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Q&A: The State Of Nintendo In 2007

Q&A: The State Of Nintendo In 2007

October 25, 2007 | By Brandon Sheffield, Staff

October 25, 2007 | By Brandon Sheffield, Staff
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More: Console/PC

As Nintendo re-organizes its North American division, setting up new marketing offices in Redwood City, and riding the success of the Wii and DS, where do they go from here?

With Nintendo's consoles still leading hardware sales in most major territories, Gamasutra quizzed Nintendo's in-house Public Relations manager, Eric Walter, on the state of Nintendo in an interview conducted at the recent E For All event in Los Angeles.

Topics discussed in this in-depth discussion span new hires (including Konami's Mark Franklin), the Wii Zapper, the state of M-rated games on Nintendo platforms, and how WiiWare is progressing, among many others:

How has the move to Silicon Valley been? Is it done?

It is... The folks that moved down from Redmond are all here now. We're still looking to hire, to fill a few spots, but it's been great; the office is fantastic, and we're excited to be a part of Silicon Valley. It's so many game developers down there, obviously, and so many different media outlets that cover the gaming industry. It's nice to finally be in the same place.

We hear that [former Konami PR exec] Mark Franklin is moving over, correct? What position will he be taking?

He is, yeah! We're excited about that. He's going to be our new Director of Public Relations. I'm excited to work with him. I just briefly met him on Thursday, at the Media Summit in San Francisco, and got about five minutes of his time to just chat. But, you know, I've heard good things about him, and I'm excited to bring him onto the team and get him up to speed as quick as we can, and continue all the good work we've been doing this year.

It seems there's been a lot of shuffling around of executives and companies in the last three months or so. Do you have any thoughts in general on why that's happening right now?

You know, I certainly can't speak to why other companies are doing it. I know for Nintendo, we thought it made sense to have our Sales and Marketing team down in that area, just because we do work so closely with the third parties. We work so closely with the gaming media, and all of the gaming outlets that are down there, it just made sense for us to be there, and be able to interact with them a lot more frequently than we had when we were based in Redmond.

And Silicon Valley is not just gaming; it's a hotbed for technology in general, and there's a lot of forward thinking going on down there; I think it's nice for Nintendo to become a part of that.

The DS is very popular in Japan, but some developers I've been speaking to have said they're concerned that they feel the software bubble has burst. There was a time when you could put anything out on the DS, and it would sell. Now it seems as if there's somewhat of a glut, making it more difficult to get new titles notice. Can you comment on that?

We certainly haven't heard that at all internally. I can tell you that the DS is the top selling handheld right now. And, certainly, we've done well, and the titles that we have on the DS reach numerous audiences. Certainly, new players that are just getting into gaming can just jump right on and play, and also the core fan has, for example, the Zelda games, and Advance Wars coming out shortly.

Personally, I think the software that we have for the DS is fantastic, and I know that there's consistently a talk with third parties, of bringing new games to the DS, and so I don't see that slowing down at all.

But on the third party front, as an example, quite a number of "brain training" games come out in Japan with very similar packaging to Brain Age that may not be as good, and therefore there's some consumer confusion, as good as Nintendo's marketing has been. Speaking of marketing, actually: I'm wondering how Nintendo has managed to so successfully market a concept that's relatively more difficult to understand -- when compared to other hardware companies that are having a much more difficult time marketing very traditional type consoles.

See, I almost feel that it's the opposite of that. I think the Wii console is really, really intuitive, and once people pick it up, they realize how easy it is to play a game. We had some mommy-bloggers that we brought in today for a special kind of lunch, and in talking to them, [we realized] four years ago, we would've never thought to talk to moms who blog about gaming, and now we are.

When you play Wii Sports, or you know, even when you play Super Mario Galaxy, or any of the [other] titles... I think anyone from five to seventy-five can get up and running pretty quickly. And I think that's what's so special, and I think that's why the Wii has been selling like it has been.

It's interesting that Nintendo has managed to hit those targets pretty well, when other things have been multiple-SKU, and confusing to people.

Sure. A lot of folks always think that there are no games for the "core" on the Wii, and we've only been in the process for ten and a half months now. And I'd say that with the last three or four months, we've had some really great titles, like Metroid Prime 3; we've got Galaxy coming out in November, we've got Smash Bros. coming out in February, and we have Zelda on the DS. So I think there are really a lot of games that definitely reach to that core audience. But we feel like everyone's a gamer, and we want everyone to be involved in gaming and enjoy it. So the more folks we can bring into it, the better.

Do you think core gamers are, are having to change somewhat, too, and appreciate more types of gameplay?

Absolutely, that's a very valid point. To me, I'm a pro gamer, but I think there's a difference when you play a Pokémon game, which my nine year old niece can play -- but I know tons of core gamers that love Pokémon. I think that's a perfect example.

When Gamasutra spoke to Fountainhead Studios' Anna Kang about the possibility of releasing Doom RPG on DS, she was concerned that the mature market wasn't necessarily there -- and yet, Dementium: The Ward is coming out at the end of the month. Do you think it could be the proving ground for mature titles on the DS?

Well, I think, we have Advance Wars coming out; that's not an M rated game, but it's certainly not Pokémon. I think that's the great thing about the DS: There's a lot of titles that appeal to an older audience. And we feel like we should give everybody the chance to play the kind of games that they want. Certainly there are some games that we are not going to release, but I think that's the great thing about Nintendo: We have a broad mix of ratings.

There haven't been too many M-rated games, but that seems part of an old perception that's still left over from the past. Plenty of adults play DS.

And that's what we think, too. It also comes down to our feelings, it comes down to parents, and there are the parental controls on the Wii and for the DS. It's important to be a part of your kid's life, and make sure you're seeing what media they're consuming, you know? Certainly, with the Wii, we have the parental control lock, and we wanna take away games from other folks just because of the kids -- that's why we put those controls in there.

Now that Monster Hunter 3 is announced as a Wii exclusive, there's been some speculation that this game might be the first to "circumvent" friend codes, because it really hinges on group play, and friend codes can be somewhat unwieldy. Will there be some kind of solution to this?.

We're still discussing that; we don't have anything to announce today. But the way that we think about friend codes is, when folks are online, and they want to play, they typically want to play with their friends. And so, they want to keep it to groups of people they know. We've seen, in the feedback we've gotten, that people don't mind the friend codes. They like them, because it keeps them playing with the friends that they do know, and it keeps their games "undisturbed," if you will.

How is WiiWare coming along nowadays?

Really well, actually. It's going to launch in, probably, early 2008, so it's just a few months away. We're really excited about it. It gives small developers the chance to really push some games, and push some theories that they've wanted to try for a while, but didn't have the big budgets to do so.

It also gives big, massive video game companies the ability to try out things that would have had to go through a particular marketing channel, and those sorts of things that could get very costly. We have over a hundred titles or so, right now, that are in the works, that we'll potentially launch in 2008. And we're excited; I think it's gonna be really neat. You'll buy the games like you do with your Wii Points Card online.

Will it be released in the way that virtual console games are being released -- 'when they're ready', rather than staged, specific times such as with XBLA?

We haven't really determined how that's going to work just yet. We're still in the infancy of determining all that.

Do you have the Quality Assurance process set up and streamlined yet?

I think we're still working through that. We have ideas coming in -- right now, we're pretty much in the creative process, and ideas are trickling in, and we're working with some folks to see what's out there, and And, again, considering it's not coming out for a few more months, were still trying to determine how we'll do that.

Do games have to use motion in it, or can they use the classic controller?

I think it's really up to them. We're just taking in the ideas, and if it makes sense to put out on the Wii, and makes sense for our consumers, and we think that folks who own Wiis want those types of games, I think we're open to that.

Another WiiWare question -- considering the Wii has a rather small flash drive, how many titles will it be able to hold? For example, even though Crystal Chronicles on WiiWare is not going to be large, it might be difficult to have even ten games of that volume.

A lot of the games for WiiWare that have been submitted so far are smaller in size, so they're not gonna take up a ton of your drive. But the way that we look at it is, we really don't want people storing every single game they buy on their drive. When you buy a game, it's yours forever, so you can delete it, and go back and get it at any time you want. In a way, we liken it to putting music on your iPod; you listen to it for a while, and then you get tired of it, and you pull it off, and you put some new stuff on.

Having Nintendo actually bring out the Wii Zapper is a big step for the consoles. Was it tough to push it through, or have you received any concern yet?

We haven't heard anything to that degree. Again, I think it goes back to giving you a whole different way to play a game that never existed before. And I think the Zapper is going to be the same thing. Certainly there will be some games that are maybe a little bit more mature, for the Zapper, but again, I think that's where parenting comes in, and making sure you're watching what your kids are playing.

Could it be that people are more accepting of the Wii Zapper because the design of the actual thing itself doesn't look really like a gun? Was that intentional?

I unfortunately wasn't part of the design process, so I'm not sure what thinking went into that. But what I can say is that I know the designers constantly think, "What can we do to make this particular game, or a particular game as fun as possible?" And, you know, the Zapper does that for a lot of games.

Can you say, at all, what Retro is working on now?

I can't. I can tell you they're definitely hard at work, though! I just talked to those guys this morning, in fact, and they're definitely hard at work. There'll be some things coming out, for sure. They're really excited about Metroid Prime 3; it's doing well, and that's a game that I think will see good sales through the holidays.

Certainly, the hardcore ran out and got it right away, and I think as fans start to see that game -- and there are still folks coming to the Wii every day -- it certainly hasn't reached its lifespan just yet. So, I think as people begin to come to the Wii, they'll see that game; and even new players can get into a game like that.

Do you think the Xbox 360 could outsell the Wii during the holidays, because of Wii's constrained sales?

I can say that the Wii and the DS are the two number-one selling consoles right now, and we're excited about that. We can't keep them on the shelves! I mean, typically it's about a day or two that they stay on the shelves, and we've upped production, and we're trying to get as many out to the shelves as we can. It's literally a demand issue, and we're going to ship 16.5 million this fiscal year, so it's certainly not a small amount!

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