Nintendistas (Brazilian Nintendo fans) were delighted with some long-awaited news on August 19th. On its official Twitter account, Nintendo of America announced that the Switch is coming soon to Brazil – Nintendo’s first official release in the country since it ceased operations in the country back in 2015.
The official launch of the Nintendo Switch in Brazil arrives today, September 18, 2020, for the suggested price of 2,999 real – which is equivalent to about $567 USD. The announcement shared on social media was accompanied by an image of Switch’s standard version, leading fans to correctly guess that this model would be the only one to arrive in the country at launch. That information was confirmed by Bill van Zyll, Nintendo’s General Manager of Latin America, who added that the Pro Controller and Joy-Con will also arrive at launch, and that the Lite model will follow in 2021.
Greetings to all the Brazilian Nintendo fans out there! We’re excited to announce that #NintendoSwitch will be coming soon to Brazil!
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) August 19, 2020
How did Brazilians have access to Nintendo products up until now?
While there is a large gray market for Switch consoles and a system to buy games digitally, it has been five years since Nintendo stopped official sales of its products in Brazil. Upon ceasing its operations in 2015, the company stated that its model of distribution in the country had become unsustainable due to “challenges in the local business environment”, such as “high import taxes”. Because of that, Nintendo fans in Brazil missed out on physical editions of major releases such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Pokémon Sun & Moon, as well as the New Nintendo 2DS XL.
Nintendo first established a distribution model in Brazil back in 1993, when the company established a partnership with Gradiente and Estrela – which merged to become Playtronic. The enterprise assembled consoles domestically – to avoid high import tax payments – and translated printed materials, like manuals and packaging. At that time, clone NES and SNES consoles were so popular that the official releases struggled to outsell the fake ones.
For more than two decades, Nintendo maintained some of its logistics in the country, changing its local distributors from time to time. Distribution was cut short for two years during the GameCube era, between 2004 and 2006 – however, the biggest gap started when the company ceased its contract with Gaming do Brasil in 2015.
For the past five years up to 2020, the only way that Brazilians could buy Nintendo products was through the gray market. Retailers and specialized stores had to directly import consoles, peripherals and games and, because of that, there weren’t fixed prices and some products had prices considered excessive – a gray market Switch would sell for up to 4000 real ($756 USD). Many players found buying abroad or importing themselves a more viable option.
Indeed, these gray market prices make the new official price of 2,999 real seem much more reasonable. For comparison, this is the same price as the PlayStation 4 Pro in Brazil; the standard PS4 sells for 2,000-2,500 real, about $378-$470 USD.
It was only in 2018 that Nintendo took steps towards being closer to South America’s regional market again. During that year’s E3, the company revealed exclusively to IGN Brasil that it was planning to launch Loja Nintendo, a website from which fans can buy download codes of Switch games using local currency. Loja Nintendo has since had its catalog expanded and is now releasing games more quickly, in addition to offering pre-sale services. However, the catalog does not include all titles released on the Switch, and games like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Spiritfarer are not available.
At Brasil Game Show (BGS) 2018, the company announced a partnership with a local retail store to sell Nintendo Switch prepaid game cards, for those players who had imported a console. Nintendo also had a booth at BGS 2019, which further stoked the hopes of fans.
Brazilian fans still don’t have a fully functional eShop – the app includes no browsable catalog or any other feature besides redeeming codes for digital versions of games.
Other issues that Nintendistas face are related to technical assistance. Nintendo has only one certified repair center in the whole country, which is located in the city of São Paulo. Therefore, if a player wants their Joy-Con drift problem fixed, they will have to send it or come to the city themselves.
How will the Switch arrive in Brazil?
According to van Zyll, when the Switch is officially released Nintendo will keep its operating system “simple” at first. The company will be working with two distributors – Rcell and Ingram Micro – as well as big retailers such as Lojas Americanas, Magazine Luiza and Submarino. This pared-down approach is intended to avoid the problems that led Nintendo to exit Brazil back in 2015.
“We tried different approaches that seemed to be right at that time , but we ran into different issues or different challenges in each case,” says van Zyll. “So, what we did this time is we took another step back and we really looked at it and we went with a model which is simple, direct, straightforward and something that we think will work and something that we think we can build on.”
At this point, the company still has a long way to go to fully establish itself in Brazil. Economist Roberto Dumas believes that the reactivation of Nintendo’s operation in the country will cause an overall improvement in customer’s lives, but he also has words of caution.
“One thing is for certain: This will improve fans’ well-being; otherwise, there would be no reason,” he says. “Brazil is a great consumerist market: 68% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is made by domestic consumption. We love to spend money, and Nintendo most certainly has noticed that people are buying more of their products during the pandemic, so they must have decided to not lose this good opportunity to invest here. However, don’t get your hopes too high, because now is not the time to establish a robust operation.”
So, why return to Brazil now, five years after exiting the market and during a global pandemic? Van Zyll tells us, “This has been in the works for a while. This did not happen overnight. We’ve been working at this for some time, really, for years, and we took our steps, our deliberate steps, which is how Nintendo works.”
According to the executive, the Brazilian market is very important for Nintendo. He explains that “Brazil is one of the top 10 economies in the world, it has 210 million consumers, and it’s the largest gaming market in Latin America.”
Van Zyll also mentions the passion of the Brazilian fans, the Nintendistas: “While we’ve been out there working and trying to get ready for this, we’ve continually heard from the Nintendistas. And I’ll tell you, every time I go to Brazil, I have a chance to talk to people and just that the passion, the love that people have for Nintendo it is just so… it really hits you! It’s quite an experience. I think it’s really unique.”
He adds: “Please don’t confuse us getting late to Brazil as Nintendo not caring, because we absolutely do.”
Helena Nogueira is a writer for IGN Brasil.