The president of Nintendo of America on the last year and looking ahead to 2021
As a way to close out the year, we sat down with Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser to discuss the highs and lows of 2020 for the company and what 2021 might bring, from the possibility of a Switch Pro to the long-awaited Breath of the Wild sequel.
Is Nintendo holding back games for a Switch Pro?
We talked a little bit about it earlier, regarding the lineup and how the lineup sort of shifted throughout the year because of COVID. And I think it manifested in a few ways. I would not by any means call Nintendo’s lineup in the holiday season a light lineup. But again, just putting it against 2019, for example, with Link’s Awakening and Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Pokémon ... it’s obviously kind of a different beast, versus this year, which, you know, we have Pikmin 3, great game; Hyrule Warriors [Age of Calamity], great game; Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, also really good. But you don’t necessarily have the big new internally developed game. And I understand that delays happen, especially because of COVID.
But I also know that there have been some discussions that Nintendo may be trying to hold back certain titles for potentially some hardware changes in the future. I wanted to know if that’s something that you guys are looking at, strategizing around, to make sure that, “Hey, if we were to update the hardware in some way, we would have, like, a strong enough lineup to do that.”
Russ, the way I’d answer that is, as we look at the fourth year of Nintendo Switch, we continue to see very, very strong momentum. We see the platform appealing to a wide range of consumers. This year, in particular, we’ve seen more women gamers come into Nintendo Switch platforms, women that had not owned a Nintendo Switch platform in the past, and they’re engaging in our content in new and different ways.
We’ve been able to introduce not only games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but from our partners, games like like Hades or Minecraft Dungeons, or Ori and the Will of the Wisps. We have a number of different ways that players are coming in and engaging the content, and it’s not all AAA content.
But former AAA content is doing incredibly well, too. Some of the top titles that are still bought after someone buys a Nintendo Switch today are titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey. So that back catalog is still fresh and new for any new purchaser of a Nintendo Switch. And that plays into how we market and talk with our consumers.
So with a catalog of over 4,000 games available and Nintendo Switch selling very, very well — I think you saw the NPD numbers from October, where we sold 735,000 units, up 136% year over year — November is going to be an equally strong month for us. I can’t reveal the data because NPD will be talking about it this afternoon. But I think you’re going to see an equally strong month from Nintendo in the month of November, with a very strong both Thanksgiving and Black Friday week and Cyber Monday week. [Ed note: Nintendo sold more than 1.35 million Switch units in the U.S. in November, retaining its top spot for a 24th consecutive month.]
And where that points me is, we will be releasing content, as I mentioned earlier, on a regular cadence year-round. And there’s a lot more to come, obviously, as you think about our IP, and we’ll release it when it’s right and when it’s ready and when we’ve got great gameplay experiences. But in the meantime, we continue to lean into what I think is still a very strong lineup for this holiday and a very strong catalog.
Obviously, rumors of a “Switch Pro” have basically been floating around for years at this point. You know, for a while it was alongside the Switch Lite, and then that didn’t end up happening. These days, hardware strength is all the rage. Nintendo has never been one to push hardware, but obviously, at this point, a 720p handheld screen is getting a little bit creakier. How does that match with Nintendo’s long-held strategy of updating the hardware after, let’s say, three or four years?
Yeah. A couple of thoughts there. There were a few questions in there. Let me just break it down. First, we’re always looking at technology. And as we know, technology is constantly evolving and changing. And we’re always looking at what is coming to determine: How can it enhance and improve the gameplay experience? And whether that’s on a current platform, or whether that’s on a future platform, we’re always looking at that.
However, we also see right now — and we just talked about it — that the momentum on Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch Lite in the fourth year is strong. And we believe we’re changing the trajectory of another typical console life cycle. And we will continue, for the foreseeable future, to really lean into both of those platforms and the content that comes with it, because it’s the symbiotic relationship that makes the real difference. And it’s why Nintendo Switch is so differentiated.
First, the hardware form factor, obviously, is something — that you have a gaming system that you can play at home as a console, and you can take on the go and play in handheld mode virtually anywhere — is unique and remains unique within the industry. But then the way we build games onto the platform, and the way partners build games onto the platform, is really what matters and the experience that you have when you play. So that’s what we’ll continue to lean into as we go into really what will be the fifth year of Nintendo Switch. And as Mr. [Shuntaro] Furukawa [president of Nintendo] mentioned in his corporate management policy briefing, we believe we’re just at the midpoint of this life cycle on this platform.
So I guess that that goes back to my question, which is to say, because of the success of the Switch and the Switch Lite, does that buy you time with hardware that, if it wasn’t doing as well, you would need to refresh sooner?
It allows us to to manage the life cycle differently, I would say. I think that’s the easiest way to put it. Right now, with the momentum that we have, our focus will be on the existing form factors.
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