Interview: Nintendo’s Doug Bowser on COVID-19’s have an effect on, Animal Crossing’s good fortune, and Transfer Professional rumors

It’s exhausting to believe an organization weathering 2020 significantly better than Nintendo. Due to the outrageous phenomenon of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and regularly sturdy Transfer gross sales — it’s been the best-selling console within the U.S. for 24 immediately months, in step with NPD — Nintendo is driving prime, in spite of a rather restricted vacation free up agenda.

So to shut out the 12 months, we sat down with Nintendo of The usa president Doug Bowser to speak about the highs and lows of 2020 for the corporate and what 2021 would possibly deliver, from the opportunity of a Transfer Professional to the long-awaited Breath of the Wild sequel.

On COVID’s have an effect on on Nintendo

Polygon: Taking a look again, when did you understand COVID used to be going to be a large alternate for mainly everybody within the gaming business, but additionally, used to be going to particularly have an effect on what Nintendo’s methods had been for 2020?

Doug Bowser: I might say, throughout the March time period, throughout February, early March, we had been intently tracking the location. We had been in very shut touch with state and native governments within the spaces the place we have now our workplaces and amenities. In order that could be Washington state, California, New York state. After which, after all, in Canada, each in Toronto and [British Columbia]. And we had been very intently looking at the location and the way it used to be unfolding, and attempted to in reality be delicate to the adjustments in more than a few orders round work-from-home or quarantines, and many others.

And we started most definitely in early March, as a management group, in reality shaping out, if this ever were given to a deadly disease state of affairs, how would we organize the industry? As a result of part of our industry, for us, can can also be successfully achieved running from domestic or running remotely. However we even have a production and distribution facility right here. And we needed to be delicate to that — if more than a few distancing laws got here into position and different protection laws got here into position, we needed to in reality know the way we had been going so that you can function that industry successfully and proceed to distribute our merchandise to our outlets, and in the end, our customers. So in reality, it used to be that March time period that we begin to spool up.

And, you understand, I’m fortunate we engaged in that way. We’ve all the time had industry continuity plans in position, however they didn’t essentially come with a deadly disease. I’m no longer positive many corporations have a deadly disease plan structured.

Yeah, completely. How used to be your free up calendar, what you’re hanging out to the general public, impacted by way of COVID? Or used to be it in any respect, or no longer in reality?

It used to be impacted some, particularly throughout the sooner days, as we had been sorting thru what used to be going to occur with outlets, how customers had been going to be eating content material when it comes to media content material — the place had been they going to get their information, their leisure — as a result of that used to be going to pressure us to probably pivot one of the advertising aspect.

Clearly, my tasks are for Nintendo of The usa, which is a lot more of a gross sales and advertising serve as. We had been in shut touch with our mother or father corporate in Japan, figuring out any conceivable affects on dev cycles, and if that may regulate in any respect our free up schedules. As we watch that, and as there will have been slight adjustments in dates, then we’re looking to react with figuring out what portions of our evergreen catalog may just we insert and pressure to proceed to stay the momentum that we’ve got been seeing as we went into the duration.

Captain Olimar in Pikmin 3 Deluxe

Symbol: Nintendo EAD/Nintendo

So is that mainly what determines like, “Hello, we’re going so that you can fill on this hole with one thing like Pikmin [3 Deluxe],” as an example?

Yeah. We take a look at numerous various factors. To begin with, we communicate so much right here about audiences and the audiences that we wish to goal thru more than a few campaigns, thru more than a few efforts. Then, we take a look at the content material this is coming our approach, each {hardware} and device, and resolve how that may are compatible into the ones audiences and the way we wish to be in contact. And we have now a just right secure beat of latest releases that come right through the 12 months.

One thing distinctive about Nintendo is, our content material is launched year-round. However then, we additionally take a look at the content material coming from our third-party publishing companions, whether or not the ones be AAA properties or indie builders, and work out find out how to slot the ones in. After which, something we really feel is exclusive about Nintendo is the energy of our evergreen catalog, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and the way can we are compatible the ones into our messages? So we have now information, and we have now conversations that we will have year-round. And obviously that used to be heightened throughout the pandemic, to in reality perceive as issues had been moving. We needed to be versatile, and we needed to be nimble, and transfer the ones round.

Animal Crossing in 2020 and the plan for 2021

For what it’s value, it ended up being an excessively sturdy 12 months. I imply, I feel nobody in reality anticipated — and I’m positive you guys are even incorporated in that — moderately what came about with Animal Crossing [New Horizons], which used to be simply, and is still, a juggernaut. How some distance past expectancies did Animal Crossing opt for y’all?

“Well past expectancies” is, I feel, the most straightforward strategy to put it in. I don’t know that we anticipated it to be in reality the cultural touchpoint that it changed into around the globe. And what we had been happy to look is the way it redefined how folks thought of video video games and the way they integrated it of their lives.

We noticed folks celebrating graduations; having birthday events; weddings, even — just about, in the course of the sport itself. And we had been happy to look that we had been ready to offer a bit of of a respite in what used to be lovely chaotic occasions and difficult occasions for people. So it’s a results of many stuff. To begin with: Builders did a good looking process of making a perfect universe, a perfect surroundings, nice characters, and in order that used to be very a lot attractive. However then, after all, the time of its free up allowed numerous individuals who hadn’t even performed video video games to return in and revel in and perceive no longer handiest video video games, however perceive Animal Crossing a lot additional.

A villager in Animal Crossing: New Horizons stands among some trees

Symbol: Nintendo by way of Polygon

You already know, I used to be taking a look again to [Animal Crossing:] New Leaf and the best way that sport used to be supported long-term. It had its yearlong agenda. After which, mainly, it caught with that very same agenda for a number of years. After which there used to be an important content material replace that got here later.

Given the speedy good fortune of [New Horizons], do you foresee following a equivalent cadence as New Leaf? Or do you assume this turns into extra one thing in line of the Animal Crossing cell sport, which is repeatedly evolving? At this level, you’re freeing, like, as soon as 1 / 4, an attractive important replace in New Horizons. Do you spot that proceeding past this primary 12 months? Or what do you spot because the plan there?

Yeah, I see two attainable avenues right here, one you already discussed, which has been our replace agenda that comes from the builders. And that may be round seasons, it may be round occasions, it may be round enhanced gameplay options. And that may proceed as we cross ahead.

I feel the article this is very distinctive and other about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, on the other hand, may be the [user-generated content], and folks’s talent to in reality lean into user-generated content material and make that to be had and to proportion that with their pals. And that doesn’t occur on any cadence. That’s an ongoing, repeatedly converting and evolving surroundings the place folks can discuss with each and every different’s islands and profit from that UGC, deliver it to their islands and proportion it. So I feel that’s some other facet that in reality is strengthening the engagement through the years with Animal Crossing.

Positive. Along with the UGC, you foresee those kinds of updates that we’ve been seeing within the first 12 months proceeding into the following 12 months?

We certainly see that proceeding.

a screenshot of Super Mario Bros. 35 in which only seven of the 34 other players remain in Course 4-1

Symbol: Nintendo

On Nintendo Transfer On-line and whether or not Xbox Sport Go may just come to Transfer

I wish to communicate slightly bit about Nintendo [Switch] On-line and and the paintings Nintendo has achieved with that carrier. Clearly, some primary releases got here out this 12 months that had been unique to the carrier. Do you foresee that as being type of the tactic? You already know, clearly, there’s a bunch of people who simply wish to play on-line video games with their Transfer, in order that they’re simply going to subscribe for that. However when it comes to bringing folks in, do you spot that as being the principle approach to get folks subscribed — those [exclusives like] Tetris 99 and Tremendous Mario Bros. 35, stuff like that, that may give folks a explanation why to subscribe to this carrier?

We’re proceeding to observe how persons are attractive with the carrier. The highest two causes that folks lately acquire a subscription to Nintendo Transfer On-line are the facility to play our video games on-line, and the second one is the facility to interact in content material such as you simply discussed — and no longer handiest Tremendous Mario Bros. 35 or Tetris 99, but additionally the catalog of NES and SNES titles. We’re at over 100 titles which are to be had presently. A few of the ones now be able to be performed in multiplayer shape, the place the originals didn’t. So there’s a prime degree of engagement on that aspect. However the ones are the highest two causes folks make a selection to subscribe, in conjunction with cloud save and one of the different advantages, and we’ll proceed to conform the carrier as we cross ahead, ensuring we’re offering new and contemporary capability and video games for people.

So the large speaking level of this 12 months within the video games business has been Microsoft’s Sport Go. Clearly, they’re other, as a result of Sport Go is a subscription rate to get admission to a library of video games, no longer a rate folks pay to play on-line, however do you spot Nintendo Transfer On-line because the counteroffer to one thing like Sport Go?

The best way I take a look at it’s, we wish to be offering customers alternatives on Nintendo Transfer, and clearly, the facility to shop for the video games and play the video games that they make a selection to play. The truth that we have now neatly over an connect fee to each and every Transfer unit that’s been put in during the last 4 years is a sign that customers wish to eat content material that approach.

Sorry, simply to verify — by way of “that approach,” you imply buying video games for my part?

Precisely, buying video games for my part. However we additionally acknowledge that there are customers who wish to have get admission to to different portions of our again catalog, like our NES and SNES titles, and Nintendo Transfer On-line is some way that they’re ready to get admission to the ones titles. So we wish to give them choices on how they might wish to eat content material. So we’re leveraging each to offer them get admission to to a large catalog.

I do know that folks have requested and spoken to Microsoft in regards to the thought of one thing like Sport Go ever showing on Transfer. Is that one thing that you’re ever making an allowance for?

The best way I might solution that, Russ, is: We’re all the time taking a look at more than a few ways in which we will have interaction our customers presently. Now we have discovered that our catalog and the third-party publishing catalog that’s to be had, whether or not that’s thru Nintendo Transfer On-line or thru frontline sport acquire, has in reality been permitting us to do this.

Mario faces Petey Piranha in a screenshot from Super Mario Sunshine on Nintendo Switch

Symbol: Nintendo

Why are sure video games being got rid of from the eShop after March 31, 2021?

I sought after to particularly speak about a technique that Nintendo is doing with Transfer On-line, in regards to the sunsetting I don’t know what the precise terminology is, however successfully, video games which are now not to be had after March 31, 2021. What’s the good judgment? Why is that just right for customers?

Yeah, I feel I take advantage of a easy phrase: birthday celebration. It simply — this can be a birthday celebration of Mario’s 35th anniversary. And we needed to have fun in distinctive and alternative ways, and we’ve achieved that thru video games like Tremendous Mario 3-D All-Stars, or we can be doing that thru long term releases, corresponding to Tremendous Mario 3-D International + Bowser’s Fury.

After which we’ve additionally achieved it thru releases corresponding to Sport & Watch: Tremendous Mario Bros., or thru Mario Kart Reside: House Circuit. There are more than a few ways in which we’re celebrating Mario’s 35th. And with a few of these titles, we felt it used to be a possibility to free up them for a restricted time frame. They’ve achieved very, rather well. Tremendous Mario 3-D All-Stars has offered over 2.6 million gadgets within the U.S. by myself. And so obviously, customers had been ready to leap in and revel in that. And it’s no longer technique that we’re going to be the use of broadly, but it surely’s one we idea used to be very distinctive for the true anniversary.

Yeah, and the birthday celebration facet I completely get. Clearly, you could have long past complete hog on freeing superb Mario video games this 12 months. I simply don’t perceive the shopper aspect of it, the place somebody who buys a Transfer in June of subsequent 12 months is simply by no means gonna be capable to purchase the ones video games. I simply don’t see the upside, moderately in truth.

Yeah, at this level, the verdict used to be in reality made round that birthday celebration characteristic and facet. I will’t talk to plans past the the top of March.

A Nintendo Switch and the new Nintendo Switch lite, side by side

Picture: Michael McWhertor/Polygon

Is Nintendo keeping again video games for a Transfer Professional?

We talked slightly bit about it previous, in regards to the lineup and the way the lineup type of shifted right through the 12 months as a result of COVID. And I feel it manifested in a couple of tactics. I might no longer in any way name Nintendo’s lineup within the vacation season a mild lineup. However once more, simply hanging it in opposition to 2019, as an example, with Hyperlink’s Awakening and Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Pokémon … it’s clearly roughly a special beast, as opposed to this 12 months, which, you understand, we have now Pikmin 3, nice sport; Hyrule Warriors [Age of Calamity], nice sport; Mario Kart Reside: House Circuit, additionally in reality just right. However you don’t essentially have the large new internally evolved sport. And I remember that delays occur, particularly as a result of COVID.

However I additionally know that there were some discussions that Nintendo is also looking to grasp again sure titles for probably some {hardware} adjustments at some point. I sought after to grasp if that’s one thing that you simply guys are taking a look at, strategizing round, to make certain that, “Hello, if we had been to replace the {hardware} come what may, we might have, like, a robust sufficient lineup to do this.”

Russ, the best way I’d solution this is, as we take a look at the fourth 12 months of Nintendo Transfer, we proceed to look very, very sturdy momentum. We see the platform interesting to a variety of customers. This 12 months, specifically, we’ve noticed extra girls avid gamers come into Nintendo Transfer platforms, girls that had no longer owned a Nintendo Transfer platform up to now, and so they’re attractive in our content material in new and alternative ways.

We’ve been ready to introduce no longer handiest video games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, however from our companions, video games like like Hades or Minecraft Dungeons, or Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Now we have numerous other ways in which avid gamers are coming in and tasty the content material, and it’s no longer all AAA content material.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Link stands atop a mountain

Nintendo EPD/Nintendo by way of Polygon

However former AAA content material is doing extremely neatly, too. One of the vital best titles which are nonetheless purchased after somebody buys a Nintendo Transfer lately are titles like Mario Kart Eight Deluxe or Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Tremendous Mario Odyssey. In order that again catalog continues to be contemporary and new for any new buyer of a Nintendo Transfer. And that performs into how we marketplace and communicate with our customers.

So with a catalog of over 4,000 video games to be had and Nintendo Transfer promoting very, rather well — I feel you noticed the NPD numbers from October, the place we offered 735,000 gadgets, up 136% 12 months over 12 months — November goes to be an similarly sturdy month for us. I will’t divulge the knowledge as a result of NPD shall be speaking about it this afternoon. However I feel you’re going to look an similarly sturdy month from Nintendo within the month of November, with an excessively sturdy each 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 the place that issues me is, we can be freeing content material, as I discussed previous, on a typical cadence year-round. And there’s much more to return, clearly, as you consider our IP, and we’ll free up it when it’s proper and when it’s in a position and after we’ve were given nice gameplay reviews. However within the interim, we proceed to lean into what I feel continues to be an excessively sturdy lineup for this vacation and an excessively sturdy catalog.

Three Nintendo Switch Lites laying on a table. One is yellow, one is grey, and the other is turquoise.

Symbol: Nintendo

Clearly, rumors of a “Transfer Professional” have mainly been floating round for years at this level. You already know, for some time it used to be along the Transfer Lite, after which that didn’t finally end up going down. At the present time, {hardware} energy is all of the rage. Nintendo hasn’t ever been one to push {hardware}, however clearly, at this level, a 720p hand-held display screen is getting slightly bit creakier. How does that fit with Nintendo’s long-held means of updating the {hardware} after, let’s say, 3 or 4 years?

Yeah. A few ideas there. There have been a couple of questions in there. Let me simply spoil it down. First, we’re all the time taking a look at era. And as we all know, era is repeatedly evolving and converting. And we’re all the time taking a look at what’s coming to resolve: How can it give a boost to and toughen the gameplay enjoy? And whether or not that’s on a present platform, or whether or not that’s on a long term platform, we’re all the time taking a look at that.

Then again, we additionally see presently — and we simply mentioned it — that the momentum on Nintendo Transfer and Nintendo Transfer Lite within the fourth 12 months is powerful. And we consider we’re converting the trajectory of some other standard console lifestyles cycle. And we can proceed, for the foreseeable long term, to in reality lean into either one of the ones platforms and the content material that includes it, as it’s the symbiotic courting that makes the actual distinction. And it’s why Nintendo Transfer is so differentiated.

First, the {hardware} shape issue, clearly, is one thing — that you’ve got a gaming device that you’ll be able to play at domestic as a console, and you’ll be able to take at the cross and play in hand-held mode just about any place — is exclusive and stays distinctive inside the business. However then the best way we construct video games onto the platform, and the best way companions construct video games onto the platform, is in reality what issues and the enjoy that you’ve got while you play. In order that’s what we’ll proceed to lean into as we cross into in reality what is going to be the 5th 12 months of Nintendo Transfer. And as Mr. [Shuntaro] Furukawa [president of Nintendo] discussed in his company control coverage briefing, we consider we’re simply on the midpoint of this lifestyles cycle in this platform.

So I assume that that is going again to my query, which is to mention, as a result of the good fortune of the Transfer and the Transfer Lite, does that purchase you time with {hardware} that, if it wasn’t doing as neatly, you would have to refresh quicker?

It lets in us to to control the lifestyles cycle another way, I might say. I feel that’s the best way to place it. At the moment, with the momentum that we’ve got, our center of attention shall be at the present shape elements.

blue left Joy-Con for Nintendo Switch, on a wooden surface

Samit Sarkar/Polygon

On Pleasure-Con glide

I sought after to speak slightly bit about I understand it’s roughly a four-letter phrase however Pleasure-Con glide. Clearly, Nintendo has a protracted recognition of in reality sturdy {hardware}, however that is one thing that has no longer long past away. I do know you be offering unfastened maintenance for folks; they may be able to mail of their Pleasure-Cons. It seems like this is still, like, a Band-Support that’s being put over it. And I sought after to grasp, long run, are there {hardware} designs deliberate to deal with this in order that when folks purchase a brand new Transfer, they’re no longer essentially being concerned, “Hello, I’m going to wish to ship in my Pleasure-Con each and every six months or so”?

In the beginning, we would like each and every client to have a perfect enjoy with their Nintendo Transfer and with the video games they play on Nintendo Transfer. That’s of extreme significance to us. Our venture is to place smiles on faces. And we wish to make certain that occurs. If customers have any factor with our {hardware} and/or device, we would like them to touch us, when we can paintings thru the right kind approach to get them up and operating as rapid as conceivable.

Explicit to the Pleasure-Cons themselves, we’ve been running very intently with customers if and when they may have problems, whether or not it’s a substitute or restore. After which, what I will be able to say, as we take a look at our restore cycles, we’re all the time taking a look at what’s being despatched in and for what causes, and figuring out that higher. And with out going into any main points, it all the time provides us a possibility to make enhancements as we cross ahead.

Checking in on Breath of the Wild 2, amongst others

I notice there’s little or no you should most definitely say about those titles, however there were a couple of titles that experience necessarily long past tremendous radio silent. I sought after to look if there’s the rest you’ll be able to proportion relating to their standing. Particularly: Bayonetta 3, Metroid Top 4, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2.

You’ve adopted Nintendo lengthy sufficient to grasp that as we development on any name, and we deem it’s the fitting second, we can proportion with the neighborhood the place we’re within the building. At this level, although, I’ve not anything extra that I will proportion on the ones titles.

The cast of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Symbol: Koei Tecmo Video games/Nintendo

Yeah. I do wish to particularly speak about Hyrule Warriors [Age of Calamity]. Zelda’s canon is more or less wild, as you neatly know. However doing this tie-in for a sport that you simply’ve introduced, type of as a setup to it, is an attractive distinctive technique. Is that this one thing that you simply foresee, given the good fortune of Hyrule Warriors, proceeding with different franchises? Like, “Hello, we’re gonna have those video games which are the large interior AAA studio video games. However perhaps we will enlist different studios to paintings in tactics to type of set the ones video games up.”

I’m cautious by no means to talk for our builders. I would like them to be talking for themselves relating to how they broaden video games. However what I will say at a macro degree is, each and every developer in reality has the fitting to make selections as to how they wish to organize the IP, how they’ll wish to introduce sequential titles as they cross ahead, how they’ll wish to broaden the ones titles. And so I will’t say that there’s a set development that you are going to see, as a result of each and every developer seems at their IP and appears at their video games very, very another way.

Yeah. However out of your point of view, you’re most often keen on this technique?

I feel it’s labored rather well for The Legend of Zelda. I feel this has been an excellent interlude as folks come off enjoying Breath of the Wild. And in the event that they haven’t even completed Breath of the Wild, there’s nonetheless many [who are] nonetheless very, very a lot engaged within the sport. And there are lots of extra which are entering the sport. However I feel this can be a nice subsequent sport within the franchise.

a red-haired woman playing the Nintendo Switch Lite

Picture: Michael McWhertor/Polygon

Nintendo into 2021, from theme parks to Lego

Cool. I’ll finish it simply by asking, what can folks widely be expecting from Nintendo in 2021?

Yeah, as we glance ahead, to start with, we can proceed to lean into the momentum that we’re seeing from a {hardware} point of view in bringing extra customers into video gaming. Clearly, video gaming right through the pandemic is turning into a highly regarded type of leisure. It’s been a protected type of leisure — whether or not it’s households at domestic enjoying at the sofa in combination, whether or not it’s pals enjoying with pals on-line. Increasingly folks had been offered to video gaming, have are available in the course of the Nintendo Transfer, for example. And we’ll proceed to reinforce the ones customers thru our {hardware}, and thru our device, and thru our products and services. And that in reality shall be our center of attention as we cross into 2021. As I discussed previous, we consider we’re on the midpoint of the lifestyles cycle at the platform. And there’s many extra just right issues to return.

Yeah, that’s gonna be a longevity cycle for the platform.

Oh, yeah. And there’s one more thing, Russ, I used to be going to say as we stay up for 2021, and I nearly forgot to say it. As a result of we’ve been so desirous about video video games, let’s no longer fail to remember the opposite ways in which folks had been attractive in our IP.

It’s a very powerful a part of Nintendo’s technique: We wish to proportion our IP with as many of us all over the world as conceivable. And it’s no longer all immediately thru our online game reviews. A few of the ones is also thru our leisure reviews. So I feel you’ve noticed, only in the near past, we introduced with Common Studios in Japan that we can be opening the Tremendous Nintendo International in February of subsequent 12 months in Osaka. In order that’s a technique that we’re going so that you can in reality proportion Nintendo, in our immersive worlds and our IP, with customers who will not be enjoying video video games lately. Or thru a few of our approved actions, corresponding to some actions we’ve achieved with Levi’s or with Lego or with Puma, and all the ones contact issues permit us to show folks to the joys this is Nintendo and the grins that Nintendo delivers. And our hope is that it brings them deeper into the built-in online game reviews that we provide.

Inside the Koopa’s Castle Mario Kart ride

Symbol: Nintendo/Common Studios Japan by way of Twitter

I simply wish to communicate concerning the [theme] parks technique, which is clearly a big new sector for Nintendo. How a lot of a focal point is that, shifting over the following 5 years, when it comes to turning Nintendo into one thing that’s the similar of Harry Potter International and stuff like that? Turning Nintendo into this position that you’ll be able to discuss with, as opposed to simply enjoying it on a display screen?

It in reality is what I used to be bringing up. It’s this chance to create incremental contact issues and introduce folks all over the world to Nintendo who will not be enjoying video video games lately, or would possibly not also have get admission to to video video games lately. And that may be thru reviews like Common. It may be thru reviews like films, which, we have now a challenge we’ve introduced with Illumination Studios; it may be thru our cell content material; however with the function of in the end proceeding to deliver them into our devoted video games ecosystem reviews.

Doug, what’s the Nintendo International park appeal that you wish to have to do first?

Mario Kart, with out query. I’m so excited. I stay up for the day I will trip once more, and I stay up for getting in the market and experiencing it reside.

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