Depending on who you listen to, Nintendo has had a stronger or weaker showing at E3 -- but the general consensus, even among the enthusiast press, seems to be trending positively.
The company is largely in iterative mode, relying on trusted IP on both the casual (Wii Sports Resort) and hardcore (Metroid: Other M) sides, with two new Mario games in between. The major surprise was the Wii Vitality Sensor, which showed -- uncharacteristically -- without so much as a concept demo.
Meanwhile, the competition in the console wars, Sony and Microsoft, both showed advanced motion control solutions for their platforms.
Gamasutra spoke to Denise Kaigler, Nintendo of America's VP of corporate affairs, to find out her take on the show's announcements at her company and at the others, and to see if we could gauge the mindset of the company that seems locked into the industry's number one spot at the moment.
During the press conference, Nintendo of America president and COO Reggie Fils-Aime joked, prior to debuting hardcore darling Metroid: Other M, that he reads the blogs and is well aware that Nintendo's core, long-term fan base has been less than impressed with the company's output. How much does that audience impact the company's strategy?
"We all read the blogs -- everyone does," Kaigler says. "If you're asking if what we read on the blogs has an absolute impact on our strategy, I guess the simple answer is that our strategy isn't done right at that moment... our strategy is long-term. Our strategy has always been to expand the gaming universe."
However, she says, "We need core gamers. We recognize that and we've always known that, though. We announce games when they're ready to be announced. I'm glad you described the overall tone of the press conference as being balanced, because that's what our strategy is."
Kaigler makes clear that the company appreciates its fans: "To hear the sound of the applause when we announced Metroid: Other M was amazing. We got chills."
The Wii Fit Audience
Wii Fit Plus, as implied by its title, isn't so much a sequel to the original game as an expansion that improves its basic functionality -- in fact, Kaigler confirmed that it will supplant the original title and is compatible with its save data, and contains all of its content.
But will such a strategy appeal to the millions who own the original? "We do believe that [Wii Fit Plus] will appeal to the audience," says Kaigler. "It has everything that the millions of consumers who have already expressed their love for Wii Fit, and has everything else."
Working With Developers
Kaigler referred to Nintendo president Satoru Iwata's GDC keynote when asked about Nintendo's relationship with its developers. Says Kaigler, "I know you were at GDC, and I know that one of the reasons Mr. Iwata wanted to speak at GDC and hand [developers] on a silver platter 150 million consumers [on DS and Wii] -- what an install base!"
But is the technical and design expertise of Nintendo filtering down to the development teams? Does Nintendo have processes in place to make sure that happens? Kaigler was a bit more vague on that.
"I would hope and assume that the information is getting down to the folks that need it." Says, Kaigler, "All you need to do is read any news report to understand the opportunity." Sure, the opportunity's obvious -- but is appealing to Nintendo's audience? That question is murkier.
With the market penetration for the Balance Board peripheral which comes packed with Wii Fit so high, Kaigler says the company is "making sure our partners understand the opportunity that the Balance Board presents for them." Commercial opportunities are there, but assistance may prove elusive.
But Kaigler does see strong support on the E3 show floor. 5th Cell and Warner Bros. Interactive's Scribblenauts for the DS is being touted by many as the sleeper hit of the show.
"We're glad they've [the developers] made that shift" in thinking about creating DS games that take advantage of the platform, says Kaigler -- and "It's so cool that [Ubisoft] has demonstrated their commitment to Wii Motion Plus by making Red Steel 2 exclusive" to the peripheral.
On Being, Staying Number One
"It's up to us to make sure that we're continuing to push the envelope" on software design, says Kaigler. "We've been fortunate that consumers have chosen Nintendo time and time again. We're going to try to keep that level of support among consumers of all generations."
With Wii Motion Plus, says Kaigler -- despite the fact that it's packed in with surefire hit Wii Sports Resort -- "We're not taking anything for granted. We never take anything for granted. You can open up any newspaper and see companies who were number one and don't even exist anymore... It's up to us to earn our place at number one."
Our discussion with Kaigler ventured into the shifting fortunes of the different companies over the history of E3 -- when the show began in the '90s, the big fight was Sony versus Sega, with Sony the obvious and clear winner.
"That's exactly my point. For Nintendo to take anything for granted would be crazy, it would be stupid, it would be irresponsible. We don't make the decision to be number one. We make the decision to bring to market certain products and technologies," says Kaigler, and consumers respond.
"Pick any number of technologies out there," she continues. "We didn't know how much we needed them until we got them. That's what our philosophy is -- to develop and bring to market fun experiences that the consumer won't even know they want until they've got them!"
Important Questions Remain
Kaigler was a little bit reticent to talk about the mysterious Wii Vitality Sensor, but when pressed, did mention some concrete details. "We're going to hear more about it ... They're working on it. It's slated to hit retail next year, 2010. The accessory will come bundled with the software, much like Wii Fit comes bundled with the balance board."
Another important question is just how well Nintendo's audience responds to its downloadable content efforts -- its network just doesn't seem as robust as the competition. Unfortunately, in the case of DSi, Kaigler wasn't answering. "I don't have the data handy on what our downloads are for DSiWare. It hasn't been out for very long and it's finding its audience."
Nintendo is truly a global company, but the vast majority of its development takes place in Japan. This can be a pitfall for companies, as has been absolutely demonstrated over the course of this generation. Does NOA truly have input into Nintendo Ltd.'s software decisions?
Says Kaigler, "It's a collaboration, it really is. It's a true collaboration."
"Reggie and the localization teams in the US work very closely with Mr. Iwata and Mr. Miyamoto and the development teams in Japan. I think one of the reasons those games appeal to such a broad range of consumers is that collaboration."
Three Consoles, Three Motion Control Solutions
Of course, both Sony and Microsoft debuted motion control solutions at E3 -- Microsoft's Project Natal, Sony with its prototype camera/controller hybrid.
What's Nintendo's reaction? Says Kaigler, "It's great to see that motion sensing control has now become an industry standard. It's great when anything is announced that can continue to build on what Nintendo started years ago. Anything that continues to expand the market and bring more gamers into the video game industry is great for the industry, certainly great for consumers, and it's great for Nintendo."
However, she says, "There's no information to really judge; we don't know anything about the price or availability of the products that were announced. Certainly the key difference is that we pioneered motion sensing control three years ago."
"It's here and it's now. And show attendees can go down to the show floor and actually have fun playing with our technology and our games today. Seeing the smiles and laughs around the Nintendo booth is fabulous, it's contagious."
But surely these companies have the potential to bring these products to market with compelling software solutions, right? "You said one key word twice -- 'potentially'. That's a pretty critical word: potential. For us to respond to potential, there's nothing for us to respond to; nothing for us to react to. We're going to keep doing our thing and hope that the consumer continues to have fun with our products."