super smash bros ultimate interview

Nintendo of Canada: How the Company Approaches Marketing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Setting: Fan Expo has closed down, but media are brought back on to the show floor to play the E3 2018 build of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Following my tenth win and my second grilled cheese sandwich, I’m signalled by Craft PR’s Colin Brush that it’s my turn to chat with Nintendo of Canada P.R. guru Andrew Collins. We chat about a media member wearing an unlicensed shirt based on The Legend of Zelda while sharing a few laughs, before I clarify that this won’t be part of the interview.

I guess I sort of lied about that last part? My apologies, Andrew. Regardless, I jump in:

Riley: So, Smash Bros. is coming out. I mean, you can give me the PR scoop.

Andrew: Sure.

Riley: What have you been told to say?

Andrew: Everything I’m about to say!

*everyone laughs*

Riley: Hit me!

Andrew: Coming out December 7th. There is gonna be a wonderful Pro Controller that was just announced.

Riley: I just saw that. It looks amazing.

Andrew: And have you preordered it yet?

Riley: I haven’t been able to yet. I don’t think it’s on yet.

Andrew: *slightly disappointed* Okay, fair enough then. That’s a good excuse. I’ll get them to email you when Amazon are about to post it.

Riley: Yeah, please. I would love that.

Andrew: “Pro Controllers on Amazon are available”.

Riley: I only go on Amazon. I’VE GOT THAT PRIME.

super smash bros ultimate pro controller
Mmmm… swank.

Andrew: *laughs* But as a marketing member, I have to stress that those are available. But, yeah, so I mean… What do you want to know? Because you know most of the stuff. I know I’m talking to the corest of hardcore.

Riley: So, I know… I’m not even going to bother asking you about what’s in the game because I think there are several massive steps between the people working on it, and then the people localizing it, and then the people marketing it, and then passing it to you. So let’s talk about the reaction to, like… *sighs* King K. Rool, to me, was just the coolest reveal.

Andrew: Well, I saw you had it on like, you’ve got a list of characters you wanted to see, and I saw he was on there so I was actually waiting for your reaction. I was checking Twitter. Because I saw him and I was like *scratches chin* “Oh yeah, that’s it.

And I really liked the Simon Belmont thing as well because that and the Inkling, I think, are two great characters in that show how much effort Nintendo puts to… it’s not just “oh, we’ve added another character.” It’s, for Simon Belmont, we’ve added another character, we’ve added the Echo [Fighter] character, we’ve made this amazing level. I mean, that level looks fantastic. It’s just a beautiful tribute to Castlevania.

And I think the Inklings is a similar thing where you look at just the detail for the fighting style for the Inklings. They use their ink perfectly, you can refill ink as you go – if you have enough time, if you have that two seconds to spare. And I think those are great, great kind of examples to show that we’re not just putting new characters. When we put in new characters we’re doing it for a reason and we’re doing it well. We don’t expect the same.

Look now, we’ve got X number of characters,” but they’re just easy to do. That’s not what Smash is about. It wouldn’t deserve… the fan base wouldn’t deserve for us to do it simply. We’ve got to do it well for a game like Smash.

Riley: That’s very cool. And I know [the creator of the Super Smash Bros. series] Masahiro Sakurai is brought on as a third-party developer – he’s not actually an employee of Nintendo. So, there’s a very interesting dynamic there, where he’s able to go out and write columns for Famitsu magazine in Japan. He does one bi-weekly. And it’s cool because you kind of get a look behind the curtain of Smash and kind of the decisions there, and I’m always wondering “how does that article – if ever – impact the way you go about marketing the game?

Andrew: Well, I mean, it’s not something that we really… we have a plan which is relevant to Canada. And so, what Sakurai-san does is great for the gamers in Japan that read Famitsu on a regular basis, but for us it’s all about kind of creating events like this [referencing Toronto’s Fan Expo after-hours event] for fans to learn more about it, so we think about what’s best for the Canadian fans and work from there.

As a former developer, I’ve always loved the idea that people do get to see behind the curtain, because developers are people too. Developers have cats, they go home, they watch their favourite TV show. But they also work on these amazing games, which you love so much. And I think that, when you do get to see that side of them it allows you to kind of understand them a little bit more and you can kind of get a sense of what their… what drives them to make the games that they make.

Riley: And especially with the Smash community, I would say it’s probably the most insane gaming community… IN THE BEST WAY.

Andrew: *laughs* “Enthusiastic” is a good way of…

Riley: Enthusiastic! That’s a much better word, yes. Thank you. You’re me right now. That’s great. *laughs*

The thing I like so much about the community is that the second a Smash is announced, speculation is everywhere. Fake leaks pop up all the time. How does this mentality factor into the way that you then market the game or does it at all?

Andrew: No, I mean, the love of the game is something that’s very important to us. For example, we wanted to host something like the event that we’re having to give a lot of the gaming media a chance – not everyone gets a chance to go to E3. This was a great chance for us to get those media who didn’t go to E3 because maybe they don’t have the budget or there will be other people here that it’s just not within their remit to spend a week in L.A. playing games and this allows us to get some of the big, vocal characters within the Canadian media to talk about Smash and talk about it first-hand. And it’s nice to do it when this is entirely devoted to this event. You know, we’re not fighting anyone else. We’ve not got from the other booths, you know?

I did joke earlier that we shut down Fan Expo to get you guys in here.

*Andrew and I laugh. Colin from Craft smirks, but he does not laugh. He hates laughing?*

And if you’re gonna shut down Fan Expo then you need a game like Smash to do it.

super smash bros ultimate possible echo fighters

Riley: That’s true, and one of the ways I really, really like about the way you’ve opted to market this game – and I’m sure there are so many different people making these decisions – but you’ve rebranded “clone” fighters as “Echo Fighters” and now the entire community is so excited and speculating on how these characters work. Do you know how the [origin of the] idea or how that came about?

Andrew: No, that’s something that comes from the dev team. So I can’t speak to them, but kind of a point you were talking about there. The excitement that the gamers have, and it’s great to see because it’s like when you… I remember years and… many, many years ago when I first saw the first trailer for Return of the Jedi. So, you know, I really mean many years ago. And I happened to be recording it on my video and I watched it kind of frame by frame trying to figure out what would happen. There’s a scene when a speeder bike explodes into a tree stump, but in the trailer it cuts immediately to Darth Vader on the Star Destroyer and I was certain that that meant that on Endor there was a warp hole that took you onto the… [I was] adamant.

And it’s kind of that love for Smash and for video games in general. We’re seeing now. We’re seeing people studying: does that mean this? It’s brilliant to see that love for the games that we’re working on.

Riley: Was that sort of reception to the game’s reveal expected then?

Andrew: *hesitates* Y…Yeah, we like, when I watched the Direct ahead of it going live. When I saw the Castlevania announcement… [I thought] “Ohhhh yeah, they’re gonna like that.” And it’s great because, you know, we’re fortunate that we work on games. You know, everyone at Nintendo works on these games which bring so much joy to fans. We know that we will be putting smiles on everyone’s faces and everyone is gonna have a good Christmas because of Smash.

Riley: How much did you have to pay Capcom to kill Mega Man in Ridley’s trailer?

Andrew: *laughs* NEXT!

Riley: *laughs* Why did you kill Luigi?!

Andrew: *laughs* I think we have time for one more…. Was that your final question?

Riley: *laughs* Okay, okay. What did you think of the reception to Waluigi being excluded? Because it took me by surprise and I’m a big Smash fan. I mean, obviously the Washington Post article was satire, it was comical…

Andrew: I think it’s great when something builds naturally because, you know, as a marketer, when you have something that goes viral like that it’s brilliant. You can’t buy that. You can’t create it. And when the fans do something like that, it’s amazing. But it’s so good to see from a passionate side of things. And let’s face it, it’s funny.

*everyone laughs* [Editor’s note: I bold and italicize these moments to emphasize how funny we all really are.]

I’ve seen some of the photos. I’ve seen some of the artwork that people have created, and it’s fantastic to see their passion. And, you know, there are some gifted people out there.

Riley: *aiming puppy dog eyes at Craft PR’s Colin* Can I do one more?

Colin: Okay.

super smash bros ultimate king k rool
King K. Rool: A beautifully-revealed monstrosity.

Riley: Okay! Did you see the fan-made thank you letter to Sakurai for including King K. Rool?

Andrew: I did, yeah.

Riley: What did you think of that?

Andrew: I thought it was sweet. It’s nice when… every developer gets letters and emails and I think that as a developer – back when I was a developer and working now – we work long hours. And this isn’t supposed to be about us, but when you see something from fans saying about how much they love what you do… it’s brilliant. You know, I love to go to a game store on the day that they’re out and watch people pick it up and buy it. It’s really satisfying. I’ve loved that since I made magazines, and it justifies all those hard hours and the long hours that you put in to know that you’ve created or helped do something which gives people that special moment.

Riley: Thank you so much.

Andrew: You’re welcome.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate arrives exclusively for Nintendo Switch on December 7, 2018.

You can find Riley on Twitter at @TheRileyLittle where he tweets a lot about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Like, an unhealthy amount.

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