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Joystiq interview: Nintendo spins 'core' gamer appeal, more

Jason Dobson

E3's oddly intoxicating cocktail of libation and lack of sleep can often give those in attendance a unique perspective on the industry. However, as we wandered into Nintendo's coolly lit corner of the LA convention center, we were quickly reminded that this is an outfit with a perspective all of its own.

If the company's ambivalence during its own pre-E3 presser wasn't enough to convince us of Nintendo's indifference toward core gamers, our sit down during the show with Nintendo spokesman Charlie Scibetta proved that while the organization may preach that "hardcore" gamers play a critical role in Nintendo's strategy, its actions paint a different picture altogether.

Nintendo's press conference was interesting for several reasons, but one of these was that a number of titles, like Wario Land and Kirby Super Star Ultra,
were not even mentioned. Was there any reason why these were left out?

We're showing them here on the show floor. We're pushing those games hard. The short answer to your question as to why they weren't in the press conference is that you only have so much time. If we included every single title and did demos of every single the reaction from the people at the press conference would be 'you went a little long.' We have to pick which games we want to push to the forefront and feature in the press conference, and the rest of them we feature on the show floor.

"We have to pick which games we want to push to the forefront and feature in the press conference, and the rest of them we feature on the show floor."

One of Nintendo's key announcements that was made was the Wii MotionPlus. But what kind of device is it, exactly?

There's the accelerometer and sensor bar that are still there. There's something called the Rate Gyroscope that's put in with the Wii MotionPlus, and what that does is it can recreate every flip of the wrist, every movement for a one-to-one experience. It's one of these things that you hear about, and wonder 'how does that work?,' and then you pick up the controller and play it and get it right away.

It tracks movement, position and speed. So when you're throwing a disc it's actually going to be able to take into consideration how you're turning your wrist to get a different angle and trajectory, and how hard you move it too will be how far it goes. It's very realistic.

The Wii's lack of sizable internal storage has been a controversial topic since the console's debut, and is likely to continue to be so given companies like Sega attempting to bring downloadable content to the Wii in the near future. What's Nintendo's strategy to help deal with this?

We hear gamers loud and clear on that. What's great about the songs and the games that you can download is that the system remembers that you did that. So if you need to clear off space off your SD card, you can. It's not like once you delete them you've lost them forever and you have to pay for them again. It's just a matter of managing the space you do have and keeping the stuff on there that you play the most while clearing up when you want to bring new stuff on.

But does Nintendo have any specific plans to address the need for extra storage on the Wii?

We don't have anything to announce now on that, no.

We hear Nintendo talking about the importance of core gamers in the company's strategy, but to be fair we're not seeing much announced that reflects that stance. What's Nintendo doing to appeal to the core gamer market?

The core, when they first heard about the motion sensing capabilities of the Wii remote and Wii Sports, were skeptical. But when they tried it, they liked it. Like most people do. Whether you consider yourself in the core or expanded audience, it's just universal that people like great games. There are games here, like Wario Land Shake It! and Mario Super Sluggers that some people consider to be core games, but if the game's good it doesn't matter. If you're new to gaming or a veteran gamer, it's something you're going to like.

What's interesting about a game like Animal Crossing, which is something that I consider to be a core game, is that it has the Wii Speak microphone attached to it. It works with it, rather. It's actually sold separately. But when you think about the capabilities that kind of voice chat and communication is going to do for that game and for other games, that's exciting. It's exciting for the core to see too to see what developers will do with that peripheral.

"It's just a matter of managing the space you do have and keeping the stuff on there that you play the most while clearing up when you want to bring new stuff on."

A lot of core gamers last year weren't fired up about WiiFit, and now they have either come to like it or they don't. But almost everyone like Shaun White Snowboarding. Developers have taken the Balance Board that originally came out with WiiFit, and now have gotten their hands around it and spent some time with it, and are realizing their creative vision by using that peripheral. These accessories we're taking about being associated with the games, Wii Speak and Wii MotionPlus, the game's we're showing aren't the only games that are going to use them.

As developers and publishers learn about that technology and begin to incorporate it into their own development, we're going to see a whole lot of great third-party ideas come out of that that'll appeal to both expanded and core audiences.

Speaking of games for the core audience, do you have any update on either Project H.A.M.M.E.R. or Disaster: Day of Crisis?

I don't have any status update, no.

And you mentioned the Balance Board and WiiFit. Given their scarcity, to say nothing of the console itself, does Nintendo have any strategy for getting more of these on store shelves?

(chuckles) We're making them as fast as we can. The response to them has been really outstanding. I can't tell you how many barbecues I've thrown this summer where we bust out WiiFit and soon the party has shifted from the backyard to the living room. The response has been great, and now we're just trying to get as many out there as quick as we can.

So then what's Nintendo's strategy as it pertains to the Wii's longevity?

As long as publishers and our own first-party teams are able to get good use out of the technology that's there to make gameplay experiences people will like, it's going to be a legitimate console. Technology evolves, and when we get to the point when we think it's time to do a new edition, then we'll make an announcement about that. But for right now, with the number of games that are coming out and the kind of creativity that we are seeing on the platform, that shows us that the well is nowhere near dry in terms of what this console can do.

How about the DS? Are we close to the next generation of that handheld?

The DS is also very successful, and in the June NPD data we think that the DS might overtake the Wii as the number one console for the month. It's selling great; we've sold 70 million units of that worldwide. As Reggie said in the press conference, we'll be close to 100 million by the end of the year. You're seeing the creative opportunity for developers. You see Spore, Guitar Hero, and now Grand Theft Auto was just announced for the DS. You see a lot of publishers excited about developing for that platform. And so, to think about cutting that short and moving onto the next console right away, we just don't see a lot of logic in doing that.

Looking to the digital space, what's Nintendo's strategy concerning WiiWare? Why would a third-party developer choose to release their title over WiiWare versus alternative channels such as XBLA or PSN?

WiiWare is a great opportunity for any size developer, large or small, to get their product out in a way that has been difficult in the past because of the cost of production and trying to get retail space. It's a real opportunity for any size developer to realize their creative vision. As more and more publishers understand what it can do for them, we're gong to see more great titles.

But without any sort of promotion by Nintendo for these games, what incentive do third-parties have to put their games on your service?

There's lots of ways to get the word out if you've got a great game. Even in talking to people like yourself. Joystiq is a good place for WiiWare developers to talk about their game and let the public know about it in advance.

"I think with Virtual Console and WiiWare, they'll find their rhythm in terms of when the right space is to release titles, and the public will help shape that."

It just doesn't seem that Nintendo gives any advance notice of these titles, and it isn't until Monday morning that anyone knows what's available. Is that your strategy?

We kind of have to pick our battles in terms of where we're going to load up on marketing and publicity efforts, so we get behind certain games that we think have huge sales potential and the retailer will push that. If we have a game on the WiiWare system that we think is equal to that kind of effort and worthy of it, then we would do it.

Finally, we want to talk a bit about Virtual Console. Specifically, the release frequency for these titles seems to have begun to dry up a bit. Any reason for this?

There's ebbs and flows in anything; that's just the model of the whole video game industry. Sometimes you see a lot of spiking around Christmas, and I think that now what you're starting to see is more consistent spacing of titles because you can sell a title now whereas before it was difficult to see a blockbuster anywhere but Christmas. Now you can see it spaced all the way through the year. I think with Virtual Console and WiiWare, they'll find their rhythm in terms of when the right space is to release titles, and the public will help shape that.

And is Nintendo courting any other older console libraries for the service?

The skies' the limit, that's what is great about Virtual Console. We don't have anything new to announce, but you're seeing a lot of new content put on that from old libraries. And it doesn't just have to be classic arcade titles, it can be new experiences released there as well.

Who decides when a virtual console title is released, is it Nintendo or is it the original publisher?

The publisher decides, but it's in conjunction [with Nintendo]. WiiWare is a little bit more loose in terms of having very little input from Nintendo at all. Developers really have the final long as it passes the ESRB rating. It can't be rated too high, and it also has to work.

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