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Nintendo's uphill battle for Wii U success with developers, consumers

Nintendo's uphill battle for Wii U success with developers, consumers Exclusive

June 8, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

Talking to Nintendo's Charlie Scibetta, Nintendo of America's senior director of corporate communications, it's clear that the company realizes that it has to start from scratch and do what it last did in 2006 -- convince the world that its controller innovation is important.

"It can appeal to people all ranges in terms of their gaming ability," he tells Gamasutra, in an interview conducted at E3, but admits that it's "hard to understand the system until you get your hands on it."

"A big part of our strategy has been and will continue to be trial, getting it in as many people's hands as possible," Scibetta says.

The company seems particularly excited by the concept of "asymmetric multiplayer", in which players with the screen-bearing gamepad have different information and a different role than the players with standard Wii Remotes. This came into play in its multiplayer Nintendo Land demos at E3.

While he was unwilling to talk about the company's specific marketing plans or budget, he does suggest that Nintendo will be trying to get the system recognized by consumers much as it did with the original Wii -- which included spots on mainstream TV shows such as Good Morning America as well as aiming for the traditional hardcore Nintendo gamer. For whatever Wii U "feature we want to push", he says, Nintendo will be selective of the specific audience it's targeting.

He also says that the company will continue its recent strategy of going direct to consumers with announcements, as it did with its E3 conferences, which it streamed on "What people are most interested in, they can tune in to," he says.

Was he satisfied with the company's E3 showing? "We are happy with the way people are responding to it, but it does take some cycles on our part... to make sure everybody understands it."

"We tried to do as many things as possible during our presentation and videos to explain it to people," he says.

What the company strangely did not do was focus on all of its first-party titles in its E3 conference; for example, the Platinum Games-developed Project P-100 was absent from its E3 press conference, despite being one of only a handful of titles the company had ready to show.

"We're really excited about" P-100, he says, "but we had to make some hard decisions."

Working with Developers

Some of those hard decisions clearly came because the company felt compelled to showcase the lineups of third party partners -- particularly Warner Bros. and Ubisoft. Does this mean the company getting better at communicating with third parties?

"A combination of first and third party games... will make this system have a good launch," Scibetta says. "All these developers and publishers are making games that really take advantage of" the system's unusual new gamepad.

"When a publisher creates a game experience that is custom... that's when you really see the magic happen," he says.

Scibetta is also happy to see ports of games such as Batman: Arkham City and Mass Effect 3 -- "The most important thing is if it takes care of what the system is doing" by using the gamepad, asymmetric multiplayer, and the Miiverse online functionality.

However, Scibetta admits, "the best games are custom-built," so "we give a lot of support" to developers and publishers.

"We want to see their ideas come to life on the system," he says. "And they're excited, because if you're a game developer, you want your game to come to life on the best system possible." The Wii U "gives them options they've never had before," he suggests.

But just as with consumers, it's a bit of an uphill battle to get developers on board, he admits. "It's our job to try and get them to understand why it's cool, it's exciting, and it's new," he says, regarding its Miiverse social online functionality. "And it is new."

What Nintendo Does Have

If there is an advantage for Nintendo, it's that it is Nintendo. More than either of the other platform holders, the company is by developers and for developers (its president, Satoru Iwata, is a former game developer.) The company really believes in its mission to bring innovative fun.

"What the competition does does not influence what we do," says Scibetta. "We really have our own North Star about what we want to create, which is, 'Is it fun, and does it focus on games?'"

When you work at Nintendo, he says, "you know you're a gaming company, you know you're about bringing fun to people, and everything around that is peripheral to it. As long as we stay focused on that core principle, we know we're on track, because that's what the company is all about."

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