Nintendo has bold ambitions for the Wii U. Released just yesterday in the United States, Nintendo's first high-definition console is aiming to reshape the way consumers not only play games, but also enjoy entertainment. It's a lofty ambition, but after the Wii took the gaming world by storm, betting against Nintendo does not seem to be the wisest move.
To get a deeper insight into Nintendo's plans for the Wii U and beyond, GameSpot caught up with Bill Trinen, director of product marketing at Nintendo. Talking to GameSpot from inside the Nintendo World Store in the famous Rockefeller Center in New York City during Nintendo's Wii U launch event Saturday night, Trinen spoke at length about the Wii U.
Of note, this interview was conducted just after 9 p.m. on the evening of Saturday, November 17.
We're now two hours and fifty minutes from launch. What's going through your head right now?
(Laughs) It's been, obviously, a really long haul since we first showed [Wii U] at E3 2011. And we've been working non-stop ever since. I honestly think this is a system that people won't really understand what's so amazing about it until they've had a chance to have it in their home and start using it on a daily basis. And I just think that once [gamers] start interacting with [Wii U] in terms of the games and how the GamePad interacts with the TV and especially the social element and the other entertainment elements; it's really going to, I think, change the way we enjoy entertainment.
"I honestly think this is a system that people won't really understand what's so amazing about it until they've had a chance to have it in their home and start using it on a daily basis. "
You were also around for the 2006 launch of the Wii?
I was around for the 2006 launch of the Wii.
How do those two experiences compare? Because with the Wii, we saw the revolution that it set, and now things are not certain [for the Wii U].
Probably the one big difference between the Wii launch and the Wii U launch is that Wii U is just a more complex system. There's so much else that it's doing beyond games that it's really been an interesting process of helping getting everything ready and trying to make sure all the complexities are there and ready. And I think people are going to be really excited when they bring it home tonight and they turn it on, update it, and get all the content that's coming.
Speaking to that point, the update didn't roll out until this evening. You also revealed on Friday that [Wii U] is not going to have TVii until December. Can you talk about why?
Well, I think everybody who knows Nintendo, knows that Nintendo wants everything to be the absolute best that it can. Obviously we wanted to have Nintendo TVii available as soon as possible. There's just a few additional tweaks that need to be made.
What kind of impact do you think that's going to have on people buying it tonight who take it home and want to use some of those features?
To be honest, I don't think that there's going to be a tremendous impact because the people are going to be going home tonight and they're going to be playing games; they're going to be experiencing Miiverse for the first time. And that, I think is going to give them a lot to be looking at and kind of figuring out. There's Wii U chat that's there day-one and Netflix is also going to be a part of the day-one offering. eShop, along with a ton of content, is also there day-one. So it's really more about just making sure that that Nintendo TVii service is absolutely perfect when it launches. Because we think it's probably more important that people sit down with it the first time and have a really great experience and want to keep using it than necessarily trying to push it out too soon and have people dissatisfied with it.
So it's targeted for sometime in December?
Yeah, that's the window. I'm looking forward to New Years Day and watching Bowl Games (laughs).
Coming up [this week] is Black Friday. When consumers are going out they're going to see a $200 Xbox 360 and a $200 PS3, and then they're going to see a $300 Wii U and a $350 Wii U. Does that present any problems?
I don't think so. Because Wii U is really the first new system in a new generation of consoles. When the Wii launched, you could still go out and buy a GameCube or a PS2 at a lower price point. So it's always the case where the previous generation of consoles are on the market at a lower price and that's never been a problem for consoles up until now. Particularly, when you look at everything the Wii U is doing, and the fact that with the GamePad, it's really going to change the way that people play games. I think that people are going to see the value really quickly. To me, the thing that is probably most impressive is the launch lineup. On day one there's a ton of games coming both from us and the third-parties. We're seeing things like Call of Duty, and obviously that's not a Nintendo version of a Call of Duty game, it's a full Call of Duty game.
Can you talk about the Wii U's day-one patch. What if a user doesn't have the Internet?
First and foremost, Wii U is a system that you can play games on if you do not have an Internet connection. But really, to enjoy all the features of the Wii U, the majority of those features are network-based features. Whether it is Miiverse--obviously you can't exchange messages without a network connection. Nintendo TVii and [video on demand] apps also both rely on network connections, as does the eShop. So if you're buying the system and you want to play games without connecting it to the Internet, you can certainly do that.
"When you look at everything the Wii U is doing, and the fact that with the GamePad, it's really going to change the way that people play games."
Regarding the marketing message for Wii U versus the Wii, for the Wii it was "Wii would like to play" and for the Wii U the dominant message is "How U will play next." The former seems very inviting when the latter is more of a declaration; it's more assertive. Am I reading to far into it? What's your take on the two marketing messages?
Well, I think there's a couple of differences between Wii, and what it was trying to do, and Wii U, and what this system is really all about. Wii was really about expanding the gaming audience. And it was a system that specifically attracted people who had never played video games or maybe hadn't played a game since the [Nintendo Entertainment System]. And so in that sense, that system was really all about being welcoming. And obviously a lot of people loved the system and a lot of people have it in their homes. So when you're talking about Wii U, it really is sort of that next-gen way to play games and we really want all of those people who owned Wii to understand that they can continue to play and this is a new way to play. It's really a message of you can do it all on this system.
When the Wii launched, we saw tons of shortages. I couldn't get one for about a month. Are you anticipating a similar situation?
I think we're obviously hoping for a similar situation. Any time that there is that much demand, it means people want the product. It's tough to say right now. The sense that we're getting is that there is a lot of demand for the system. As we did with Wii, we're trying to manufacture them as fast as we can and bring them to market as fast as we can so we don't have any shortages. But, back on the Wii, I think the volume for that system was unprecedented. So it's tough to use that as a barometer. We're going to do everything we can to make it as fast as we can.
Today is just the beginning. You're launching in North America today and then Europe and Australia later in the month before Japan in December. How are you approaching those regions?. The same way or differently in terms of launch plans?
Each individual market tends to take their own approach with launch. And I think you're seeing that to a certain degree with some of the advertising that came out in the United Kingdom versus the advertising that came out [in North America]. And now we're seeing the ads in Japan; and Japan has a different approach as well. So the markets are different; and the consumers in each market, they're different.
Can you talk about the 12-month roadmap for Wii U, generally?
I haven't thought about it a whole lot. We've been focused on launch, obviously, and just trying to get through today.
There's no vision?
Oh, I wouldn't say that. The first question is how does it feel? And it feels great to be launching [Wii U] today. But on the other hand, I know that come November 19, it's not like I'm going to have nothing to do (laughs).
We were talking earlier; it's kind of like the finishing line and the start…
It is. And the other night [Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime] described it as mile 14 of a marathon. You feel great about getting there, but there's still a lot to do. Obviously, E3 is going to be coming and that'll be sort of our next opportunity to go into a lot of detail on what's going to come after E3. Between now and then, you can probably surprise people with a Nintendo Direct here or there. In terms of the near-term vision, first and foremost we had the realization that we needed to make sure that we've got a steady stream of content coming not just at launch, but also right after launch to keep people engaged and to keep people interested in the system.
Is part of that picture more 3DS/Wii U interoperability? That's something we talked about in September and there wasn't a lot to say on that. So I'm wondering if there's an update there?
Well there will be in March; Capcom will be releasing Monster Hunter 3 and that will be the first game that has that interoperability. Mr. Sakurai is working with Bandai Namco on Smash Bros. and that's another game that's been announced as having the 3DS-to-Wii U interoperability. I'd suspect that there will probably be more examples coming, and hopefully we'll tell a little bit more of that this year at E3.
Is there still a market for the Wii? Are you guys going to continue to support it?
Wii itself is really interesting because there are so many people who have that system and know what that system is that there's still a lot of opportunity for software sales on Wii. A lot of that consumer is somebody who is looking for…good games. So whether it's things like Nintendo Selects or a lot of the users also are still using their Wii to deliver Netflix content. I think there's also the potential for a lot of people who still haven't purchased Wii, believe it or not, who might be interested at the right price. So we'll probably be looking at it more from that standpoint.
Is Nintendo developing internally any Wii games? Are there any projects in the pipeline?
No, there are not right now.
Another big topic today is expansions and add-on content; season passes. And Nintendo has done none of that. Is this an area you want to get into? Can you talk about the reasons why you're not a player?
"As time goes on, I think we're starting to really look into how can we try to extend the gameplay experience for people both on the 3DS and probably in the future on Wii U as well with additional download packs."
We look at it from a couple different perspectives. New Super Mario Bros 2 was our first foray into add-on content with the downloadable packs for that game, and we'll continue to support that. Fire Emblem for the Nintendo 3DS is another game that in Japan has launched and has downloadable content. And we'll also be bringing that game to North America next year. Separate from that, we have done actually a fair amount of non-paid downloadable add-ons. Whether it's things like Professor Layton games where you can download additional puzzles. So we look at it in terms of what makes for an individual game. But gradually as time goes on, I think we're starting to really look into how can we try to extend the gameplay experience for people both on the 3DS and probably in the future on Wii U as well with additional download packs.
If someone were to pick up a copy of Call of Duty Black Ops II, if they get it for Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 or PC, they can get all the extra content. And if that's not going to be in the question for the Wii U version, then I can't see why you would want the Wii U version.
I can't say for certain what [Activision] is offering.
The Wii dominated last gen. It sold more than 20 million units more than the Xbox 360 or PS3. Can you talk about what happens if the Wii U is not a huge success? What do you think the stakes are?
From my perspective, I look at Wii U and to me, it's less about specifically how many individual units are we selling. And really it's more about how are people that have the system reacting to it. Similar to how when people first brought the Wii home and played Wii Sports and they got a sense for what that motion control felt like, and they shared that with other people. That was really what helped build the momentum for Wii. Similarly, I think as people bring Wii U home, to me, what's really important is that they are able to interact with everything that the system has to offer and get a real sense for how it's changing what's going on in the living room. Because that, to me, is a real opportunity to try to maintain that momentum.
For more on the Wii U launch event, check out GameSpot's photo feature.