Nintendo released Arms, the company’s first major new property since 2015’s Splatoon, right at the close of the Electronic Entertainment Expo tradeshow in Los Angeles last week. And at E3, the company revealed it will have at least one major release for its hybrid Switch handheld/home console each month culminating in the launch of Super Mario Odyssey in October.
To better understand the publisher’s strategy for the first year of its successful new console and what Nintendo wants to communicate to its fans, I sat down with Nintendo of America corporate communications director Charlie Scibetta. The company purposefully shaped its content pipeline to have a marquee franchise hitting retail and its digital shop on a monthly basis.
“We have a nice drumbeat of first and third party games,” Scibetta told GamesBeat. “You’ll never have to wait long. Just as you get through a game and you’re starting to put the periscope up to see what else is out there, hopefully we’ll have something right there for you.”
The company has already done that with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in March, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in April, and Minecraft in May. And while blockbuster new releases like Zelda and Mario Odyssey stand above rereleases like Mario Kart or third-party ports like Minecraft, Scibetta thinks those two pillars help to hold up the rest of the lineup.
In my full interview, Scibetta and I go in depth about that and other topics like how Nintendo approaches E3, how it feels about fans attending the show for the first time ever, and a ton more.
Here is an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: How do you feel about Nintendo’s E3 this year?
Charlie Scibetta: Feeling good about the reaction to Super Mario Odyssey. We definitely leaned in on that game as our lead horse for this holiday. We got a good drumbeat of games throughout the year. We started out with Breath of the Wild. Kart had a great showing, good sales and reaction. We have Arms coming out this Friday. Splatoon 2 coming out later this summer, and then Super Mario Odyssey. The game we’re focused on here is Super Mario Odyssey. Some of the others people have played already and they’re getting close to shipping.
People like what they see with the gameplay dynamic there, the interaction you have with Cappy, the interaction with the tools you use to unlock things and navigate your world. It’s been a good show.
GamesBeat: It’s the second year in a row you’ve had a game that you could really hold up as the tentpole release. Does Nintendo prefer that over spreading attention evenly across multiple games?
Charlie Scibetta: Last year we were definitely all in on Breath of the Wild. It was the only game we had at the booth. This year we’ve spread it out a bit, but it’s still dominated by the one game in Super Mario Odyssey. We also have the tournament area where you can play Arms, Splatoon 2, Pokken Tournament Deluxe. That’s brought a good energy to the booth, watching people play the fun competitive games that Switch helps enable.
We also have a lot of third-party games like FIFA. We’re excited about Skyrim and NBA2K. We’re excited about the Rabbids collaboration with Ubisoft. Two casts of characters people didn’t think would come together. That seems to be working with people.
GamesBeat: How about having the public in your booth?
Charlie Scibetta: It’s been interesting having consumers here. It’s added a lot of energy. All this stuff we do here is for the fans, so it made sense to us to bring consumers in.
Everybody was a little bit shocked at the volume of people on the first day. But then we started to figure it out as far as how we wanted to do line management and crowd control. We try to be pretty respectful. We have signs in the lines saying, you’re one hour out from here. People know what they’re getting into if they want to line up. So far people have been happy with the time commitment, because once they get on the game they’re having a great time.
GamesBeat: Is the way you have the booth set up — with a focus on Mario — similar to your pitch for this holiday? Like, come for Mario Odyssey, but then why not also check out Skyrim, Arms, and everything else?
Charlie Scibetta: It is, because it’s all about the games. The Nintendo Switch has shown that people like taking their console gaming experience on the go, playing anytime, anywhere, with anyone. What you need to power that experience is great games. The concept by itself rings hollow unless you have something great to power it. That’s what the show is about for us, showing that we have the games, both first and third party, to let people have a great gaming experience no matter where they are.
GamesBeat: Is this how you want to do it next year? I don’t know what your slate is going to be like, but do you always want to have this big tentpole game at E3? Is there a chance you would have maybe five games that are equal partners?
Charlie Scibetta: It definitely changes from year to year. Last year and this year have been consistent. Last year the only game was Zelda, this year we have one dominant game. Other years we spread it out more, spread our bets on different titles. It all has to do with what we announce that year. It’s the same thing with how we do our Nintendo Spotlight. We had a 25-minute video. Other years we’ve done a full presentation on stage. Other years we’ve had a bunch of editors and people in the booth before the show, a thing called the Digital Spotlight, a digital event that ran a little longer.
It really has to do with — call it six months out, roughly, we’ll start looking at the content we have to announce for E3 and start thinking about the best way to communicate that.
GamesBeat: How do you make that decision?
Charlie Scibetta: It starts with the content. It always does. We wouldn’t try to say, this is how we want to communicate our news, and then shoehorn content into that. We always base it on what we have to announce and what’s the way to bring it to life. Treehouse Live has been a great example for us. It used to be we would frontload everything into that initial announcement and that was it. It was just gameplay from that point forward. Now we’re doing Treehouse Live. We can break something like Metroid: Samus Returns on the Nintendo 3DS after the Spotlight ran. People know that if they stay tuned into Treehouse Live, they might get some surprises over the course of the week.
GamesBeat: That was a purposeful decision to train the audience to look out for surprises during the Treehouse livestream?
Charlie Scibetta: We have a saying at Nintendo, “surprise and delight.” That’s one way we like to do it. We surprise people with something they didn’t think they would hear at a time when they didn’t think they would hear it. Hopefully it makes them happy.
GamesBeat: While we are talking the Treehouse stream is still ongoing, so I’ll assume you’re going to announce Smash Bros for Switch any second as part of your effort to surprise, right?
Charlie Scibetta: That’d be news to me. I don’t think we’ll be doing that at this show.
Continue reading our interview with Nintendo’s Charlie Scibetta on the next page.
GamesBeat: But you are happy with making announcements on Treehouse Live?
Charlie Scibetta: We do. One thing we like about Treehouse Live, it’s a long form way to have our product experts describe a game, talk to the developers about the game, really bring it to life. You can get, sometimes, the basic idea of a game, some of the visuals from a short video, but if you really want to know what was in the developer’s mind, the best way to navigate that game and enjoy it, it helps to have people sit there and talk about it and explore it with you and give you hints. That’s what Treehouse Live does. It’s a long form way to dig into the content that you just can’t do in a short video.
GamesBeat: I know it’s all about the games, but you’re also still selling a new console. It’s selling well. The pitch is that it’s a home console you can take with you. Is that still working?
Charlie Scibetta: It’s working great. In our concept video we showed back in October, we showed people in an airport. That’s what we’re seeing. All those scenarios of people playing after they have a pickup basketball game, playing in the airport—a lot of time that’s the best time to game. You don’t have any distractions. You’re on a flight and you can dedicate that time to whatever you want. In our case they’re doing that with the Switch. It’s gratifying, because what Nintendo has always tried to communicate in our games is the joy and the social aspect to it. Especially with something like Kart, you’re seeing people do these local LAN tournaments. The system enables you to do that.
You and I could play against each other in our own houses 3000 miles apart, and that’s fun, but I think it’s a lot more fun to have everyone around a table laughing, elbowing each other, having a good time. People are responding to that. Developers are responding to that, the gameplay dynamic the Switch allows. Public social fun.
GamesBeat: A lot of cynics, myself included, thought, okay, I’m never going to set the Switch down and randomly play multiplayer while at a restaurant or whatever, but a lot of people actually are doing that. How much did you believe the Switch would have that kind of appeal?
Charlie Scibetta: That was our bet. The bet was that this kind of gameplay is something people want to do. It’s one of the nice things about Nintendo. It wasn’t as if people were screaming for this – we’ve gotta have this, please give it to us. It was our developers thinking, we believe this will work. The same way the Wii worked. Nobody told us that we had to have motion control in our gaming experiences. Then they played Wii Sports and it was fun and it worked.
People are experiencing that with Switch. They like the ability to pop the Joycons off, hand that to a friend for a solo experience if they want, have that one unit that can work in the home and outside of the home. We were optimistic that it would work. It’s gratifying to see that people have embraced it.
GamesBeat: With Wii, the gimmick was motion controls. That sounds dismissive, but you know what I mean. Here it’s the form factor of the system itself, it’s the —
Charlie Scibetta: It’s the portability.
GamesBeat: Right. And that’s a very different core concept than a new way to control your games. We’re controlling Switch games in a familiar way, but the fact that I can pick it up and take it with me is the reason to own a game on Switch. Do you think people are getting that?
Charlie Scibetta: We’re emphasizing that message, but players are experiencing it themselves. We could talk until we’re blue in the face, but once people get their hands on it, they make their own minds up really quick. We were also fortunate to have a killer game at launch in Breath of the Wild. You hope for that killer app at launch and we had it. We could have put that out earlier on the Wii U exclusively, but I think we did the right thing in holding that so people could have a great experience.
You can still play it on the Wii U and a lot of people are doing that and having a good time with it, but it really helped bring the concept to life when it was a game as compelling as that. You wanted to play that game anyway, and once you could play it on the Switch – once you didn’t have to limit yourself to just playing at certain times of the day, once you could play whenever you wanted to, wherever you are – that was what people wanted. People are putting a lot of hours into that game. I hear about people playing over 100 hours.
GamesBeat: I was at 150. I did it while my baby was just being born. I was reviewing it, but I played it more than I needed to.
Charlie Scibetta: Did you actually play it in the hospital?
GamesBeat: A little bit. Not quite so much in the hospital, but I was definitely playing it while lying in bed with my daughter in her bassinet. I’d be plugging away, hour after hour.
Charlie Scibetta: It’s convenient.
GamesBeat: It’s almost like now that the Switch is out there, it is starting to advertise itself because it’s so striking to see people playing something like Mario Kart or Zelda on a handheld device. Are you noticing that?
Charlie Scibetta: It’s that buzz factor, where you see it and think, what is that? People are usually pretty happy to tell you what they’re doing. Maybe even hand you one of the Joycons and they’re happy to play, as long as it’s a simple game like Kart. It’s easy to pick up and play. You can take a total stranger and have them up and playing in 20 seconds. With Zelda, it’s more detailed and it takes time to teach them the game mechanics.
GamesBeat: But it’s still eye-catching.
Charlie Scibetta: Right. It’s great marketing for us, just to have them out in public. The best marketing is word of mouth. If you see somebody enjoying it and they’re having a good time and they’re inviting you to play, you can’t ask for anything better than that.
GamesBeat: I was just with the Psyonix guys. I played Rocket League on the Switch. I wish it was out now.
Charlie Scibetta: It’s a great game.
GamesBeat: It played great on the Switch, too. But I was talking to the developer about its struggles with crossplatform multiplayer on Sony’s console. Xbox One, PC, and Switch can all play together, but Sony won’t allow PS4 players to join in on that. How is Nintendo ahead of Sony when it comes to something like this?
Charlie Scibetta: They’re a great partner. Our publisher and developer relations team is always talking to different companies and seeing what we can work out. I’m really happy just as a gamer, let alone working for the company, that that’s going to be possible, that cross platform play. We’re trying to be more flexible as a company. We’re reaching out to try and get people to interact with our IP. In this case Rocket League is their IP on our system, but we’re trying to get people involved with us in any way we can, whether that’s on mobile now, or through Universal Studios parks, or through licensing deals like Vans.
Once you can play the games and interact with the characters — if you’re a fan already you know it exists on our dedicated systems, but say you’re somebody in another country that doesn’t have access to those dedicated systems. You have a phone, though, and you can play that way, and all of a sudden you’re in our world. We’re trying to be more flexible and bring more people in. In the case of Rocket League, it’s just being flexible and working with them to make their game come to life on our system. If people want to play cross platform, we want to enable that.
GamesBeat: Even Minecraft, though. Microsoft comes to you guys and says it can do crossplatform multiplayer, and Nintendo agrees immediately?
Charlie Scibetta: If it’s right for gamers, we’re going to entertain it. If we can make it work, we’re going to do it.
GamesBeat: That makes a lot of sense. It seems like what you’re saying is, we have ways we’re selling our products that are beneficial to gamers. They want to enjoy our characters. They’re falling in love with our characters. We want to give them every opportunity to do that. We don’t want them buying our system because their friend owns a Switch and that’s the only way to play Minecraft or Rocket League with them.
Charlie Scibetta: We want people to have a good time. In the case of Rocket League, if that’s what the people like yourself — you just said you love that game and you want to be able to play cross platform. We said, let’s make that happen. It’s really not more complex than that. Every game is different. Some games are great for multiplayer, some are better as a single-player experience, some are better in all kinds of situations for all kinds of games. Rocket League works best with cross platform play. Let’s make it happen.
GamesBeat: So it’s not a policy. It’s not as if every game, 100 percent of the time, will be crossplatform. But in most cases you guys can see a way around it, a way to do it?
Charlie Scibetta: It always comes back to the developer, too. In this case the developer is into it, so let’s make it happen. We tend to give most of the decisions in terms of what functionality to use for the system—for example, the game pad back in the Wii U days, or motion control for Wii. We place those decisions in the hand of the development team. Obviously the Rocket League team wanted to go cross platform, so we said, let’s do it.
GamesBeat: For the rest of the year, what’s the big message? Obviously Mario, but is there anything else?
Charlie Scibetta: Games. If you want to be able to play games and not have a dry spell between any of the big launches, we think Nintendo Switch is a good place to be. We have a nice drumbeat of first and third party. You’ll never have to wait long.
Just as you get through a game and you’re starting to put your head up, put the periscope out to see what else is out there, hopefully we’ll have something right there for you. We’ve announced a nice lineup through this year, and next year we have some big games coming with Metroid 4. 2018 [Ed’s note: Nintendo clarified later that Scibetta meant “2018 and beyond” here] will be around Metroid, Kirby, Yoshi, and a new Pokemon game has been announced. We feel good about the lineup for this year and beyond.
GamesBeat: That cadence, that drumbeat, was that a very deliberate thing? To say, we’re putting out a new platform, people should have a games reason to buy our system, you don’t want to have these dry spells. That was a deliberate choice?
Charlie Scibetta: It was. We said that at launch. People were saying, why aren’t there more games at launch? We said, we think we have a good amount at launch, but this is not the end of it. There will be great games coming every month for the rest of the year. We think that’s a better way to do it than to front load it all on day one and then have three months where nothing comes out.
GamesBeat: Do you think people accept that was the right thing to do now?
Charlie Scibetta: I think everybody makes up their own mind as to how they want it to come out, but we think that’s the best way to do that pacing, so there’s always something for people. We want to give our third party and first party teams a little time to shine, too. They don’t have to compete with every other game for the year at the exact same time. It’s nice to give a little breathing room between launches, so each title can have a chance to shine.