With E3 just a scant three weeks away and the GameCube just days from its European launch, what better time to talk with Nintendo's vice president of corporate affairs, Perrin Kaplan? It's already been an interesting year for the video game giant. With just one first-party game released so far this year for the GameCube and rumors running rampant concerning one of its primary suppliers of software leaving for presumably greener pastures, Nintendo is in a precarious situation. But the company believes its strong lineup of games scheduled for release later this year will help alleviate the pressure.
GameSpot: The GameCube is still very young in its life cycle, but what is Nintendo most proud of so far?
Perrin Kaplan: I think several things. One is having a great splash at the time of launch and having the GameCube be something that everyone wants to get their hands on. We held a lot of our announcements and activities until prior to launch. And we did something really different as far as opening night clubs and day clubs all across the country so that people got a chance for hands-on trials versus learning about it on TV. And that really gave us a great groundswell of chatter about it.
GS: Just recently the GameCube began outselling the Xbox in North America. But before that the Xbox had its way there for a while. And on the whole the Xbox has still sold more units total in North America than the GameCube. How do you feel about that? Are you surprised that the Xbox has sold so well?
PK: Well, it pretty much comes down to supply and demand. And what Nintendo was unfortunately unable to do at the beginning of this year--and this does happen when you're doing global launches--is have enough inventory on shelves here in North America. And some of the retailers and consumers had to starve and go without. Some of them may have turned to buying an Xbox or PS2. But basically we didn't have the inventory flow we needed to have as we were preparing for a launch in Europe and as we supplied more product to Japan, as the sales there are very strong. So we're back on top, the product's moving, and retailers and consumers are happy. Are we surprised that the Xbox did a good job? No, because it's Microsoft and they really gave it their all. And frankly it's fun competition between all the companies, and it's the consumers in the end who win--there are a lot of households who have dual ownership. But in the end the Nintendo base is really strong. We have a lot of great products coming out and we sold every last unit. Had we had more we would have sold more. So both companies did really well but now we're cooking ahead of the Xbox and that's because we have product flowing again, which is great.
GS: The PlayStation 2 had a nice head start. In fact, right now it has about a 6-million-unit head start in North America. Does Nintendo believe that it's possible to catch the PlayStation 2? Is it even concerned with catching the PlayStation 2?
PK: Nintendo's not really concerned. It's really interesting when people pose us that question. The PlayStation 2 is going to be, in another year, on the downside of its launch cycle. It was the only contender last year for the next-gen consoles. It has a year leap on us, or in other words, it's a year older than us, which for new technologies might make them less appealing over time. But the bottom line is that the field is huge, and all three companies are really healthy and doing well. Obviously, the PlayStation 2 has a greater number of systems in homes. And between the Xbox and Nintendo, and certainly at Nintendo, we're going to be filling a huge gap and many people will be trading up for our systems.
GS: This year, Nintendo has a huge lineup planned, including Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Star Fox Adventures, and Eternal Darkness. Personally, which game are you most excited for?
PK: Being a female and not 100 percent representative of the average player, I'd say probably Metroid is the game I'm most interested in seeing come out. It is going to be coming this year, and a lot of people are obviously really excited. It's a character franchise that we haven't seen in years, and the development team has been doing a stellar job and Mr. Miyamoto is overseeing it, which means it will be a prized possession in the end. But all the games are going to be great for a variety of reasons, and the character franchises that we have are something that no one else can compete with. I'm also excited about bringing out Resident Evil and Eternal Darkness, which is a very M-rated game. It's going to be loved by people. It's a very different kind of game.
GS: Speaking of M-rated games, a lot of third-party publishers have stated that they're not going to bring their M-rated games to the GameCube. Aside from securing the Resident Evil exclusive and releasing one or two M-rated games itself, what is Nintendo doing to change this perception?
PK: Nintendo will have a very large library by this holiday. In fact, by the middle of this summer, we'll have a lot of third-party games. But Nintendo tends to launch things a little differently than the other companies. Microsoft, for example, doesn't have really an in-house arm that develops things like Nintendo does. The biggest world developer of games is Nintendo. So they had to rely on a lot of third-party games. Our goal was to launch with our main character franchises along with the Star Wars game from Lucas. And now we're rolling into a lot of third-party activities and you'll see a lot of M-rated games come from that. It is still very early on in the life of these systems.
GS: The third-party support has already proven to be better with the GameCube than it was with the N64.
GS: But it still looks like the Xbox and PlayStation 2 are getting a little more in the form of third-party exclusives. How has the response been from third-party publishers to the GameCube and was it in line with what you had hoped?
PK: Well, there's a lot more to come. And things are actually working quite well. We have all the major third-party companies in the world that are going to be producing games for the GameCube.
GS: Including Enix?
PK: I wouldn't say that Enix is on the list. I'd actually have to check because there are so many. But the bottom line is that it's not quantity, it's the kind of quality that ends up on your system. It's the quality of the movie that's in the theatre that people go for, it's not because the theatre has cushy seats. They don't buy a GameCube because it has a million games on it, they buy it because of the games that they want to play and have to play. So our interest is more about games that people just have to have versus getting thousands to choose from. In truth, it's only the top 30 games or so that are profitable. There are many games, including third-party games, that just don't sell enough units to break even for anyone.
GS: Can we really expect to play both Mario and Zelda in the same year?
PK: Mario is very much on track and Zelda is slated for later in the year, so I can't promise that 100 percent for sure. Because what Nintendo always does choose to do--and people razz us for it but then they thank us for it later--is when we have any schedule changes it's really because of the quality of the game. You'll see when Star Fox comes out that it's stellar. The same with Metroid. We will be doing the right thing for the players in the end for that. And those products are coming this year.
GS: Talking about someone like Miyamoto, you realize that he's this great mind, but are there other up-and-coming designers at Nintendo who you're expecting great things from?
PK: There always are. The teams that work under Miyamoto and have for years are really in many different ways responsible for all these games people fall in love with. He is not an independent artist. He has taught people for years and he encourages and pushes them, and then he backs off and lets them do what they need to do. For example, with Pikmin, it was his concept, but they built the game. He altered it and formed it and made it ultimately what he wanted it to be. So we have lots of great artists and developers inside the company. HAL is a great company, Rare is great, Retro studios--we've got some great talent.
GS: The Game Boy Advance has done really well so far. In fact, it's the only platform selling on pace with the PlayStation 2 right now.
PK: Man, you are so up to date on your sales numbers. I'm really proud of that.
GS: Is Nintendo happy with the Game Boy Advance's performance so far?
PK: Yes. The Game Boy Advance is selling great. The Game Boy is sort of a marketing anomaly. If you were to look at a product's life cycle, it should have been dead long ago. But we keep bringing out new and modern iterations of it, and at this point it's a 32-bit machine that sits in the palm of your hand. It's pretty cool.
GS: The one complaint that we hear is that the Game Boy Advance screen is hard to see because it's too dark. Are there any plans to release a backlit version?
PK: No, but what we have done is encourage developers to make sure that they stay away from really dark colors like purples, blacks, browns, and grays and stick with colors that are going to be easier for people to see.
GS: Rare is arguably one of Nintendo's biggest assets where exclusive games are concerned. Has Rare told Nintendo that it plans on making games for other platforms besides the GameCube and Game Boy Advance in the next few years?
PK: No, our good relationship with them continues and there aren't any changes at this time. Star Fox is well on track to come out and they're continuing to do their good work. We'll see what the future holds, but we've stayed very close to them and they to us and they definitely have done good work with us over the years.
GS: So you don't see them making games for the PlayStation 2 or Xbox over the next couple of years?
PK: You'd have to ask them. I don't foresee it, but you'd have to ask them.
GS: Nintendo really emphasized the connection between the GameCube and Game Boy Advance leading up to the launch of both platforms, but it has yet to release a game that takes advantage of the feature.
PK: Well, you'd better come to E3! You'll see a lot of these things being shown at E3, during the second half of the year, and into next year. It's going to come in a lot of different forms, [not just] transferring characters up and down. Having those two systems--both being popular platforms--work so well together is something that's obviously very unique. And we want to do it right, so you'll start seeing the games that implement that, but to launch with that just didn't make sense.
GS: Nintendo has traditionally used E3 as its platform to make big announcements. Can we expect some huge surprises from Nintendo at next month's E3?
PK: Well, there will always be good stuff to look at and things to hear about. We did launch our system last year, so you're not going to find the big, big news, but you'll get great information on software and a lot of the work we've done on Wavebird, which is our wireless controller. It's great. We've been using it in the building from one side to the other and in between walls and it still works. So there's going to be a large focus on those sorts of things. There's going to be a lot to look at and a lot to play.
GS: Thanks for your time, Perrin.
Interview conducted on CNET Radio's Kovski and Crisis.