It was time that Nintendo held a big show at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and revealed a lot of new games. But this year, the company decided once again to forego its in-person press event, and it chose to focus mostly on Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the big fighting game coming out on the Nintendo Switch on December 7.
That was a bit of a disappointment, considering Nintendo had a smashing success with the launch of the Switch in March 2017. The company has sold more than 17 million units (as of March 2018) and more than 68 million pieces of software. It would have been nice to see a victory lap and a few more surprises out of Nintendo at this E3.
Nintendo went last among the big companies in launching its E3 press event, which took the form of an online-only Nintendo Direct broadcast. The audience didn’t get a chance to ask any questions. But I did interview Charlie Scibetta, senior director of corporate communications at Nintendo of America, and got a few answers about the company’s E3 thinking and its Switch portfolio strategy.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What’s your approach to E3 this year?
Charlie Scibetta: Our approach for this show is great games that are going to keep the momentum going for Nintendo Switch. When we first introduced the system, it was all about a home console you could take anywhere, anytime, and a whole new way to play. We had great momentum in the first year. We’re the fastest-selling console out of the gate in the U.S. in that first 12 months, per NPD.
The way to keep momentum going for the system is with great games. We had great games year one, with Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart, Splatoon 2, and great third-party offerings. This year at E3 we’re showing games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu, Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee. Indie games like Overcooked 2. We’re confident we’re going to keep the momentum going because they’re the kind of games you’ll enjoy at home, but you’ll also love taking them on the go like you do with a lot of other games on Nintendo Switch.
GamesBeat: How has Twitter been to you guys this morning? Any trending comments so far?
Scibetta: I don’t have any read on social media specifically, but people are enjoying the games. They like the depth we went into on Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. We gave so much detail on that. If there was any question about what kind of game this was, it’s pretty much put to rest with all that detail that was explored by [Masahiro] Sakurai.
If you’re a fan of that series — this is a franchise over two decades old, over 40 million sales. If you’re a fan of a previous version of the game and you’re hoping that a character you’re familiar with and like to play with is going to be in this one, that’s not going to be an issue. Literally, every fighting character from every game that’s ever been in this franchise is in the new one, as well as new ones like Inkling and Ridley. Those are the two we’re talking about at the show. The ability to enjoy that game with something familiar or something brand new, we give you the option of both.
GamesBeat: Does it feel very similar to the last two years, where you had Zelda dominating one year, and then Mario the next, and now it’s Smash? Is that a reliable strategy for you?
Scibetta: Every year, we look at the content we have to show, and we figure out what’s the best way to bring it to life at the booth. Two years ago, it was Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. We took the booth and turned it into an immersive world of Hyrule. It was literally the only game in the booth. Last year, Super Mario Odyssey — the booth was themed like New Donk City, and we had other games there, but if you walked in, you definitely got the impression that it was the Super Mario Odyssey year.
This year, it’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but we also have a lot of other games too. We’re leaning on it heavily, and you saw that with the amount of time we covered it in Nintendo Direct. But I can tell you that’s been our philosophy the last three years. It was based on what we had to show that year. What we’ll do in the future will all depend on what we have to show next year and the years beyond. It’s worked out well for us so far because the games were deserving of that kind of focus.
GamesBeat: Would you say the eyeballs have been growing for the Nintendo presence at E3 in the last few years? Is there more Switch momentum making that happen?
Scibetta: I do think there’s more eyeballs. If you have a system that has momentum, people tend to gravitate toward it more. The first year of Nintendo Switch, we sold more than 17 million units worldwide, more than 68 million pieces of software. The fiscal year we’re in right now, coming up, we project 20 million hardware units and more than 100 million software units. There has been more interest in us this year because we have momentum.
People want to know if we can sustain that momentum. We’re optimistic we can with games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Pokémon, along with the Pokéball Plus accessory. It’s really going to be a cool way to experience Pokémon, the interactivity with Pokémon Go.
When it came to two years ago, with Legend of Zelda, I think people just love that franchise. We hadn’t even launched the Nintendo Switch then. The IP alone at that point pulled people into that booth. Last year, Super Mario Odyssey being the primary focus, and then this year, people are interested in what software is going to power the system. It’s a combination of software and hardware this year, whereas two years ago, it was primarily Zelda that brought them in.
GamesBeat: Is there a reason you’re continuing the Directs online as opposed to in person?
Scibetta: We decide each year what to show in the booth based on the content we have. We also do the same when it comes to what we want to do in Nintendo Direct or a presentation. In the past, we’ve done presentations where we brought thousands of people together and demoed live on stage. With the last four or five years, we’ve done more of the video approach. It’s really whatever we think is the best way to bring those games to life.
We think that Nintendo Direct recently has been a nice way to do it because we’re able to package interviews and gameplay and fine-tune it, so it’s a nice tight presentation. It’s an efficient use of time. It’s a good way to bring these games to life in a video format. In the future, we might go back to a presentation. We might stick with video. We might do something completely different. But it’ll all be based on what we have to show that year.
GamesBeat: Something I’ve noticed ever since Bethesda did Fallout Shelter is that there’s a more real-time nature to E3. Today, with Fortnite going out at 10 a.m., ready to download, it feels like there’s more awareness of — immediate gratification is now the thing to do. You have esports events as well. It’s interesting how E3 is transforming toward more immediacy.
Scibetta: There’s something to what you’re talking about. Certainly with us and Fortnite, it was exciting to be able to partner with a company like Epic and be able to feature it in the Nintendo Direct and have it literally available right after the Nintendo Direct was over. People didn’t have to wait. In the past, it’s often been the case where you would announce a game three or four years out. You’d do that slow build. We find it’s better sometimes to have a shorter time between announcement and when the product is available.
Take an example like the Nintendo Switch itself. We announced that and showed the first reveal in terms of what it could do via video in October 2016. It was available to purchase in March 2017. That’s for a console. It’s a very short time frame. One reason was because we wanted to be able to control expectations. If you announce something too far out, you sometimes get unrealistic expectations because of such a long wait. We like to surprise and delight as a company, and one way we do that is [to] decrease the amount of time between when we announce something and when it comes out.
That’s not always the case. Last year, we talked about Metroid, and we’re not featuring that at the show this year. Sometimes, we’ll mention a game just to give fans a little taste and let them know we’re working on something because they’re really eager for it. But more often than not, we’re trying to decrease that amount of time, as opposed to talking about something that’s three or four years out.
GamesBeat: With something like Fortnite, is it difficult to execute on that? It sounds like it would be a challenge to make sure something is ready.
Scibetta: Epic was great to work with on this. They bought into the idea of announcing it and making it available on the same day. We were very appreciative that they were able and willing to work with us to make that happen. It was a nice perk for people, that they didn’t have to wait to play that game.
That’s what we’re excited about with Fortnite. Obviously, it’s a gaming phenomenon. People have been having a great time with it. But the ability to take that game outside the home on Nintendo Switch and play it with a robust control scheme that the Joy-Cons offer, it’s something that people are already enjoying today.
GamesBeat: [Shigeru] Miyamoto’s appearance at Ubisoft was an interesting repeat, with Star Fox. Is there any particular thinking on how well that’s worked for Nintendo?
Scibetta: Ubisoft is a great partner. They’ve worked with us for a lot of years, and we’ve done some great collaborations. When we combined Mario with Rabbids, a lot of people were interested in that idea and thought it was really cool, but they didn’t know how it would play out. When it played out as well as it did and that gameplay was so much fun, it made people appreciate what you can do that if you have two companies that have a mutual respect.
Certainly, Ubisoft worked closely with Nintendo, and we worked closely with them to make sure the IP in that game was done in a way that both companies felt good about. You can get a winning product that way. The trust level went up even more after that. The fact that Ubisoft wanted to have Mr. Miyamoto on stage was a nice gesture on their part, and so, we worked with them on that. We were glad it came together.
GamesBeat: Do you see Star Fox appearing in Starlink as a one-time thing, or is it part of a bigger opportunity?
Scibetta: We’re glad we were able to make it happen. When it comes to any future announcements on that, any future plans, I would say talk to Ubi. It’s their game.
GamesBeat: The only other thing I heard from the Twittersphere, I guess, was that people were hoping for a surprise, something like a new IP reveal.
Scibetta: We certainly had some news break out of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the fact that you could play all these characters from the past and new characters like Inkling and Ridley. All of your Amiibo from the Super Smash Bros. series and other Amiibo work with that game. If you have an Amiibo that matches to one of the fighting characters in the game, that’s going to bring functionality to the game. We think that’s a nice surprise. I don’t know if you can get much bigger for us than tapping into a phenomenon like Fortnite and having that available on the same day. We felt that was a nice surprise.
Hopefully, there’s something in our Nintendo Direct for everyone. We think we have a nice broad swath of games that are going to appeal to people all over the spectrum. They can find something to have a good time with on Nintendo Switch.
GamesBeat: Does it make more sense to release something like Let’s Go Pikachu in year two because it’s more mass market?
Scibetta: It is good to space our games out. Pokémon Go certainly brought a whole new crowd to the Pokémon universe. We’re so happy that they’re now part of the franchise and interested in those characters. There are certainly die-hards that have known and loved the franchise for years, but with more than 800 million downloads of Pokémon Go, a lot of new people got turned on to the world of Pokémon. With these new products, we’re hoping to take that to the next level, the Pokéball Plus and so forth.
When it comes to the future — which Pokémon games to bring out when and in what order — I’d refer you to the Pokémon Company. But we’re happy to have them on the Nintendo Switch.
GamesBeat: Anything else you’d like to highlight?
Scibetta: The amount of titles on Nintendo Switch, at more than 700 in just a bit over a year, shows that indie developers have embraced the system, developers of all sizes and publishers. They all like the same thing, which is the portability of the system, the ability to take your game experience on the go outside of the house. I’d say the Nintendo 3DS is still going strong. We have more than a thousand titles available for that system. More than 73 million worldwide have sold, more than 365 million pieces of software. We have great games coming for the Nintendo 3DS still — like Luigi’s Mansion and Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker.
We also have some interesting tournaments going on here at the show, with Splatoon 2 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate being featured over at the theater. That’s our take on social competitive gaming. We think that’s a fun way to get people together and get them to enjoy these games. People of all levels can enjoy both of those games, but the best of the best are playing in those tournaments. It’s fun to see gamers take those games to the highest level of competition and see the fun that can be had through that social competitive gameplay dynamic. It’s great to be able to provide a forum for people like that, who are so good at what they do, and see them compete against each other head to head.
GamesBeat: Esports are definitely exploding at the show this year.
Scibetta: Yeah, and both of those games bring that. We think they’re perfect games to help bring that phenomenon to life.
GamesBeat: You have all the tricks in the E3 hat now. A big game, an esports event, and an immediate download.
Scibetta: And quality. It always comes back to quality. If you have good games, they’ll find an audience. It’s our job to give them a platform and help get them out there to people. We’re thrilled to have consumers at the show this year, just like last year, where they can experience beforehand and get excited along with people from the industry. They’ve injected a nice jolt of energy into the show. We love seeing that immediate feedback from the fans.