Nintendo president talks mobile gaming, Nintendo Switch, virtual reality

Tatsumi Kimishima, who took the reins of Japanese entertainment company a year ago, discusses its new console, expresses caution about VR and says smartphone game releases help its core business

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 1:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 1:02pm

It’s been a year since Tatsumi Kimishima became president of Nintendo, taking the reins from the late Satoru Iwata. A former banker, Kimishima is now overseeing one of the biggest shifts in the Japanese company’s history.

Switch, a new console that the Kyoto-based company will start selling in March, will be at the centre of an entertainment web that will include mobile gaming, theme parks and merchandising. The device has a tablet-like display unit that connects with a TV, but can also be taken out and about. 

In a recent interview, Kimishima talks about the upcoming release of Switch and more.

What can you say about your first year in charge?

Three years ago, all of us together – the previous president, Genyo Takeda (technology head) and Shigeru Miyamoto (creative head) – created a plan to revitalise our business, which included smart devices, our new hardware and maximising our intellectual property. Quite simply, the biggest issue was not about whether I change this, but how do I execute these projects? Now the critical period is finally here. From the end of this fiscal period and into the next one is when we actually show the product and deliver it to our customers.

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Why did Nintendo decide to combine household and portable gaming?

We didn’t just want a successor to the Wii U or the 3DS. So our original concept was, “What kind of new experience can we create?” And what we showed this time was an object that’s both stationary and one you can take outside to play with anyone you want.

Is the Switch part of a bigger hardware plan?

The part we’ve shown this time is just a conceptual image of how the Switch is different from the Wii U and previous systems. Going forward, of course, in terms of what kind of accessories will come out, we want to show this in January and later. By no means was that everything.

Is there a chance we will see Switch evolve after it’s released in March?

What we haven’t shown you yet is the software line-up. We haven’t shown all of our first-party software. When we make new hardware, how it works with our software is critical. We want people to touch the device in January and experience the software for themselves.

There seem to be many possibilities for your hardware and software ecosystem. What do you think of hardware tie-ups with other companies?

If you asked me if it’s possible, in terms of if we’re getting ready, no, this is not happening at this moment. But in terms of the various ways you can play, you will have to see it together with the software and accessories, which we will reveal in January. In terms of attachments to the core part that is the Switch, it may be appropriate to call them accessories. Or it might be better to call them add-on hardware. It’s probably more correct to call them accessories. You can assume that there will be a wider array.

What’s your view on virtual reality?

Miyamoto has talked about this several times. It’s not that we’re uninterested. In fact, we have a lot of interest. VR offers the experience of playing in a new way. But that depends on the software and how you use it to play. Especially when it comes to games. And beyond games, it also applies to other non-game things, so it is something to look forward to.

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Will Switch have VR capabilities? Are you developing VR that will connect to Switch?

If you asked as if this might be possible in the future, certainly we can’t say no. In terms of how it can be used for gaming, it’s something we must consider. It depends on the system specifications. I can’t say that we have no interest in VR because VR offers new ways of playing, but that depends on what kind of software can be played. But what kind of software works, that’s only something you only know once you actually experience it. And our games are ones that are usually played for a long time.

What is Nintendo’s philosophy toward smartphone games?

Our main business is the hardware/software business. In addition, our smartphone business has helped sell a lot of our existing packages. And it has really proved our original thesis: by releasing our software on the smartphone, it positively impacts our existing hardware and software business. And that’s precisely the synergy effect we were expecting. And as that has been proven correct, we have more confidence.

Where do smartphones and Switch fit into your ecosystem?

There’s an image of our future that our previous president painted two years ago: we had what we called NX – which is now the Switch – and surrounding it are our businesses for smartphones, theme parks, movie-related businesses.

Were you surprised at the market’s reaction to Switch video, with shares falling?

To tell you the truth, I was surprised. I had wondered about the reaction. But I don’t understand why. And there’s no real point in me talking about the stock price.

What’s your assessment of where Nintendo is at in terms of profitability and sales?

Our revenue has fallen for eight straight years. What we aim for is to increase the number of people who play games. We want to deliver all kinds of new surprises to our customers, and it is through their support that our revenue increases. That’s the end result. But if that result doesn’t show, that means we weren’t able to deliver. Next year is when we see the result.