NEW YORK--Nintendo took a calculated risk when it designed the Wii, banking on an unproven user interface not only to drive sales of the system, but also to extend the company's push into new markets--and even the way developers think about game design.
If the risk pays off, the company is looking at a significant upside in the form of tapping a market far beyond the traditional 18- to 34-year-old male demographic. If it doesn't, Nintendo could be bringing up the rear in another battle for the living room, while at the same time it faces its stiffest competition in the portable sector yet.
With mere hours left until the official North American launch of the Wii, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime took time out to answer GameSpot's last-minute questions about the console, as well as address the company's postlaunch plans.
GameSpot: When you were a senior VP at VH1, you raised ratings by going after younger viewers. How has that experience, developing programming for a major cable channel, helped in the preparation and execution of Nintendo of America's Wii strategy?
Reggie Fils-Aime: OK, a quick minute of background on VH1: The problem with VH1 when I got there was that they had ridden one show, called Behind the Music, to drive ratings. And when that show got old--because they we starting to do Behind the Music on groups that no one cared about--the ratings started to fall apart. So, coming from outside the industry, I was able to say smart things like "We need to broaden our development slate. We need to get the brand focused back on 25 to 35 year olds because that's what it's all about." In the media business, you can't allow your channel to get old, because media companies will go somewhere else to buy a 40- to 50-year-old audience. They won't go to VH1.
So, snap to the Nintendo business, I come on board and say "Boy, it seems like we keep doing the same thing over and over again, to a certain extent." How do we broaden out our efforts, not only from marketing and sales standpoint but in challenging Mr. Iwata and asking "how do we push forward the envelope?" So that's really the analogy in terms of some of the things I brought from my experience here to Nintendo: the ability to ask some hopefully pretty smart questions, to challenge the organization to try and do new things and do things in a different way, and to get grounded in some core business fundamentals that play to your strength and drive them forward. I think that's what we've been able to do quite successfully for Nintendo DS and that's what we're prepared to do, hopefully, quite successfully on Wii.
GS: Is it possible that longtime gamers, such as people who have been playing games since the NES--people who love games even more as they grow more complicated--may be put off by the Wii and its mainstream games and approach?
RF: The answer to that is Zelda, right? For the passionate fan who wants something a bit more challenging, a deep story, 70 hours of gameplay, it's Zelda. It's all there, it's nine dungeons long, it is an immense area--that alone should stop all of the worries as to whether Nintendo will continue to make big, epic games. We absolutely will. We're also going to do other things to bring that NES or SNES fan who now has three kids, a job, doesn't have time to play games; we're going to bring him Link to the Past that he enjoyed back in those days and has a great opportunity to play again on the Virtual Console. We want it all, quite frankly. So when we talk about bringing gaming back to the masses, it is both for this core fan, which we will continue to have great content for, and this new expanded gamer who either hasn't played in 20 years or hasn't played at all.
GS: Speaking of both sets of fans, how many Wii games will be available for them in the launch window and in the months to come?
RF: We'll have about 30 titles in the launch window. In terms of purchase at retail, that launch window essentially goes through December. So call it a five-week time horizon, fairly tight. In terms of Virtual Console games, a similar number again, during that launch window. So, total, 60 games is what the consumer is looking at, whether it's downloadable via the Virtual Console or available at their local retailer.
GS: What genres do you feel you have covered well in these 60 games and what genres do you feel you need to have covered next year and moving forward?
RF: You know, the genre lineup is broad and diverse, and I have to say candidly, based on the launch window lineup, there isn't a gap. We've got sports, we've got racing, we've got action adventure. Probably the only missing piece is a pure role-playing game--we've obviously got action RPG's but not a traditional RPG...yet. Everything else is there.
GS: Are there titles that you've seen from third parties that would be great for the Wii you are actively pursuing?
RF: Guitar Hero would be wonderful on Wii right? I mean, I can see dueling double battle axes and going at it. You could actually even see taking Guitar Hero to the next level. We've shown two Wii remotes and the ability to do drumming. Maybe it's a full-on band-type ensemble--that could be pretty cool. So certainly there are a couple titles out there I'd love to see on our platform. But broadly the support has been stellar. Every big licensee, great support out of Japan, smaller developers getting onboard--it's tough to ask for more, even for as ornery and aggressive a person as I am.
GS: What do you say to people that want to get a Wii but couldn't get a preorder and maybe aren't ready to camp out? How much is going to drop and how are you going to follow up with supply?
RF: The honest answer is this: People who have not preordered should not give up hope, but they should be prepared to be fast on their feet. Because when you see it, you better buy it. The fact is we'll be bringing 4 million into the worldwide distribution system by December 31, fact. We will get the largest independent share of the three different Nintendo business units. That's a fact. The other fact is that Wii is the hottest system out there and so the demand is extraordinarily high.
That is what will drive shortages; that is what will drive stock out. It's not an inability to manufacture, which is what is plaguing our competition--our biggest issue is going to be an inability to satisfy the demand. We're working around the clock to address it. Planes, trains, and automobiles, you name it, are being employed to maximize the availability, but it's going to be tight. So, if I'm a consumer, I'm going to want to keep calling and going to all of the likely suspects--my EB and GameStop stores, my Best Buy, my Circuit City, my Target, my Wal-Mart, everywhere--because they're all going to have it at some point in time. But when they're in, they're going to be gone immediately.
The other challenge, frankly, for consumers, is that unlike our competition, you're probably not going to see a lot of units on eBay. All of the stories that I've seen of people who have been waiting and getting their preorders in, a lot of these folks get asked, 'You gonna go put this on eBay?' And for PS3, people are saying, 'Yeah, I'm hoping to strike it rich on PS3.' For Wii, they're saying, 'No. I want to buy this and play it.'
GS: How are you handling additional accessories and their availability?
RF: Additional Nunchuks and remotes will be available at retail. Wii points cards will be available at retail. I think that's the vast majority of accessories that consumers will be looking for. Similar to the hardware, those will be in challenging supply. Again, it's not that you won't be able to get them, but you'll need to use the phone a little bit and also contact our consumer service to get some of the things you need.
GS: How robust will online be day one?
RF: Virtual Console will be ready day one. We'll also communicate our ongoing strategy for the rollout of Virtual Console titles. It is going to be ongoing. WiiConnect24 content will be coming. That is going to be something that is game specific quite frankly in terms of the ability to push out content.
GS: Which of the titles support it?
RF: You'll start seeing online-enabled packaged games in early 2007.
GS: If putting together a software library is a lot like making a meal, how would you say your table is shaping up for 2007?
RF: So part of what you have to think about when you're making a meal are the courses. So dessert, coffee, and the after-dinner drink. So dessert is going to be Metroid Prime 3. Coffee is going to be Mario Galaxy and the after-dinner drink is going to Super Smash Bros. Brawl. All of those are being sequenced and all of those are going to be part of the ongoing flow of product to make sure we maintain momentum. That's a critical thing that I would argue in the GameCube and N64 launches we really didn't pay as much attention to.
GS: Since you mention those titles as being part of your momentum, can we expect these in 2007?
RF: Based on what I know today, the answer is yes.
GS: Looking forward at how the Virtual Console is expected to roll content out next year--10 games a month has been the figure made public--do you think you'll be able to be consistent with that?
RF: As we sit here today, yeah we're confident. What we've learned with Virtual Console is that it's like debugging a brand new game, so there's a fair amount of work involved. Our commitment is to bring a regular flow to consumers in that Virtual Console content. Based on what we said in September, that goal is 10 a month.
GS: What is the future of Virtual Console? Where will it be a few years down the road? Will we see more than legacy titles? Would it be possible to see content similar to Xbox Live Marketplace or the PlayStation 3's online store?
RF: To be clear, when we use Virtual Console, we are talking about legacy content. When we talk about WiiConnect24, that's the larger opportunity, that's the larger space around which other content can live. Whether its brand-new developed content, whether it is sequentially released content, whether it's content pushed out that's specific to a packaged game bought previously, and we're looking at all of that. Our proposition to publishers, big, small, everybody between, is that we have the best platform to develop for, we will have the most massive and mainstream audience available, and we want all your best ideas as long as they make innovative use of the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk. That's the proposition, and I would love to see broad-based content--new, old, experimental--all available on WiiConnect24. And I think both Mr. Iwata and Mr. Miyamoto want to see that as well.
GS: Thanks for your time.