By Gene Park
Doug Bowser, president of Nintendo of America, is a skilled communicator. And right now, his message is clear: The Switch is doing great, and new hardware will be announced when the time is right.
The Nintendo of America Twitter account didn’t stutter: This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo was going to be about software, and the company wouldn’t address any speculation about a new and improved Switch console.
But Bowser, who as Nintendo’s sales and marketing vice president oversaw the Switch’s release in North America, is happy to share the Japanese company’s stance on advancing its technology.
“We are always looking at technology and how technology can enhance gameplay experiences. It’s not technology for technology’s sake,” Bowser tells The Washington Post. “It’s how specifically can technology enhance a gameplay experience. And then where do you apply that technology? Do you want to apply it on current existing hardware or platforms, or do you want to wait for the next platform? And then what’s the right gameplay experience with that? There’s a host of factors that goes into it, and it’s something we’re always looking at.”
Bowser gave this answer in response to a question about Bloomberg’s and other outlets’ reports about a Switch hardware upgrade, confirming long-standing rumors as well as some eager Nintendo fans waiting for the company to compete in technology again. Bloomberg reported that Nintendo plans for this upgraded Switch as soon as September, but the same report also said Nintendo may announce the console at E3, which did not happen.
Instead, Bowser would rather highlight the upcoming slate of games and the diversity of audiences they serve. It’s been Nintendo’s strength for decades. As Sony pushes fidelity in prestige storytelling and Microsoft pushes itself as a broad service provider, Nintendo is happy to continue its strategy of offering a wide suite of games to not just attract, but nurture and grow its audience.
“As we enter into our fifth year, Nintendo Switch really is redefining what a console life cycle can look like, and the vibrancy of that overall life cycle with a strong cadence of content,” Bowser said.
Nintendo’s sales strength makes it hard to argue against the company’s tactic, with more than 85 million consoles sold as of April. And according to the latest numbers from analyst firm NPD Group, the Switch remains America’s best-selling console in terms of revenue and units sold. Its games also have proven to have an evergreen life in the market, despite new releases from other publishers. “Mario Kart 8: Super Deluxe,” despite being a rerelease of a 7-year-old game, has no trouble staying among the top 10 games sold of every month in the last several years. If there is a need for a new Switch, it’s not being reflected in the continued and steady growth.
Despite the lack of hardware news, Nintendo has been expanding its business and has learned to lean on its powerful intellectual property, which of course include Pokémon and Mario. Both franchises have spearheaded the company’s efforts in the smartphone mobile gaming space. Nintendo is currently publisher of six mobile phone games, with a “Pikmin” project with Niantic Studios, the developer of the 2016 phenomenon “Pokémon Go,” on the horizon.
Bowser also highlighted Nintendo’s partnership with Universal Studios to build out theme parks around the world, with one already open in Japan and one each in Hollywood and Orlando
“We view ourselves as an entertainment company that is focused on very unique entertainment experiences,” Bowser said. “At the hub of that is our integrated hardware and software model, and that model has allowed us over decades to generate the characters, the deeply immersive worlds in the IP we all know and love so well, but we also know that there’s an opportunity to introduce more people to that IP now.”
Nintendo’s mobile games help them push their characters and story lines into countries where the Switch isn’t sold, Bowser said.
“The gameplay is fundamentally different than what you see on the Switch, but we’ve had 650 million unique downloads of our six games available today,” Bowser said, emphasizing that each game, from “Fire Emblem Heroes” to “Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp” all serve unique experiences in different genres.
“Our smart device strategy has allowed us to reach consumers in 164 countries already. We believe we’ve been able to broaden that audience of people who have now experienced Nintendo games, and we can bring them deeper into that integrated hardware software system in the deeply immersive games you and I know and play.”
He also highlighted Nintendo’s recent partnership with Lego to create toys based on the Mario worlds and characters, as well as the upcoming Mario animated film being created by Illumination, a studio under Universal Pictures.
“It’s unique to Nintendo, we’re very selective and very careful about who we partner with when it comes to licensing,” Bowser said. “We’ve had partnerships with Puma, with Color Pop cosmetics, with Levi’s, quality brands that really bring the uniqueness of Nintendo overall. So as an entertainment company, we’re looking for ways that we can introduce our properties to consumers in a very unique and differentiated way, and selectively, but then ultimately bring them back into that gaming experience. We believe that is the model going forward.”
“Selectively” seems to be a key word for Nintendo in how it deals with its partners as well as its community of fans. Nintendo has received widespread, passionate criticism of how it continues to pursue legal filings against fan-made do-it-yourself games and projects. Last year, as the pandemic was raging, “Super Smash Bros. Melee” esports tournaments tried to make do by using emulated files to prevent in-person competition, since the game is only available on the long-defunct GameCube console. Nintendo pulled support and shut it down.
“We do have a passionate community and we appreciate them very much, and we always want to be listening and understanding as we develop content going forward,” Bowser said. “There are times where we do need to reinforce our IP for reasons that I think are very critical. The protection of IP is very important when we think about our ability to continue to build on these properties, and we hope people will understand that is the reason we protect them the way we do.”
That said, Nintendo did make a major step recently in support esports programs. Last month, Nintendo announced its partnership with PlayVS, introducing “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” “Mario Kart 8” and “Splatoon 2” into varsity athletics programs starting this fall. PlayVS is an amateur program that works with high school athletic associations with games that include “Fortnite” and “League of Legends.”
Despite the Switch’s continued strong sales, Bowser said Nintendo also struggles with supply chain issues to create and ship consoles out. But he believes the last year has also proven out the resilience and vibrancy of the video games industry. It’s no breaking news that the games industry ballooned during the pandemic, and Bowser expects the industry has taken advantage of that momentum the best it can.
“I think it’s an exciting time to be a part of the gaming business, I really do,” Bowser said. “We’re seeing more and more people engaged in it as part of their primary forms of overall entertainment. We’re seeing various ways they can engage, whether it’s on mobile platforms and on dedicated platforms such as the Nintendo Switch. It’s a vibrant industry going forward.”
The Washington Post