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GDC09: Joystiq interviews Nintendo's Denise Kaigler about Nintendo and 'the core,' DS coexistence


We first met Nintendo of America's VP of Corporate Affairs Denise Kaigler at a Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament in Worcester, Massachusetts, shortly after she accepted the job with the company. At the time, she had just left Reebok and was a little defensive (probably because she didn't really know all the details yet) of her role at the house of Mario. Our initial impression of Kaigler was that she was a little different, there was something we couldn't quite pin down at the time.

Here we are now, a year later, and she certainly is comfortable in her role. Sitting in a big comfy armchair -- barefoot, mind you -- in a San Francisco hotel during GDC, we spoke with the executive about Nintendo's relationship with the core audience, its plans with the two DS models and its relationship with third-party publishers. Reading our transcription of this interview, it can be interpreted that there was some hostility in our conversation; however, it's worth noting, that in context, it was a mixture of sass and smiles. She certainly is a different type of executive than the other public figures we've gotten used to in this industry.

So, is the SD storage solution a sign that Nintendo is paying attention to the core gamers? Was that development part of feedback? How did that happen?

Kaigler: We have never stopped listening and caring about the core gamer. Ever. As you know, a year ago when I got to the job and reading your site, reading some of the other sites, and reading most of all the message boards -- what folks are saying about it. And they are saying, you know, Nintendo doesn't care. It's never been about that, right. So what I think - I am going to answer your question in a second - but how I like to explain it: So, there is the core, who have been so faithful to Nintendo for so many years and we absolutely appreciate it and recognize that. ... You guys are still right there dead center, we've just brought in more gamers. We've shared the fun that you guys (the core) have had to yourselves and enjoyed for so long. We are sharing it with many, many more people. So our focus has never gone off the core, we have expanded our focus to include others. So I want to first say that.

To answer your specific question. Absolutely! We heard you guys and we want you guys to be able to play as many games as you can play, download as many games as you can download, as conveniently as painlessly as easily as possible. So, I hope you guys were satisfied with that solution. We are certainly happy to bring it and the reaction to Mr. Iwata, when he announced it, it certainly was a validation and it was something that the industry has been waiting for.

Right, but what percentage of the install base of the Wii does Nintendo consider to be - like you said, you didn't shift, you expanded - so of that expansion, what percentage is considered the core?

You know, you might have heard Reggie talking about it. Certainly Mr. Iwata talked about it. That we - we tend not to define the core narrowly like that. Ok. Because does the core really want to be pigeonholed like that? The way we look at it, the core has in common the need to wanna be surprised, to have fun experiences, to be able to have an immersive game play experience that nobody else can provide.

So what would you consider a core game?

Well, certainly MadWorld, Conduit, GTA. All those - those games are coming to our platform.

Right, so let's talk about ...

House of the Dead.

What percentage of games in development - currently in development - are core games?

Well -- but see, we don't -- we don't define it that way. I mean because would you call Animal Crossing a core game? Would you call Wii Music a core game? Would you call Wii Fit a core game? Wii Fit would never have reached the type of mass penetration had the core not been part of that audience. Never would have. But, when we first announced that game at E3, the core from what I understand was kind of not really sure, but the core is buying that game.

Which game?

Wii Fit.

Okay. (We were confused if she was trying to clump Wii Music in there).

Because it has to. The numbers are too big for it not to include part of what you guys call the "core," right? Would you agree with that?

We would need to ...

Let me ask you, have you played Wii Fit?

Of course.

Ok, so, you're core. I am sorry but I am going to label ... would you label yourself core?

Would have to say so.

I would guess that you would be! And do you own Wii Fit or have you tried it just different Nintendo events?

Actually do own it.

You have absolutely proven my case! Thank you for telling me that, by the way.

But, MadWorld, The Conduit, these are third-party titles.

I know, I am putting in some first party games. That's my point. You own Wii Fit and you are a core gamer. And you own Wii Fit. And by the way, Animal Crossing would not have become the franchise it has become if it weren't for the core. Would you, did you ever play Animal Crossing?

Have played that.

On both the Wii and the handheld?

Not on Wii.

Not on Wii so you played it on the handheld?

Played it on the DS.

Okay, you've played two first party core games ... games that appeal to the core. See I would just, what we're gonna say is games that appeal to the core, I, you're gonna say core games, I'm gonna say games that appeal to, to an audience of gamers that includes the core.

Mmkay ...

Is that fair? Does that make sense?

No that, that is fair.


So, speaking of games that appeal to the core. The ones you named off the top of your head were MadWorld, Conduit. These are third-party titles, there's, whether it's true or not, there's been a lot of controversy over whether Nintendo is supporting third party titles with marketing and everything like that. Those few titles are the ones that are being defined as the the core. Forget games that appeal to the core, those are the ones being called the core games. Does Nintendo plan on supporting The Conduit in other ways? Having it be part of the dialog?

We had, did you come to our media briefing in San Francisco in April?

(shaking head)

Out here in April. Every media briefing, so ... I work in the sales and marketing division, PR, as you know, is part of my group. ... You were at E3 last year, we had third party, it's part of the E3 media briefing, we certainly ... We had it in the show, we had some third party titles on the show floor. So E3, certainly has been a venue for us to showcase our support for third party. The media briefings that the PR team does: fall media summit, spring media summit. ... We had Conduit and MadWorld there at the event, so, we absolutely do support our third parties. We understand the importance of doing that. But it has to come from the licensees too, right? They drive it, we support them. We have a team within Nintendo that is completely focused on supporting those relationships. I want to get to something, so, just to give you another first party game, Punch-Out? Was that, would that not be a core game?

Yes, but ...

A title that the core would also find appealing?

"Oh my god, we can't win, you guys say 'bring us some of your old franchises,' we do that, 'well, no, no we want new IP' come on, ah, oh my god, we can't satisfy, tell me that we can satisfy you guys?!"

But that's, that's become more the same thing we've seen from Wii, where ...

Oh now you've gotta put all these qualifiers on it! Don't call out qualifiers!

(Some sassy "Oh nanana nononono" back and forth)

You asked me to name, give you some titles, I give you titles, you say well but, well but, well but...

How about original titles?

So, do you not want us to bring back some of the old school, fun franchises, that you guys have been wanting us to...

But there should ...

So we cannot win! Oh my god, we can't win, you guys say "bring us some of your old franchises," we do that, "well, no, no we want new IP" come on, ah, oh my god, we can't satisfy, tell me that we can satisfy you guys?!

Of course it can't be satisfied, the core can never be satisfied.

That's what makes it fun, though, it makes it actually fun for both of us, I think.

You know, you get it from the buyers and everything like that, we get it from the commenters. There is no satisfaction.

Aha, there is, no, it's true, it's an insatiable appetite that core gamers have ... and that's what they love talking about, but we, you know what, it also energizes us, cause I think, we would be having a different conversation right now ... Nintendo would be in a different place in the market if we weren't always being, I suppose, challenged by the different gaming communities out there. But we are, we understand most at Nintendo, there's a huge population within Nintendo that are core gamers, obviously. But we're, we try, and I think we're we're giving you guys what you want by bringing back these franchises, continuing these franchise, I mean Rhythm Heaven? Rhythm Heaven?!

New Play Control Metroid Prime hasn't come out in the States, right? How is that transition being done? How are those products being brought over to the States? How is that decision being made?

Alright. Nintendo Corporate, the Nintendo headquarters in Japan, makes the final decsions on which games are going to be adapted. Now that we have Wii and the Wii remote, the team, as we saw with Tennis and Pikmin, is going back and identifying certain key games that you guys love. And in seeing what makes sense to adapt the old school games with the new play control; and then, when does it make sense to introduce those games. So, we don't make that decision. Japan makes that decision.

So when are we going to see Metroid come over?

When we have something to announce, we will announce it.

What's the plan with Club Nintendo now and in the future?

It's just launched!

Yeah, it was just introduced to the States after ...

I know, we heard that too, by the way. It was something that we heard that loud and clear and we went ... why Japan? Why are they doing all this in Japan? If they can buy all this swag, why can't we enjoy them too? So, now we've got it here. We're excited. When we announced that Club Nintendo was coming to the States, that was the biggest applause that we got in the audience. It was really fun. It was fun to know that we were once again working towards satisfying a key consumer group. It's just launched and we are looking to see how it goes. Right now, it's going very very well. We've been very happy with the response to Club Nintendo.

Are you phasing out the DS now that the DSi is here? How is that going to work?

We'll have both DS Lite and DSi on the market. There is still so much potential for DS in this market. Certainly one of the reasons, I'm sure you're following this, is you heard coming out of Japan. The reason why Japan launched Nintendo DSi before the States is because the market penetration was pretty solid. I mean 20 percent of all households in Japan have Nintendo DS versus less than half of that in the U.S. Only about 9 percent of all households in the U.S. own a DS. Despite that, we still have unbelievable potential for DS Lite sales in the U.S. marketplace. So, with the untapped market for DS, certainly the availability of many more colors of DS -- people like that -- the people like all those pink and whatever other colors are available.

We are launching DSi in just two colors. We do think it will appeal to all consumers -- both loyalists and expanded. We do think that there is going to be a consumer demographic who will walk into retail and want a DS Lite because one, it is $40 ... you know, price difference, which is not insignificant in this environment.

There'll be some consumers going, "you know. I've got a DSi but I'll still get a DS lite." Maybe they'll play with a friend who has DSi now when it comes out in 10 days and then decide later on to buy it? So we still believe that there is some potential for DS Lite even alongside on store shelves of DSi.

So, you see coexistence?

There will be coexistence. Now, do I have a crystal ball to tell you how long it's going to be? No. But there will be some coexistence, yes.

So, what percentage of the handheld marketing is going to go towards DS Lite compared to ... if they are both going to live together, who is going to get dad's attention?

Now you are asking me to share some specific marketing plans, which we don't do in the way that you are asking me, but I can tell you that, as you know that most of the games available on DS will be playable on Nintendo DSi. So, how we market the games themselves will be as an offshoot. We're marketing both platforms because you can play the games on both platforms.

So, let's rephrase it a little bit more. Is there going to be a DS demo station in your local Best Buy next to the DSi demo station?

I don't know. I mean we haven't talked publicly about those granular details of DSi, but some of that is going to depend on probably the retail outlet and the amount of space that we have on the show floor.

I mean could we go into X retailer and say, "We want this entire wall for DS." We would love to take it, but we do have certain space, as you know, working in this industry. There are certain inherent restrictions that manufacturers like us have within retail.

So, I don't think there is going to be -- I can't give you that one blanket outline of what you're going to walk into retail and see, because I do think it might vary for retail.

So, your son is obviously a core gamer.

He is a gamer.

My question to you is: what energizes him? What's the thing that energizes him when he is talking to you? What does he talk to you about?

Can I tell you, when I first got the job, because I am an "expanded audience member." So, when I first got the job -- and I have a daughter too, she is not as into it, although she does play with them. She is 17, so she has got other priorities right now. ... [My son] was the first one to say, "Mom, I can teach you everything you want to know about anything." Pokémon, like he so knows the entire Pokémon franchise.

I mean he probably is a lot like you. Like he wants to know, okay, what's coming out? So, he watched E3 last year. So, he saw we announce at E3, and when I got home, "Okay, when can I get this, this, this?"

We are a family who -- we are a gaming family. Right now, he has -- we just got -- he loves Wario Land: Shake It! We actually have, which I'm addicted to, Boom Blox. ... He loves Animal Crossing. So, and my DSi, he loves -- like, in that DSi, my photo album is mostly his pictures and mostly his sound recordings.

So, he likes new technology. Every time I go, like he can't have this (points to the DSi). If I'm not home, he is not getting it, but so he wants one. So, he is saying, "Mommy, as soon as it comes out, will you buy me one?" He was asking that when I was home last weekend. I said probably, probably, because as you pointed out, he is a core gamer. So, I want him to experience whatever I can.

So, as a part of the "expanded market," what energizes you?

Specifically games you mean? I'm into Touch Generation. I love the crosswords, I love Professor Layton, I'm addicted, I like Millionaire. I do play some Zelda, although I would never take on Reggie. I would never ever, ever expose myself to Reggie playing Zelda.

But I do play Zelda, so I don't know, that's more of a core gaming game, but I obviously want to play all of our games. I do play Animal Crossing with [my kids].

Thanks for your time, Denise.

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