the life cycle when it’s time to start thinking about new versions of the hardware?
CS: We have nothing to announce at this show in terms of new hardware. We do have over 2,000 games available right now. So we think as long as we have great games to power, the system is going to have a good life. Our developers will have to make the decision when they think that it’s time for new hardware to bring whatever their creative ideas are to life. That’s really what drives the decision on when it’s time for new hardware. Is there something that can’t be done for their creative vision with the current hardware?
Then they take it in a different direction. In the case of the Nintendo Switch, obviously we have the Wii U and our developers wanted to start thinking of gaming in a different direction where you can take it on the go, any time, or you can play at home. So, that’s why the Nintendo Switch was created. That’s why they married the software and the hardware that way. There’s nothing to announce in terms of where we want to go for the future, because right now, what we have on our hands is working really well.
TC: What happened specifically with Animal Crossing? Clearly no one’s really psyched when a game gets delayed. Is there any kind of info you can give, just in terms of why it’s being pushed back to 2020?
CS: We’re not going to put a game out before we think it’s ready to be enjoyed by fans. In the case of a franchise, like Animal Crossing, that has so many loyal fans, we’d be doing them a disservice if we put out a product that was rushed. So it’s a difficult decision for a company to make to move a ship date out. We think moving to March 20 of next year was the right decision, because we needed to give the development team enough time to make it the game we want to make. So, that’s been the Nintendo approach from the beginning and it’s something that we’re going to continue to do. We’re not going to rush a game out until it’s ready because we want to keep that quality bar high.
TC: Metroid [Prime 4] was kind of conspicuously absent. Is there any update on that end?
CS: It’s in the hands of Retro now; they certainly have a historic history with that franchise. They do a great job with it and we’re looking forward to what they do with this version of it. But there’s nothing new in terms of any ship date or any details about the game.