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Nintendo: Quality games will move the needle for us

Nintendo: Quality games will move the needle for us Exclusive

June 14, 2013 | By Christian Nutt

Nintendo stayed out of the fray at this year's E3 -- showcasing its new games via a Nintendo Direct video presentation the day after Microsoft and Sony had their press conferences, and throwing a low-key show-floor shindig for the press while analysts and retailers got a business-focused presentation at another venue.

"Our focus coming in was really to concentrate on games because we didn't have the hardware news that the other console makers had," Charlie Scibetta, Nintendo of America's senior director of corporate communications, tells Gamasutra.

"For this year, it was the right move for us," Scibetta says. "We didn't have hardware news. We decided to focus on our strength, which is gameplay."

It was obvious that the company decided to stay out of the fight -- but it also put it out of the limelight. Scibetta says that the company has "changed the way we talk to people about the games" thanks to its increased focus on direct outreach to fans.

"We feel good about how our games have shown"

And games are what Scibetta spoke about in conversation with Gamasutra. Evasive about the Wii U and 3DS hardware businesses -- he said they're company president Iwata's territory -- Scibetta is confident that software is what will move the needle for the company's Wii U for the back half of the year.

In truth, Nintendo has a packed 2013 slate between its two platforms. Both systems get a Zelda game; there's a new Pokemon title, a new Mario for the Wii U, and that's not even the half of it.

If anything, this year, Nintendo might be in danger of competing with itself. Not so, says Scibetta. "We think there's plenty of rooms for all of our franchises and games that we're bringing to market. If they're compelling experiences, consumers will find time to play them."

But that barren first half of the year had to hurt the Wii U -- right?

"We won't ship a software title until we can really feel that it's up to the Nintendo standard," Scibetta says. "We would sacrifice short term profits every time, for long term protection of the brand, and that's what we did in 2013."

"We would have liked to have more titles come out in the first half of 2013," he says, but they needed longer in development to reach Nintendo's quality bar. And that has already paid off, he says: "We feel good about how our games have shown this year at E3."

Scibetta seemed more excited in some ways by its partnership with Best Buy to get its E3 game demos onto in-store kiosks than even what happened at the show itself, and he has a good reason for that: "We found that's where our games really shine. The ability to have immediate hands-on allows the consumer to understand what the magic is."

Why Nintendo Must Stick to Hardware

And if consumers understand the quality of its titles, he says, "we think we have the games between now and the holiday that can really jumpstart the momentum with the Wii U."

"Software sells hardware," he says. "We're optimistic and confident that the hardware sales will follow."

This despite the fact that, thus far, the Wii U will not drop its price, even in the face of fresh competition from Sony and Microsoft. In fact, Scibetta doesn't see them as direct competitors -- any differently than movies, TV, or internet use are. Nintendo is in competition with "anything that can be done seen or used other than us -- so we want to try to get the largest percentage of people's time."

Scibetta is also adamant that Nintendo needs to be in the hardware business -- no matter what some analysts might say.

"Our software best comes to life when it's used on our own hardware," he says. "When Mr. Miyamoto designs software, he thinks not only about the software, but what are the control schemes that can bring this software to life best."

"Mario would not run and jump and feel the same way that he does on a smartphone or a tablet," he says. "You really need those Nintendo controls... The way the timing is perfect only comes from years of experience and focus on detail that only Nintendo is known for."

As far as criticisms that the company is leaning too heavily on existing IP, he dismisses those, too. "When you have all the dynamics of new features that we're putting in these games... New dynamics and new features with beloved IP, that's the best of both worlds."

A First Party Run by Developers

"Nintendo always feels pressure to make sure that we're giving consumers a great gameplay experience. That doesn't change from one platform to the next, and one game to the next. That quality bar is always there. That's our North Star: doing right by these games, and characters, and consumers that have helped build those franchises in the first place."

This may be because the company is run by game developers: president Satoru Iwata comes from subsidiary HAL Laboratory, creators of the Kirby franchise, and of course Shigeru Miyamoto drives its overall vision.

"I would agree that our decisions are made by developers," Scibetta says. "Mr. Iwata and Mr. Miyamoto, being developers, approach this question first and foremost whenever they make a decision: 'Is it fun?' Most executives don't ask that question first, in terms of all the considerations they have. If a game is going to be shipped by Nintendo, it has to be fun."

And that may mean a franchise has to change drastically just as much as it might mean that it changes little from year to year, Scibetta says.

"We think that bringing innovation and new gameplay mechanics to the experience is the way to go." Zelda series lead Eiji Aonuma has repeatedly left the door open for significant changes to the franchise -- most recently in an E3 interview -- and Scibetta says it's this "creative freedom" that's important to the company's developers -- alongside a preservation of the "original creative vision that evolves over the years."

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