In the year that feels like it will never end, we’ve already seen significant changes to our lives and work. Working from home became a necessary procedure for many companies since the pandemic began earlier this year, and the gaming industry is no exception. Of course, this also means that Nintendo has been affected by the COVID-19 virus in assorted ways. We know from reports that the company shifted to a remote work method earlier this year, but what effect has this had on the gaming giant’s plans for 2020?
The most notable difference between 2020 and any other recent year for Nintendo is that there have been fewer major game releases and little news about future titles in production. Nintendo has had its share of both software and hardware droughts in the past, but perhaps because of COVID-19, this period feels a little different. Nintendo claimed that working from home during the pandemic hasn’t had much impact on its software development, but this wasn’t the case for hardware.
Switch was in short supply earlier this year, and Nintendo warned that this would happen, partially due to a delay in getting components from China. However, Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa later said the production issue might get better during summer, and thankfully that appears to be the case as of this month.
As for software, the decrease in major releases and news about future games could lead you to believe that Nintendo’s working-from-home structure is giving it issues with game development. However, in the digital age we live in, how much of an impact could it really have?
Crucially, Nintendo itself has stated that it isn’t a cause for concern. In June, president Furukawa said that they do not see an impact on software set to release this year, but they are concerned about not being able to sell their 2020 games in the event of further COVID-19 waves. This was also echoed by Director and Senior Managing Executive Officer Shinya Takahashi, who added that COVID-19 won’t affect upcoming releases but could in the future if the pandemic continues.
Taken as a whole, Nintendo has been more concerned with the manufacturing and selling of its products, rather than software development. At the same time, the company also acknowledges that game development has been different and could be impacted more in the future.
Nintendo isn’t a publisher that sticks to many patterns, but when it comes to Nintendo Directs, we’ve come to expect a couple of these per year. That said, this year more than any other in recent memory has had the least amount of official news coming from the big N. Nintendo typically delivers an early presentation to let fans know what they can expect in the next 12 months, followed by an E3 Direct and another presentation to round out the year. In 2020, for understandable reasons, we haven’t had a single regular Nintendo Direct, and the year has presented nothing like Nintendo’s established marketing formula.
A planned Nintendo E3 Direct was reportedly canceled, and there still hasn’t been a peep about the Super Mario remasters that were rumored to be releasing this year. Instead, Nintendo has been giving its fans information through other means, such as Paper Mario: The Origami King being revealed on Twitter.
And while Nintendo software development may not have been impacted much yet, various third-party and indie developers cannot say the same. If there are few third-party titles that can be included in a presentation, perhaps Nintendo is simply waiting until it has enough to show from both its internal efforts and indie partners.
To its credit, Nintendo seems to be doing the best it can to provide its fans with smaller and more frequent updates. There has been an appropriately named Nintendo Direct Mini, a Nintendo Direct Mini: Partner Showcase, and a few game-specific presentations. By keeping these streams short and naming them differently from regular presentations, Nintendo is trying to keep expectations in check. It’s difficult to pin down how much of Nintendo’s marketing strategy this year has been a result of COVID-19 versus just being a slow software year, but I speculate that we would have known a lot more about their upcoming lineup if not for the pandemic.
While much of what I’ve discussed sounds like doom and gloom for Nintendo, there are some positives too. With many people at home, there has been a sharp rise in video game sales for Nintendo. People simply need some entertainment during these unusual times, and since video games can be bought and played without having to risk going outside, they’ve been the perfect answer. Switch hardware and both physical and digital game sales are reaching record highs for the company as it was reported that Nintendo profits are up over 400% from last year. Looking at the signs, this success makes sense. Earlier this year the Switch was basically as popular as essential health items in Target, and we now know that Switch has sold a colossal total of 62.03 million units.
Evergreen titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are selling better than ever, and the smash hit that is Animal Crossing: New Horizons is now the second best-selling Switch game, as well as the second best-selling game ever in Japan. It’s hard to say how much of this was due to the quality and hype behind a new Animal Crossing entry versus the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic, but regardless, it’s fantastic news for the Animal Crossing series and its fans.
Being stuck inside meant that many people have struggled to get their regular exercise, and this could explain why some fitness-focused games have also been selling like wildfire. Ring Fit Adventure went from having average sales late last year to ranking as the 7th best-selling game of June in the USA. Building on this, Nintendo further released the free-to-play Jump Rope Challenge, which also saw great success. Evidently, sales are one thing that Nintendo can be happy about, and even it expected that titles like Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition and the DLC for Pokémon Sword and Shield would sell well in the current climate.
So we now know that Nintendo is on top of its hardware supply issues, and game development is supposedly steady. Without knowing specifics about the games in development, it’s difficult to say whether this would have been a bigger year for Nintendo game announcements, but at least the titles that have released are performing well. COVID-19 seems to have had a manageable impact on Nintendo so far, so let’s hope that the worst has already passed.