At this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, I was given the chance to speak to Reggie Fils-Aimé, Nintendo of America’s president and chief operating officer. In this talk, Reggie outlines what we can expect from Nintendo for Switch, 3DS, and the Classic line of retro consoles in 2018. He doesn’t give away any surprises, but did go off script a bit to talk about his playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and his fear of looking at how many hours he’s logged into it.
Talk to me a little bit about your philosophy for the Nintendo Direct. Last year we saw some games that were kind of far out, holding the promise that a series was coming back. This year, it seems like, even with games in the hopper, you scaled back.
Broadly speaking, our focus at every E3 is driven by a handful of factors. One, we want to show games that are typically near in and our fans can look forward to purchasing relatively soon. Second, we always look at the total array of content, and decide what is the best thing to do – whether it’s a competition like we have this year, or some other key tactic. Every year is different, and every year is based on the content that is available.
Last year was important to us to message to the Metroid fan that there was a Metroid Prime experience in development, as we showed Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3DS. We didn’t want that fan to say “You just launched a new system, when are you going to bring me a Metroid on that platform?” We said it was coming. This year, with so many games launching effectively between [now] and the first half of next year, we wanted to focus on those games. Rest assured, Metroid Prime 4 is still in development and proceeding well. Yoshi is still in development. We said that is a 2019 title. So for us, it really is making sure we can highlight a new Super Mario Party game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, give more hands-on opportunities for Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee, but also make sure that we spend more time on third-party content, and independent developer content to paint that total picture of what we have coming effectively in the here and now.
One of the big stories for Nintendo is third-party content – getting some of those big games like Fortnite coming over to Switch, as well as Ubisoft expanding its support. That partnership seems like it’s starting to blossom. Donkey Kong DLC is now a part of Mario + Rabbids, and the big shocker is Star Fox is coming to Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Can you talk to me a little bit about partnerships in this capacity, and letting your characters go to different development houses?
What I will say is this, as an intellectual-property holder, we are very careful with how our IP are used. Whether that’s in other games, movies, or amusement parks, we are very careful and very particular. Often times we need to build a relationship and confidence that our intellectual property is going to be handled in the proper way.
We’ve been able to build that relationship with Ubisoft. There have been a number of examples where we’ve worked together with other people with our IP. We did something a number of years back with Activision and their toys-to-life experience utilizing Nintendo IP. It’s company specific, opportunity specific, and based on a foundation of trust and knowledge around our intellectual property, and the fact that the way the property is going to be used will work. Starfox, with the inclusion of the Arwing and Fox as a character, we felt confident that within that game it was going to be a great world and specific representation of that. That’s how our partnerships develop.
Can we expect more in the future?
It depends on the opportunity. It depends on the company. Our view is that we want to make our consumers smile, and we want to make them smile through surprising and delighting them with the use of our IP. Where it makes sense, it’s an opportunity we will pursue.
You mentioned toys to life. This is a market that is starting to shrink. We’ve had a couple of games fall off in recent years. Ubisoft is jumping into this genre, and Nintendo has had announcements surrounding new Smash Bros. characters. Is Nintendo still all in on Amiibos, or are you scaling them back a bit?
We continue to be all in. Amiibo within the toys-to-life category has always been different. It’s been a message you can use your Amiibo across a range of different content and experiences. When you do use it, it really does add some significant value. To be honest, I traveled to E3 with eight of my Zelda Amiibo so I could continue to get those items as I put more and more hours into [The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.]
We use Amiibo to add value to the experience, versus being a unique game or single idea. It really is leveraging these figures across a range of different experiences.
I just have to ask about Zelda. Where are you at in the world? How far along are you in your adventure?
I haven’t looked to see how many hours. I don’t want that to be used as a weapon against me by my wife in terms of how much time I’m spending in the game. But I’ve completed it. I’ve completed it wearing a variety of different outfits. I’ve got about 520 korok seeds. I’m doing the DLC.
Are you going for a completionist run?
I don’t want to say I’m a big completionist, because I don’t want to commit myself to 900 korok seeds, but I continue to enjoy that game. What’s great for me is I’m able to play a range of our content often times before launch. I was playing Mario Tennis Aces and getting a lot of hands on experience with that, but I always come back to Zelda. Part of the reason is it’s my favorite franchise. Part of it is that open-world Zelda experience is just so satisfying.
Is it your favorite Zelda game?
That’s tough. The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past was my favorite Zelda. There’s no doubt that Breath of the Wild is the Switch game I’ve put the most time into.
Switch continues to snowball and build on its base. I still see stores selling out of hardware. You have Smash Bros. coming out this holiday. You focused the messaging of the Direct to what is coming soon. Can we expect more announcements for this timeframe in the months ahead, or is what we saw at E3 the bulk of the lineup?
We’re going to continue to make announcements. E3 is not the only opportunity that we use to break news. We break news in Nintendo Directs when we want. Historically we’ve broken news at San Diego Comic Con, at PAX Prime, at Gamescom in Europe. We’re always looking for the right opportunity to share information about a particular game. Certainly for the holidays our lineup is set with Super Mario Party in October with Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee in November right before Black Friday, and with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on December 7. We believe that pacing is going to give us tremendous momentum during the holiday season.
You are in the Nintendo Direct videos. You help produce them. Do you gather together as a company to watch them when they air? Or are you always like “I don’t want to see it again”?
It’s not that I don’t want to see it again, but my role maybe is unique in that I am in the Direct. The scripting, and the positioning, I’m heavily involved in. The approval process I’m heavily involved in. By the time the public sees the Direct, I’ve seen it many, many times. Typically, I’m here on site, getting ready to present to retailers or part of our community. I like to watch it and to see the comments and the reaction. That to me is what is satisfying, and it helps us understand if what we tried to create is achieving its objective.
What’s great about seeing it [at E3] is we had it on the big-screen at the booth. I could hear the gasp coming from a few hundred people here. To get those reactions live is really fulfilling.
With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate hitting this holiday, let’s talk about hardware. Switch is still selling like mad. Are you going to be sending out more during the holiday [to meet demand]?
Absolutely. Our goal as a business is to drive momentum and create excitement to get people who have heard about the hardware, but haven’t yet bought it, to jump in. Our biggest failure is when the consumer goes to the shelf and it isn’t there. We’re focused on making sure the supply chain is going to be robust. As we sit here today, we are highly confident that we are going to be able to meet the demand. Part of what we do is to try to drive demand as high as possible, and to therefore drive our business as strong as possible.
Does that go for the GameCube controllers as well? I know people are thinking about getting eight of them.
GameCube controllers, the adaptor, and Pokéball Plus – we’re confident that we’re going to be well positioned on the supply side.
The lifespan on 3DS has been impressive.
More than eight years.
Is it still a big focus for Nintendo?
Absolutely. In the month of December, we had 27 percent growth versus last year in the U.S.
Here in the U.S., through May, it’s up 10 percent year on year. It continues to be a vibrant system. The reasons are, for the target audience we are going after – parents with kids – we see this as a great first device for that five, six, seven, and eight-year-old. The portability, the ability for the hardware to take damage and survive the drop test, over a thousand games available with new ones coming, that’s what’s driving the performance. It becomes a gateway for these kids that turn 10, 11, and 12 to then jump on to Nintendo Switch. It’s a strategy that’s working, and we’re going to continue to support that platform. We have more games coming, and certainly into 2019, we see it as a key part of our business.
In a previous interview we had in the magazine, you said the hope with Switch isn’t just one in a household, but one per person in that household. Are you seeing this come to fruition?
We have, and that’s why here in the Americas, we sell a second dock. The progression we see in the U.S., you have larger homes with multiple TVs. Step one is for the consumer to realize I want to set this up on this TV and this TV, so I’ll get a second dock. The next iteration is when the hardware is with a family member, and someone else wants to play the game, they’re going to say to themselves “It’s time for a second one.”
Personally, I think we’ve got two software titles that really have the potential to drive this during the upcoming holiday. First is Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee. That’s one where I do see family members wanting to take it out with them and play it all of the time. The other one is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. People are going to want to set up their own multiplayer events at different places, and that on-the-go aspect will drive multiple devices.
Super Mario Party also appears to push for multiple Switches. How crazy can that get? If you have four in your household, can you use all four in the game?
That’s a great question. We haven’t said anything beyond two in terms of that capability. To your point, that’s going to be another driver with people getting together with their individual units and creating those unique shaped areas.
Talk to me about the future of online play on Switch.
The service is going to launch in September, and that is on track. We believe it’s a great offering with the connected gameplay, the cloud save, as well as the access to legacy content. Of that legacy content, many of the titles have been enhanced with multiplayer experiences. We’ll continue to share more details as we get closer, but at a $20 annual subscription, we believe this is a easy purchase for consumers, as it’s going to give them all of those rich, connected experiences.
NES and SNES Classic have been wildly successful. Will we see a Nintendo 64 Classic next? What’s the future of that line? Will the NES and SNES continue coming back?
We’ve said that, certainly for this year, that we would have the NES and SNES Classic available at retail. The NES Classic comes back this month. That’s our focus right now. In terms of future Classic series, we’ll have to set up a different interview to talk about that. Look, we know that our fans love our legacy content. Being in this business 40 years, we know we have a lot of content we can surprise our consumers with. We’re aware of it, and stay tuned. Right now the focus is lets make sure that we give the consumer that wants NES Classic the chance to pick it up again. I believe we’re also going to have a strong holiday with SNES Classic as well.
Regarding the games in these Classic bundles, people want to play them on their Switch. Any plans for that in the future?
What we’ve said is our Nintendo online service will be the place for legacy content to be. We’ve announced we’ll start with 20 titles, and that will continue to grow. That’s where were going to want the consumer to have the experience with our legacy content.
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Reggie Fils-Aimé Sheds Light On The Future Of Switch And His Progress In Breath Of The Wild