Nintendo doesn’t have a live physical press event anymore, but it did have one of the biggest booths at the show in the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center. There, it showed off games like Luigi’s Mansion 3, Pokemon Sword & Shield, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. And it closed out the Nintendo Direct with a teaser trailer for the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Reggie Fils-Aime, former head of Nintendo of America, wasn’t there. But Doug Bowser, Reggie’s replacement, gave a light-hearted introduction to the Nintendo Direct.
I spoke with Charlie Scibetta, senior director of corporate communications at Nintendo of America in an office above the booth, as fans jockeyed for position in front of the limited number of game machines in the booth below us.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: Can you summarize the Nintendo Direct? What were the things that good reactions?
Charlie Scibetta: The Nintendo Direct was a great way to start the show. We got to highlight key titles, software that’s going to power the Nintendo Switch into the holiday and beyond. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is a title we’re very excited about. We have a themed area in the booth this year dedicated to that. You can go into the hotel lobby and it’s like a haunted house environment. It’s totally enclosed, so you can get that ambiance and feel, what it’s like to play the game. When you enter that area of the booth and play the game, you really feel like you’re Luigi moving through the mansion.
We have a whole gym in the booth dedicated Pokemon Sword and Shield. People can have a good time battling with their Pokemon in that arena. We have another area dedicated to Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and a lot of great partner titles. We highlighted things in the Nintendo Direct, many of which you can play here at the show. Some things like Animal Crossing will be available early next year. That’s March 20, 2020 for Animal Crossing. That people gave a taste of what they can play next year, but most of what we covered will be playable within now and the end of the calendar year.
And of course at the end we announced there’s going to be a sequel to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That was a high point of the Nintendo Direct. People really embraced that game when it came out. It was a launch game for the Nintendo Switch. People have been eager to know if there was going to be a direct sequel to it, and we can confirm that there will be.
GamesBeat: It’s the third year running for the fan presence here. Are you designing the booth more like a theme park for the fans, in a way?
Scibetta: We think that the introduction of fans and consumers to E3 has brought a jolt of electricity to us that’s welcome. It’s nice to see the reactions and the joy on their faces as they get to experience the titles first-hand. We like to condense the amount of time between when we announce something and when people get a chance to play it. A lot of times that will take the form of going cross-country, going to county fairs or malls, but in the case of E3 it can be done in just a matter of hours, between when we announce and when you can try the games out. That’s when the games shine.
It’s nice to be able to watch them on the Nintendo Direct. It’s nice to be able to see Treehouse Live, going further into detail on those games. But the experience of actually playing it yourself and trying out the features that are talked about is what gives people the understanding of whether there’s magic in the game or not. We think these games have a lot of magic in them, and if people get to experience the games themselves, they can see that.
You want to make the booth an immersive experience if you can. That’s our goal. Three years ago we had Breath of the Wild as our primary game. Two years ago it was Super Mario Odyssey. Last year it was Super Smash Bros. This year we don’t have one dominant game. We have two, with Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Pokemon Sword and Shield as the anchor titles, and then we have the others that people can enjoy, but they’re not as dominant a presence. But you want to make it themed if you can, so that you can feel the game elements not only on the screen, but all around you, seeing and hearing it.
We also have the balcony above the booth that shows the Treehouse Live studio. You can sense the excitement in the booth that way, with our broadcast platform up there. It all works together in concert to bring the show to people. We bring the show to people in a lot of ways, with Treehouse Live and Nintendo Direct. We also had tournaments on Saturday where we showcased Splatoon 2, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Mario Maker 2. Mario Maker 2 got a cameo appearance that was unexpected, and people liked that.
We also had the Best Buy experience. You could play at more than 80 Best Buy stores in the U.S. with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. That’s a great title to play, because just like with Luigi, you can become the character. You get to play as whatever character you want from the Marvel Universe.
GamesBeat: I talked to Take-Two boss Strauss Zelnick earlier. They’ve stepped up their space at E3 with Borderlands 3, but he’s disappointed in some of your fellow big companies disappearing from the show floor. You and Sega are the only recognizable names in the West Hall. How do you feel about that, with the other big companies leaving?
Scibetta: Nintendo believes in E3. We think it’s a great place to not only do business — to talk to people like yourselves, journalists, and the influencers that make YouTube videos, retailers – and interact with the public. We’re bullish on the show. We’re here. We believe in it.
Other companies have to make up their own minds and make their own decisions when it comes to what trade shows they support. That’s based on their own business realities and where they want to spend their money and their cycles and their time. But for us, we like E3. That’s why we’re here.
GamesBeat: Does it make you wonder what else you would support in the rest of the world as far as other shows? Or is this really still the biggest bet you would make on any show?
Scibetta: We support multiple trade shows. We go to Comic-Con. We go to PAX. We obviously go to E3, as we’re talking here right now. I’d say we have the biggest footprint here, in terms of the size of the booth. But it really has to do with what games are available to show, what we want to highlight at any given time of the year. That’s the big decision in terms of which games we feature at a given show.
Right now we’ve had this on the calendar for many years, and we know the titles that are ready to show in June. Mainly those are games that you can play almost right away. In many cases—we have Super Mario Maker 2 coming out later this month. That’s going to be a huge title for us. People like the idea of being able to make their own levels. Most of us have, over the years, played many Super Mario games and wondered what it would be like to create your own. We’re giving people the opportunity to do that. We also have more than 100 levels the developers have created. If you only want to make a couple levels yourself, but you want to play the ones made by the experts who made the game, you can do that too.
From now all the way through the holidays and into next year with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, we have games to power the Nintendo Switch for a good long while.
GamesBeat: Do you like being able to squash rumors at E3 as well?
Scibetta: [Laughs] It’s our job to state the company position. It’s other people’s jobs to raise questions and potentially rumors. We welcome any inquiries about the company and our products, because it means people care.
GamesBeat: We hear a lot about new hardware coming, new versions of the Switch. That seems pretty squashed right now.
Scibetta: Nothing to announce on new hardware. The Nintendo Switch has great momentum right now. We’ve sold more than 34 million worldwide. We’ve sold 14 million units in North America.
GamesBeat: But you’re developing a new Zelda, and people think a new console might go with it.
Scibetta: All we’ve announced is that we’re developing a new Zelda. We haven’t announced anything hardware-related linked to that announcement.
GamesBeat: Microsoft finally has a Halo to go with their new console.
Scibetta: It does help to have a great launch game when you launch new hardware. We benefited from that—a lot of people bought Nintendo Switch to play Breath of the Wild. Once they played that game, when they had the hardware in their hands, they liked the value proposition of the hardware. You can take a home console experience, play it in the family room on your big-screen TV, and then take that with you anywhere you want to go and play your favorite games. You can do that with Breath of the Wild. You can do that with a lot of other titles. We have more than 2,000 games on Nintendo Switch right now.
People have responded to being able to play games in that way. Our job is to make sure we have a steady pipeline of games coming that are going to make that system one that they want to interact with.
GamesBeat: I take it you have no plans to deviation from the usual lifespan of the console, since this one is doing so well. It seems like it’ll be as long-lived as any.
Scibetta: We think the Nintendo Switch has a long run left in it. As long as we continue to make great games for it, we think people will continue to buy it and enjoy it.
GamesBeat: As far as exclusives and third parties, it almost seems like an open door right now as far as what can come to the Switch. Do you perceive it that way, or do you still see this as a curated platform?
Scibetta: When it comes to the deals that our publisher-developer relations team makes with our publishing partners, sometimes those are multiplatform and sometimes those are unique to Nintendo Switch. Often people think that the Nintendo Switch is the best platform to bring their creative vision to life, because of its unique control scheme, being able to attach the Joy-Cons, and they make it exclusive. If they want to go multiplatform that’s their decision too. We welcome both models.
GamesBeat: What do you think of the experiment with VR?
Scibetta: It’s worked well for us on Nintendo Labo. That’s the only product we have right now. We haven’t announced any other VR compatibility or functionality. But Nintendo Labo has worked very well for us.
GamesBeat: With the Marvel game, do you view that as especially interesting this year, because of Marvel’s big surge in the movies?
Scibetta: It’s great if something that’s happening in pop culture can have a carry-over effect to a game. Ultimately the game has to be able to stand on its own in terms of having great gameplay. We think that game does. You could take the gameplay in that and even without the great IP associated with it, it would be a good game. You could say the same thing about a lot of Nintendo games. You could take Luigi’s Mansion 3. That’s great gameplay, no matter what IP you put on top of it. But because Luigi is so beloved, he brings so many special feelings that you’ve built up for that character over the years. That makes it even more heightened when you play it.
We feel good about Marvel and the excitement they’ve generated through their film properties. We’re hoping that has a cascade effect through the game itself.
GamesBeat: How are you feeling about Nintendo Switch Online right now?
Scibetta: It’s good. People have responded well to it. More and more people are downloading the app and purchasing it. It’s good value at $20 a year. It’s a great way to interact with our games. One of the things people like about it is the ability to download games as part of that subscription. That’s a unique characteristic of that subscription model that’s provided by Nintendo.
GamesBeat: Are you showing much in the way of mobile stuff on the floor?
Scibetta: We’re not showing mobile at E3. We feel this is more of a console show, where it’s appropriate for us to talk about Nintendo Switch. We do have Mario Kart coming out soon on mobile, but we didn’t feature mobile in our Nintendo Direct or in our booth this year at E3.
GamesBeat: There’s no timeline for the new Zelda yet, right?
Scibetta: No timeline. It’s in development.
GamesBeat: Are you ready to say who’s leading the Zelda production and which team it is?
Scibetta: [The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel is in great hands. Eiji Aonuma and Hidemaro Fujibayashi, the producer and director of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, are returning in the same roles for this new game.]
GamesBeat: The last one showed up at a few E3s. Two or three? I don’t know if that’s an indicator for what to expect.
Scibetta: I don’t have any timeline to give you on the development time for that one, how many E3s it’ll be at. For this E3, we wanted to have it at the end of the Nintendo Direct, but not on the show floor.
GamesBeat: So nobody is seeing it behind closed doors either?
Scibetta: No, we don’t have it here at the show.
GamesBeat: How do you feel about cloud gaming? Do you have anything you’re saying about that aspect of the landscape of games right now, whether it looks interesting?
Scibetta: It’s interesting to us. We’re certainly looking at that technology. We don’t have anything to announce in terms of Nintendo implementation of streaming or cloud-based gaming, other than the products we’re already talking about. Nothing to announce on that front, but it’s certainly something we’re keeping an eye on.
GamesBeat: What do you think about gamer culture now? We have more and more influencers out there amassing big audiences and shaping opinion.
Scibetta: People like to get their news and information in different ways. We like to communicate to people like yourself that have audiences who respect your opinion. When it comes to influencers, it’s a bit of a nebulous definition these days, as to what an influencer is. There are people who create content on YouTube. There are people who have social followings on sites like Instagram. There are different ways to get information out. We talk to retailers because they talk to the people who come into their stores. We like to make an impression on them.
Certainly there’s the general public. We communicate to them directly with Nintendo Direct, Treehouse Live, and all the different announcements that go on there. There are a lot of different ways you can get information out. We like to use all of them, so people can find their information about Nintendo any way they want to.
When it comes to staying positive, Nintendo is a positive company. We like to put smiles on faces. That’s our philosophy. We try to create online communities that foster that. If you ever see people displaying negative behavior in our communities, we encourage people to report that so we can deal with it. But in general we like to foster a positive community. I think most people look to that when they think of Nintendo. It’s a family-friendly company. It’s social. We like to welcome all people. We think that we should create an environment where people feel welcome to interact with us and our products.
GamesBeat: Have you figured out, at this point, how you like people to interact with Nintendo IP online? Whether it’s videos or—there used to be days when Nintendo didn’t want people appropriating its imagery or whatever else in their videos. This generation seems to be much more of the maker mindset, the fan-fiction mindset, and other things related to remaking the IP in a way they want it to be.
Scibetta: Certainly—I’m sure Let’s Play videos are a big part of what your question is based on. A lot of people like to play our games and comment on those games. That’s fair use. We think that’s a great way to get people excited about our games, when people are talking about their impressions. We also have mobile gaming, which is a way to introduce people to our IP. If you like a game on the mobile platform and you want to stick with that, that’s fine, or you might want to move to the Nintendo Switch and try it out there as well. It’s the same with the theme parks, like Universal. The first one will be opening in Osaka in 2020. That’s a great way to interact with our IP.
We don’t hand off our IP to other people to create their own video games or stories. We like to do that ourselves, through our developers. Super Mario Maker—we think we’ve created a game that gives people the tools and the IP to create levels in ways that they always wanted to, but we can maintain quality control on that, because the game is set up in such a way that the levels you create will work. You’re not going to see our IP put in positions we’re not comfortable with. That’s a unique case, but I think it’s a great example of us putting that IP in people’s hands in a way we think is fun and hopefully going to put smiles on their faces.
GamesBeat: How was Doug’s first appearance as the leader?
Scibetta: The reaction we’ve seen has been very positive. He had a tongue-in-cheek moment with the video game Bowser on the Nintendo Direct, which was a lot of fun. It’s a wink and a nod for the fans who are in on the joke about his name and how it relates to that classic Nintendo character. But Doug’s a great leader for us. He’s been with the company multiple years. He knows the culture. He knows his job and Nintendo of America’s job is to highlight great creations that our developers make back in Kyoto. Our job is to give those products visibility and to explain to people, through things like Treehouse Live, what’s unique and fun about the game, and ultimately to distribute them to retailers and through our eShop so we can get them in people’s hands and people can play them. Doug is carrying on the legacy that Nintendo of America has always carried, which is to bring these great creations to life.
GamesBeat: Do you miss Reggie?
Scibetta: Reggie was a great leader for us. He’ll always be with us, because in his own words, he’s a Nintendo fan. He’ll be watching. He did a great job as the leader of Nintendo of America for many years. Doug learned under Reggie, as we all did. We respect Reggie, and we wish him well in retirement, but we know he’s always going to be with us as a Nintendo fan.
GamesBeat: Do you feel like your year is somehow reflective of a cycle as far as how the games come out for a new platform? I wonder where we are relative to things going through a pipeline, things you plan for the beginning, the middle, and the end of a cycle. What’s here, what’s on the floor, what does that tell gamers about where the big efforts are right now?
Scibetta: We’re in the sweet spot of development for Nintendo Switch. What developers want is a way to bring their game to people in a unique way, in a way that’s going to bring their creation to life. We think Nintendo Switch does that in a unique way. It can be played in the home, and then also taken on the go. It’s reached an installed base now of more than 34 million worldwide. Developers know that if they put the development cycles in for Nintendo Switch, there’s going to be an audience for it.
They’re also familiar enough with the hardware by now that they know its capabilities. They’ve worked with the Nintendo teams that help them with software development, understanding how to maximize the capabilities of the system, whether it’s processing power or RAM or the unique control scheme it offers or the online capabilities. All the things that can bring their game to life, they know that now. We’re seeing the fruits of that effort and the development teams’ labors in all the great games you see here at E3 and that we highlighted in the Nintendo Direct.