By Matt Day
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — The Nintendo Switch, released to the world March 3, had the best-selling 48 hours out of the gate in North America of any video-game console ever made by the Japanese company.
That feat is remarkable, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said in an interview, because the Switch was released on a weekend in early March, rather than during the run-up to the game industry’s peak sales period during the holiday season.
Fils-Aime didn’t offer sales figures but said the company planned to ship 2 million consoles to retailers worldwide this month.
“Our challenge now is meeting that consumer demand,” Fils-Aime said.
Many of those devices will likely pass through the company’s Seattle-area production and distribution facility. Down the road is Nintendo’s North American headquarters, where the company handles translation, marketing and some game and hardware development.
All told, Nintendo says it employs about 1,000 people in Washington state.
The new Switch, which converts from traditional home-console TV mode into a mobile device that people can play on the go, is another effort by Nintendo to expand the potential audience for its games, which historically have catered to children and families.
In the interview, Fils-Aime talked about the company’s strategic break from its rivals, virtual reality and plans for the console. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: With Microsoft and Sony packing high-powered hardware into their living-room consoles, what was the thinking that led to this strikingly different mobile concept?
A: Nintendo believes in things that are unique for the marketplace. What we saw was an unmet need of consumers to take their home console experience with them wherever they go — to have that big-screen TV experience when they’re sitting in their living room, but to be completely immersed in the same game when they’re out on the go. It was that key consumer insight.
Q: What’s the target audience for the Switch?
A: We want our platforms and our content to appeal to everyone; we talk about our target market as 5 to 95 (years old). And in this first few days of launch, you really see that. Historically, we’ve been able to deliver on that type of promise.
Q: The Wii U struggled to draw top games built by other companies. What’s different this time?
A: If there’s anything we did differently this time around, we got two of the most used (game development) platforms — the Unity game engine as well as the Unreal game engine — that are both compatible for our system. That’s bringing a lot of content to the platform. I would frame that as something that we spent quite a bit of time to line up.
There is content coming that really has never been on a Nintendo platform, in terms of sports content, in terms of some of the broad-reaching epic types of games, as well as some independent games.
Q: What about virtual reality?
A: It’s a space that we are interested in. But having said that, we like social experiences; we like experiences that the entire family can participate in. And we like experiences that are for the mainstream. It’s an area we continue to study, but at this point we’ve got nothing more to say as to our own designs. As a consumer, there just isn’t a compelling experience out there.
Q: Netflix and video apps are absent from the Switch. Is this console just a gaming device or is other entertainment a part of it?
A: Our development focus was creating a game-playing machine. That’s going to continue to be our focus.
We are having conversations with companies like Netflix and Amazon and Hulu, all of the companies that make a range of different applications. Certainly those types of experiences will come to the platform.
Q: What’s Nintendo’s thought on the couple of travel-ban executive orders from the Trump administration? Any issues in the last couple months with U.S.-based employees trapped abroad?
A: Nintendo, along with our trade association the (Entertainment Software Association), has been public in saying that we welcome all our employees and we’re fortunate that our company is made up of a range of different ethnicities and backgrounds.
We did not have any of those issues the last go-round, thankfully. But again, we do business globally. For us to succeed, we need the very best talent, wherever they may come from. The issues raised by (the first) executive order were quite troubling for us.