Nintendo’s Doug Bowser is at E3 and ready to prove he’s no villain
This should be evident to anyone with eyes and a brain, but just to be clear: Doug Bowser isn’t a Super Mario villain.
The new Nintendo of America president took over in April after his predecessor, Reggie Fils-Aimé, retired, ending a 13-year run in the role. Fils-Aimé was always known as a savvy manager on the business side of things, but outwardly he projected the image of an affable, fun-loving executive who could embody the spirit of fun and childlike wonder that are central to Nintendo’s games mission.
Bowser seems a bit more subdued, a gentler contrast to Reggie’s booming energy. And while he’ll quickly shrug off the obvious, never-really-gets-old jokes about sharing a name with Mario’s chief nemesis — a miraculous twist of fate for Nintendo, since the name thing immediately creates a connection between fans and NoA’s chief spokesperson — he clearly recognizes that it’s all in good fun.
“I will admit he is my main and he is my go-to in Mario Kart. So I play favorites,” he said with a wide grin as we chatted ahead of Nintendo’s big reveals for E3 2019. But Bowser also offered a quick reminder, one he’s likely to repeat many times in the forseeable future: don’t put too much weight on the name.
“I think we have to separate Doug Bowser from Bowser the character and clearly Bowser the character is under the supervision of many at the [Nintendo] development community,” he said. “It’s been fun to share the name, to embrace it a bit, have some fun with it. But also recognize that we are very, very different.”
“I will admit he is my main and he is my go-to in Mario Kart. So I play favorites.”
Again, obvious stuff. But it’s the willingness to engage that matters. Fils-Aimé’s precedent-setting tenure straddled the line between business executive and mascot. He leaned in, becoming a character in his own right. That’s the legacy and the lesson he left for his successor.
“I think … the most important thing that he shared with me was really just the importance and, if you will, admiration for our great characters and immersive worlds. And then also the passion our fans have for that,” Bowser said.
“[I need] to make sure that that’s always our focus, to bring smiles to those people’s faces. And that’s been my job since day one, from the moment I arrived at Nintendo all the way until I came into this role.”
The games are definitely a massive part of that, of course. More than most publishers, Nintendo has always had a knack for speaking to a diverse range of audiences and tastes. But it all starts on the inside, with a deliberately inclusive approach to managing and growing the company.
“We recruit, we train and we retain an incredibly diverse and inclusive organization. That’s part of my role and I take it very seriously — it’s incredibly important,” Bowser said.
“We want to have our organization reflect the communities that we’re a part of, that we do business in. And we also also want to have our organization reflect the communities that we serve, aka the gaming community, and to make sure that we’re very representative of that.”
On the games side, finding something for everyone is key. All-ages Nintendo classics like Mario or Zelda need to be able to live alongside more mature, modern games. The upcoming Wolfenstein: Youngblood follows two sisters as they carve a bloody path through Nazi forces. Devolver Digital’s My Friend Pedro is a side-scrolling shooter that encourages you to murder enemies in creative ways.
Not exactly the kinds of games you’d traditionally expect on a Nintendo platform. (It’s still forever weird that Rockstar Games’ Manhunt 2 was a Wii release.) But it’s an example of how time and experience has matured a company that has generally tried to toe a “safe” line in the past.
“We want the best games from the best publishers on the [Switch], and we want variety across all types of genres because then that allows us to appeal to every type of gamer that’s out there,” Bowser said, adding that he recognizes how working with indie teams can fill out a big piece of that.
Part of the appeal is Switch’s ability to support popular development tools like Unreal and Unity. But more broadly, indie teams have just found success delivering their ideas to a hungry Nintendo audience.
“Indies have been such an important part of Nintendo Switch,” Bowser said. “We’ve heard from a few developers that have been publishing a multi-platform [game] that Switch has been their number one platform.”
Staring down the reality of his first E3 as Nintendo of America’s big boss, Bowser seems energized. Nintendo’s wild success with Switch — 34 million sold in the first two years and another 18 million projected for 2019 — has made for an easy transition. It assuredly won’t last forever, but there’s not much for a Nintendo fan to complain about right now.
And so, Bowser gets to focus on the games, both pitching them and playing them. At the same time, he’s also planting a flag of sorts. Fans want to know what the reign of Bowser at Nintendo is going to look like. And Bowser, the person, wants those fans to understand that, just like Reggie, he’s a kindred spirit.
“I like to say that my gaming experience with Nintendo goes back 38 years, [to] my first game experience. I started on a Donkey Kong arcade machine when I was in college plugging endless quarters in so I could have the top five spots on the machine. It’s been a part of my life ever since.
“So just the chance to … be with this company has been fantastic and a bit of a dream come true. Because in the end, I love Nintendo, I love our consumers and I love obviously the content that we have to offer.”