Nintendo explains its online stance

We speak with Beth Llewelyn, director of public relations at Nintendo of America, about Nintendo's online strategy.

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Yesterday, Nintendo, the company most reluctant to jump into the online sector with its video game console, announced its online strategy for the GameCube. But in fact, there really is no strategy. Nintendo will release the GameCube dialup and broadband adapters in the fall at $34.99 each and will let the respective publishers handle the mess of serving their own online games. Nintendo's hands-off approach mirrors that of Sony, a company that plans to release its own online gaming solution for its PlayStation 2 in the fall. Beth Llewelyn, Nintendo's director of public relations, took some time from the pre-E3 rush to speak with us about Nintendo's approach to online gaming, if anything forced Nintendo's hand, and pricing structures for future online GameCube software.

GameSpot: Does Nintendo really want to produce online games, or is this announcement more of a reaction to the competition? In the past, Nintendo's been sort of standoffish on the topic.

Beth Llewelyn: It's not that we're standoffish. We're looking at it from two perspectives. The first is from the perspective of the hardware manufacturer. We certainly want to make this as easy as possible for our third-party developers so that if they have an online game, our system is capable. And then from a software publisher's standpoint, we are a little bit more cautious. We're not looking at online as the end all, be all. It is one extension of gaming, and if a game makes sense to go online, then we'll pursue that. But for right now, we view it as more of a niche area and our focus really is more on broadly based entertainment. And when online is a viable business opportunity for us, we'll pursue it. But again, that's speaking from the software side of it. But from a hardware manufacturer's standpoint, we're being realistic.

GS: Normally, when Nintendo launches a new peripheral, like the Rumble Pak or Expansion Pak from the N64 days, there's a first-party game to go along with it. Is Nintendo disappointed that it won't have a first-party game ready for the launch of online GameCube gaming?

BL: Not at all. We're quite excited to have Sega's game onboard. And we don't have a game that's ready quite yet.

GS: When can we expect to see Nintendo's first online GameCube game?

BL: We don't have any announcements about that right now, and we won't be making any announcements at E3. So, I'd say that's still months away.

GS: What specific properties is Nintendo investigating for online use?

BL: That's a good question. You can ask Mr. Miyamoto.

[Laughter]

GS: Can consumers count on all GameCube games utilizing both dialup and broadband?

BL: Right now, that question's more for the third-party publishers who will be producing online games.

GS: So Nintendo won't have any sort of mandate to ensure that third-party developers utilize both connections?

BL: No.

GS: Will the servers running Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II be established and maintained by Nintendo or Sega?

BL: Sega.

GS: Will there be a monthly fee involved with playing PSO Episode I & II? If so, who will be collecting the charge?

BL: This is something that would be up to third-party publishers. We are waiving those fees. So we will not be requiring any of those fees.

GS: Is it safe to say that Nintendo's online approach mirrors Sony's in that it's a hands-off approach and you're going to allow the third party developers and publishers to take care of their specific games?

BL: Yes. We want it to be very developer-friendly and the best business opportunity for the third party publishers who are producing these games.

GS: Will broadband or dialup adapters be packed in with Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II, or will they be sold separately?

BL: They will be sold separately.

GS: Will PSO Episode I & II support both dialup and broadband connections?

BL: I honestly don't know the answer to that. It's a good question for Sega.

GS: Will there be a keyboard released in North America?

BL: We do not have anything planned right now.

GS: With Sony's network adapter costing $39 for both dialup and broadband connections, will the broadband and dialup adapters for the GameCube each cost $34.99, or will the pair cost $34.99?

BL: They will be sold separately for $34.99.

GS: For future games, how does Nintendo anticipate handling the server issues? Will it continue to be up to the publishers to establish servers for their own games, or will there be a GameCube network similar to Xbox Live?

BL: For third-party games, it will be up to the third parties. As far as what we do, I don't have any information that I can provide on that right now. There will be an announcement that comes at a later date, when we start talking about first-party online games.

GS: What sort of numbers is Nintendo looking for in order to deem Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II a success?

BL: That more of a question for Sega.

GS: So would you say that regardless of how well the game does, that's not going to affect Nintendo's decisions at all?

BL: No, because what we're looking for is a compelling game that makes sense for it to be online. We're not going to just pick a game and say, "Oh, let's make it online because online is hot right now." So we're taking a very different approach. If it's going to add something to the game to make it that much better of a gaming experience, that's when we'll start exploring online.

GS: In a nutshell, what is Nintendo's vision of online console gaming?

BL: We're not looking at the Nintendo GameCube as something to use to surf the Internet. It is a gaming platform. So for us, for a game to work online, it has to be compelling and a great game. We're certainly exploring online options internally, but it's what's going to make that game compelling to place it online.

GS: Thank you for taking the time out of your day to speak with us.

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