Nintendo is riding high right now, thanks to the overwhelming success of Niantic’s Pokémon GO, a mobile game that has breathed new life into the franchise with a mainstream audience. With its incredibly successful launch, and Legendary Pictures developing a new Pokémon feature film, things will only continue to grow with the franchise.
Pokémon fever aside, Nintendo is focused on readying the world for its next console, which was a no-show at last June’s E3. Fils-Aimé told [a]listdaily that it was because the convention’s timing did not match with Nintendo’s NX launch strategy. Instead, the company decided to focus almost exclusively on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with a massive E3 booth.
After connecting with the mass market on Wii, Nintendo has lagged in a distant third place with Wii U in the current console landscape. But those who look further back will find that Nintendo had also failed to find a large audience with its GameCube before going back to the drawing board with the Wii.
Reggie Fils-Aimé discusses the company’s strategy as it prepares to unleash the Nintendo NX in spring 2017, and discusses the new marketing opportunities for the brand and its many franchises, in this exclusive interview with [a]listdaily from the Nintendo booth at E3 2016.
How are you seeing things evolving in the console space with Sony and Microsoft launching new consoles this year and Nintendo NX coming out in 2017?
Nintendo has a quite appropriate reputation of doing its own thing, so whatever Microsoft and Sony decide to do, that’s for them to manage. From a Nintendo perspective, we are focused first on making sure that the consumer understands [The Legend of Zelda] Breath of the Wild and some of the other games that we’ve highlighted here at the show, Pokémon Sun and Moon, Pokémon GO, Ever Oasis and Mario Party Star Rush. There was a lot of content that we wanted to showcase at E3. We’ve done that. Now, we’re going to start moving forward communicating more and more about NX as appropriate. For us, it’s all about the right communication at the right time. We believe we’ve got some games that are going to continue to drive our momentum this holiday, and we believe we’ve got a strong concept for NX that we’ll unveil in the future.
Many thought Nintendo was in dire straits after GameCube failed to find an audience, and then Wii exploded. Are there lessons learned from Wii U that are being applied to NX?
Every time we launch a new platform, every time we launch a critical new game, we always learn. We always do our breakdown of what worked, what didn’t, and certainly we’ve done that with Wii U, and we continue to believe that the innovation of the second screen was a worthwhile concept. The games that we’ve launched on the Wii U are hugely compelling: Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, Smash Bros., Bayonetta 2, the Super Mario game, The Legend of Zelda. Arguably, if you line up all of the single platform games for Wii U and the other two platforms, we have by far the most unique games that are highly rated by consumers and highly rated by the media. So those things worked.
One of the things that we have to do better when we launch the NX—we have to do a better job communicating the positioning for the product. We have to do a better job helping people to understand its uniqueness and what that means for the game playing experience. And we have to do a better job from a software planning standpoint to have that continuous beat of great new games that are motivating more and more people to pick up the hardware and more and more people to pick up the software. Those are the critical lessons. And as I verbalize them, they’re really traditional lessons within the industry. You have to make sure people understand the concept, you have to make sure you’ve got a great library of games, and when you do that, you tend to do well.
What are some of the lessons learned from launching mobile apps?
We’ve seen that we can capture people’s attention in the mobile space. Certainly, we’ve seen that we can create an application that’s fun, distinctive, and that has all of that Nintendo charm. And certainly, we’ve seen a huge amount of consumer participation with the app, especially the WiiPhoto app. Wii photos are showing up all over the place. We’ll apply those lessons to the Fire Emblem game and the Animal Crossing games that are launching. In addition to those two, there are another two that will be launching between now and the end of our fiscal year. So we’ve got a strong pipeline of mobile activity that we’re going to continue to bring out into the marketplace.
What impact do you see smartphones playing as a feeder system into these franchises as you launch original mobile games?
Our overall mission is to make consumers smile through our intellectual property. There are four key pillars underneath that mission. One is our dedicated video game business. The second is mobile. The third is licensed merchandise, and the fourth is other entertainment best shown today by our partnership with Universal Studios. All of those we’re going to leverage to drive appeal for the IP. And as we do that, we’re going to monetize those in a variety of different ways. We believe that as a wide swath of consumers have an experience with Fire Emblem on mobile for example, that it’s going to lead them to purchase the full Fire Emblem experience that today is on our handheld. That’s the proposition and we think it’s a very sound strategy.
What’s the strategy when it comes to picking and choosing what to merchandise?
First, we want to be with the right partners. Vans is a great example, a fantastic partner. [Second] we want to be in the right places, meaning what are the retail outlets that these products are going to show up in? Third, we want to be the right intellectual property. We want to do this in a way that is a growing, sustaining type of volume—not hits and misses. From that standpoint, we’re looking at a wide range of categories. Wearables certainly are huge. Collectibles are a big opportunity. The relationship we have with companies like Hasbro and Mattel, bringing our intellectual property to some of their game elements like the Mario-themed Uno set of cards that we’re bringing back. There’s a lot of activity that we’re doing in the space. But the main thing is that we want this to be an upward trajectory growth business, not a cyclical business.
There’s a Froot Loops commercial where parents put their kids to bed and then play Super Mario Bros. What opportunities is this multi-generational gamer family opening up for things like merchandising and theme parks?
It’s opening up huge opportunities for us, and not only in theme parks, not only in licensed merchandise, but it’s opening a branding and marketing opportunity for our mainline games as well. We just launched a new ad, which is a millennial mom talking to her son around different things that he should do in his video game experience. Mom is telling the boy not to leave those coins behind playing Super Mario and which arrow to use to defeat Ganon in Ocarina of Time. It’s reinforcing that millennial parents grew up playing our content, and there’s a huge opportunity to pass on that love to their kids. We’ve gotten tremendous feedback from that ad, and it looks like it’s driving our business—both hardware and software. So there’s a lot of opportunities, especially for Nintendo to speak to millennial parents who grew up playing our product and now have an opportunity to pass on that love to their kids.
Is that going to be an advantage when it comes to launching a new console like the NX?
I surely hope so. Nintendo has been in this video game business over 30 years. We have a rich legacy of wonderful IP. Those are strengths that we have that our competitors don’t, and so leveraging those strengths as we drive our business forward is going to be critically important.
New theme parks are opening up all over the world. What opportunities does this create for Nintendo characters through Universal Studios?
It’s a huge opportunity. What has been really gratifying for me is that the teams between Universal and Nintendo are working tremendously well together. The Universal team not only has a wealth of experience in creating these immersive amusement interactive situations, but they also have a great affinity for our IP. What this promises for the guest at the Universal Studios theme parks is something that’s really magical.
We’re starting to see a difference in the way theme park people create attractions because they know now everyone comes in with smartphones. What does that open up for Nintendo, now that you have mobile games and apps?
You hit the nail on the head. These theme park designers are considering that so many of their patrons have a smart device. They’re thinking about what that means to the overall experience. I’m not going to share anything in this interview, but certainly the Universal team is aware of it. Certainly it is something that they are considering as they work with us to create this theme park experience.
Last year Nintendo had a big eSports presence, and we’ve seen eSports continue to grow. What role does Nintendo play in eSports today?
ESports is a big and vibrant community. We view it as a community. We’re fortunate that we have one of the most acknowledged eSports games in Smash Bros. We’re also fortunate that various eSports leagues have experimented with Splatoon and that looks promising. They’ve experimented with Mario Kart, which could be fun for the younger consumer tier within the eSports area. So we’ve got the content to leverage into this area. It’s something that we’ve continued to look at, and it’s something that we believe can be a great way to reach out to our consumers.