Nintendo’s President on Streaming, 5G Wireless, and E-Sports
When presenting on stage at E3, one of the world’s biggest video game conferences, it’s easy for executives to get nervous. And few have more reasons to be nervous than Nintendo’s North America president Doug Bowser.
Putting aside the usual pressures that come with E3, the press conferences, the announcements, the consumer reactions, Bowser has a legacy to uphold. He took over after his predecessor, Reggie Fils-Aimé, retired earlier this year, and many are still waiting to see what exactly the new leader has to offer.
Yet, Bowser looks calm while sitting in Nintendo’s booth at E3, even when discussing the growing list of companies vying for dominance in gaming, and leaks that spoiled Nintendo’s announcements at its annual press conference, Nintendo Direct, earlier that day.
Fortune sat down with Bowser to discuss the gaming market, its future, and where Nintendo fits into it. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Fortune: First off, I need to ask, are you tired of people making jokes about your last name being Bowser like the character from the Mario games?
Doug Bowser: No, not at all. It’s a signal to me that we have an amazing, passionate following, and our fans are embracing it. It’s ironic that we share the same name, and there are times when it’ll be fun and we’ll play with it, but we’re two very, very different characters. I’m not tired of it at all though.
Nintendo has been a leader in the handheld market ever since the original GameBoy. How do you see 5G [the high-speed wireless technology that is supposed to replace 4G LTE] impacting that?
If the promise of 5G comes to fruition, I think it enhances that ability to play anywhere. It will allow for a stronger connection, especially for online play.
That also leads into streaming, the latest gaming trend that allows players to stream games rather than pre-downloading them. Where do you see Nintendo’s efforts there going?
There’s a lot of talk about it this week. It’s interesting to see what various companies are working on when it comes to tech and new technology that may be able to enhance gameplay. It’s obviously something that we’re closely watching. For now, we feel the Switch [Nintendo’s latest console] delivers on a lot of those promises. It’s a device where you can play anywhere at any time with anyone.
You’re seeing a lot of companies come into game streaming like Google, which is a tech company but not a gaming company. What’s your reaction to seeing them and similar companies enter the industry?
I think it speaks to the strength of gaming. I believe it speaks to the industry. Right now it’s the second largest form of entertainment in the world, second only to TV, and that includes both streaming and network TV. It’s growing. Companies are seeing it as an opportunity.
Do you see Google as a competitor?
We choose not to use the word “competitor.” But I think in this industry as people participate if more consumers will come into the industry as a result of that, it’s good for the industry.
It’s interesting to see how various forms of entertainment are able to transform themselves onto other platforms. I think it’s an exciting opportunity for all of us because in the end it allows us to continue to expand our content and bring more people into it. I think it’s a positive.
Nintendo isn’t considered an e-sports powerhouse. But there’s a lot of competitive gameplay especially around games like Smash Brothers, which had a new release about six months ago. Do you see more e-sports opportunities for Nintendo or maybe launching your own league?
There’s a strong set of leagues out there that support competitive play and have the ability to license our product in those tournaments. But we’re not going to underwrite teams and create our own tournament structure with prize money and everything else. We think there are already channels for that out there that are very strong. We just want to be a part of it.
It feels like last year was a really big year for Nintendo after a number of notable titles were released. How do you look back on 2018 now?
The games that we released last year fueled the hardware results. Through two years we sold 34 million Switch units worldwide, and we’re continuing that momentum. Switch is up 22% in the U.S. year-over-year. I think a lot of that is being fueled but the catalog of games we’re creating. It’s this relationship between hardware and software that has allowed us to continue the momentum on Switch through the year.
The closing of Nintendo’s Direct event at E3 was pretty impactful with the announcement of the sequel to Breath of the Wild. Did you have any fear in following up on the massive hit that Breath of the Wild was in 2017?
I guess the direct answer would be no. I think our developers have done an incredible job over the years, and I do mean years, finding ways to take our iconic original characters and worlds and creating games that are respectful to the history of the franchise that was there before. I think that will be the same. The producers and the director that are working on this particular version of Legend of Zelda worked on the Breath of the Wild.
How do you feel now that the Direct is done?
I don’t know if I’m anxious. I’m excited. I’m always excited to see how people are going to react to our content and the story we have to tell. One of our goals is to surprise and delight, and we take a lot of care to make sure we keep things close to the chest and in the vault until we’re ready to launch.
I think you answered my question. Our developers, our company put a great deal of effort into creating our content, in creating our message, and wanting the message to be presented in a way consumers could truly understand what is coming. And we want to have the ability to tell that story when it’s right. Leaks take away from that.
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