One of the challenges Nintendo faces with the Wii U will be simply getting people to understand what the system is. Speaking with GameSpot at this month's Electronic Entertainment Expo, Nintendo of America vice president of sales and marketing Scott Moffitt said the messaging of the Wii U is "confusing" compared to that of the Wii. Moffitt also addressed a handful of other concerns about the system, from its power relative to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to third-party support, practices to thwart used-game sales, ease of connecting with friends online, appealing to the core market, and more.
Nintendo had a very big presence at this year's E3. What was the strategy behind that?
There were two things we realized going into E3: one, that we had too much content and info to share in one press event; second, we know that Wii U is a more complicated story and it takes some explaining to do to have consumers fully embrace it. Lastly, we knew some of our third-party partners wanted to unveil some games and show the Wii U in action in their shows on Monday, which necessitated our video on Sunday. We wanted to unveil the controller and the hardware ourselves and the social stuff before they did. Hopefully we didn't overwhelm!
"Our focus is to talk about what it can do for gameplay and how it can revolutionize entertainment, rather than focus on tech specs."--On Wii U's power compared to current-gen competitors.
Before E3, a few third-party developers came out to say the Wii U hardware was better than the Xbox 360 and PS3. Can you share any insight into the console's hardware specifications?
Unfortunately I have to give you the bad answer. It just comes back to a company philosophy that we believe the experiences and the gameplay are more important than facts and figures. Once the system is available no doubt people will reverse engineer it and take it apart and that info will become known. Our focus is to talk about what it can do for gameplay and how it can revolutionize entertainment, rather than focus on tech specs.
How are you planning to communicate to consumers that the Wii U is an entirely new system?
Well, it's confusing relative to the Wii. With motion control gaming, when you saw Mr. Iwata and Reggie stand up and swing a motion controller, it brought it to life immediately. With a second screen controller, you need to see what's on the second screen, so by nature it's a more complex system. It's less visually easy to understand. As for how we're planning to make it clear that it's a new system, well, we want to get it in people's hands. That's what E3 is all about and from now until launch. We want consumers to experience it for themselves, whether it's in a store, at a gaming event, or at a press event. Once they do that, I think people will really start to understand how the GamePad changes the way you can connect with games and other players.
Last year you said the Wii U was about core gaming. This year, you followed up on that. Are you requiring third-party publishers to incorporate GamePad features when they bring older games like Mass Effect 3 and Batman to the Wii U?
We think publishers are experiencing what the system can do with their dev kits and are imagining ways to bring their biggest franchises to life on the Wii U and leverage the powers of the GamePad and Miiverse. I don't know I'd use the word "require"--we showcased the games at E3 that we think show how developers are reimagining their franchises. The experience of playing these titles on the Xbox 360 and PS3 are relatively similar; what we showed is how you can reimagine game elements like maps and scanning features and bring them to life on the GamePad and make it a completely different experience to what it was on competing systems.
Was that sizzle reel of third-party games on the Wii U that we saw at this year's Nintendo E3 press conference taken from Wii U gameplay? Or another console?
Yes, it was Wii U.
How important is it to secure third-party exclusives like ZombiU for the Wii U? Was it hard?
Not at all hard. The reaction we've gotten from third-party devs has been fantastic. I think they're thrilled and excited about a true innovation in gaming. I think they're all going to come up with interesting solutions and ways to incorporate the Wii U in gameplay, and it's our job to launch the system and continue to broaden the population of gaming so as many consumers get to experience the system as possible. If we do a good job at that, we'll have a huge install base of consumers that are ready to buy [third-party] content.
So who are these core Wii U titles for? Are they aimed at your hardcore Call of Duty player? Or at more casual players, in the hope of turning them towards core titles?
It's a simple answer: the Wii U is designed to appeal to everybody. In the range of games we showcase at E3, you saw a lot of first-party content that will appeal to younger, newer, or more casual gamers. NintendoLand, Wii Fit U, etc. are broad games. A lot of third-party content that was shown will appeal more to core gamers. Oftentimes though, core and casual gamers live in the same household, so that's why so often you see households with more than one console, and the Nintendo platform is usually the most popular second console in some of those core gaming households.
So if the Wii U is in the house, are you hoping core gamers will get into it? Do you think that will work?
Do we want to reach out to the core audience? Absolutely. They're very much part of our audience and the group of consumers we hope will find the way you can reimagine games on the Wii U. The Wii U could become the preferred way to play those games for some of the core gamers. You can imagine how a game like Call of Duty would work on the Wii U--the GamePad will allow you to declutter the TV and pull gaming items like maps down and not interrupt your interaction and enjoy the cinematic quality of the game on the TV. That's one application that could be exciting and could enhance gameplay for a core gamer.
But what about criticism that having to interact with two screens will take players out of the experience of playing a game?
I can tell you about the experiences from gamers I've seen. It doesn't take long at all for the controller to feel intuitive. The analogy may be similar to adjustment it took for consumers to get up off the couch and adjust to using a motion controller; it didn't take very long for consumers to learn and appreciate and embrace it, and I think you'll see a similar dynamic. The adjustment period will be quick. I've seen people commenting about how it enhances gameplay and does not divide their attention.
The Wii U will have a head start on the next Xbox and PlayStation consoles. How will Nintendo take advantage of that lead time?
It obviously allows us to make a bold innovation and shape the future of gaming as we would like to shape it. When we bring innovation to market, we believe there's the ability to enhance gameplay for the better. We don't tend to follow what our competitors are doing when we don't time our console launches or hardware evolutions; it's when we believe there's true innovation available that can move gameplay forward. Being first or being behind is less of a consideration for us.
Nintendo first-party titles: 720p resolution or 1080p?
"We haven't incorporated any features that will discourage used-game sales at this point. We're not trying to circumvent that."--On blocking secondhand games.
I think it's 1080p.
What is Nintendo' strategy on used-game sales? Other publishers seem to find it important to combat this with DLC promotions, online passes, etc.
I don't know if we have a formal position on used-game sales. It is a reality in the marketplace. We haven't incorporated any features that will discourage used-game sales at this point. We're not trying to circumvent that.
How about the online strategy for the Wii U? How will that be implemented?
We announced the Wii U comes preinstalled with a feature called Miiverse, a broad open social community that allows players and their friends to exchange information, discover new content, and incorporates social media tools that we think will enhance gameplay and the connectedness gamers feel with one another. Online multiplayer is one part of it, and certainly Wii U will enable the same online multiplayer features that have become popular in some of the competing consoles, but that's really one piece of the online gaming network - our vision is broader.
What are these social media tools you describe?
Well, the ability to chat, post, challenge friends to beat scores or achievements, asking for tips and suggestions, discover what they're playing and go find the game they're playing and download it in the digital shop, etc. It will allow consumers to observe and discover content you might not have otherwise found.
What are you planning for friend codes? Will they go away completely?
Friend codes won't be going away completely. I can only say that we haven't announced exactly how they will be used. Wii U will be an account-based system, and it enables up to 12 accounts in a household to exist on the system. Up to 12 members of the family and friends can have individual accounts each with its own preferences and settings that the system will recognize, and when you power it up it will recognize your own user ID and it will formulate the content you've chosen and shaped. That's when you can incorporate parental settings, etc. and manage your own gaming behavior.
What did you learn from the struggles of the 3DS launch?
The first and most important learning is that games drive hardware sales. We need to launch a new platform with great first-party and third-party content. So that's the most important learning. That learning overshadows everything else. Pricing is certainly an important factor. We wanted to make the 3DS accessible for more consumers and lower the price; in so doing, it spurred sales. 3DS sales continue to track ahead of DS sales at this point in its lifetime; 3DS sales continue to outpace DS sales at a similar time in its life. What's more impressive about that is obviously the competitive environment has changed. With gaming on tablets and phones, the 3DS is competing in a different environment to the DS. To continue to be outpacing that at this point in its life is impressive. The 3DS also did not have broader entertainment features functional on the system at launch, and that learning has also been incorporated into our thinking for the Wii U; stuff like e-Shop not being available at launch, etc.
So Nintendo's not scared by mobile devices as more and more people adopt gaming on them? How do you see the competition from the mobile space?
It's not a zero sum game. There are going to be gamers that are going to enjoy some of the simpler games on their cell phones and iPads on the go; there are other gamers that want a deeper, richer, more immersive gaming experience that can't be had on a device that wasn't really designed as a gaming device. Some of the same people will play games on their phones at times, but when they really want a core handheld game, they'll pick up their 3DS.
We think you get a better experience when you play a game on a device that has buttons and controls that are designed in from the outset. What we hear from gamers is that they want traditional gaming controls. They want button controls rather than touch-screen controls. That can't be had on a mobile device.