GDC Q&A: Nintendo VP Reggie Fils-Aime
We talk to executive vice president of sales and marketing Reggie Fils-Aime about Nintendo's present and future.
SAN FRANCISCO--Following Nintendo's keynote from president Satoru Iwata, we had the opportunity to sit down with executive vice president of sales and marketing Reggie Fils-Aime to talk about the keynote, E3, and Nintendo's future.
GameSpot: Nintendo has stated that the Revolution will be Wi-Fi-enabled. Does this also mean that the console will be able to get online?
Reggie Fils-Aime: Revolution as well as Nintendo DS, as we launch the right software and finalize our system, will be able to get on the Internet. So you'll be able to play your neighbor across the street, you'll be able to play your friend cross-country, or that new friend across the world. When we talk about Wi-Fi-enabled, we really are talking about wireless play through the Internet for both of those systems and we're committed to making that happen on DS by the end of the year.
GS: This positive approach to the Internet is a noticeable change of direction from Nintendo's previous stance on the matter, which was decidedly different. What's brought about the change?
RF: Well, I wasn't at the company when some of those decisions were made, so I can't speak too much about the past. What I can tell you is that Nintendo has always been a believer in creating a community--that group of fans that play our systems. I think what's become apparent is that we now have a way to provide an infrastructure, a backbone, in a way that makes sense, in a way that's financially feasible for us, and it was all about being able to provide that infrastructure free for the gamer. Now that we've sorted that through, we're going to push full bore in making this happen.
GS: When can we expect to see the online-enabled DS games?
RF: We've talked about fourth quarter in terms of when the games that truly take advantage of wireless connectivity, through the Internet, will happen. Metroid Prime Hunters is going to be wireless play local area network (LAN), so eight players playing Samus hunting each other. That's where we're going, so from a wireless Internet play standpoint [it's] fourth quarter.
GS: What would you say to GBA owners that feel that the GBA has been neglected in favor of the DS?
RF: We've announced that WarioWare: Twisted!, which has a unique gyro system, has been delayed for some technical reasons, but that's coming out right around E3. Then we've got Pokémon Emerald that launches here in North America on the first of May. So we've got a number of great games coming for GBA and there are more great games coming all through the third and fourth quarters as well. One of the things that excites me about Game Boy Advance, frankly, is all of the great third party product that's coming out. Revenge of the Sith is coming out on GBA, it's also coming out on DS. There are a number of truly great games that our licensees are bringing out to the market. I think those are games our fans need to check out.
GS: Do you feel that developers "get" the DS?
RF: A large reason why we're here at GDC and why Mr. Iwata spoke was to help the development community really get Nintendo DS. We showed off Nintendogs that uses voice activation to control your virtual puppy and it took the crowd by storm. We also showed a very unique "game" called Electroplankton that also took the group by storm. I'm not sure that Electroplankton will make it to this country as a game, but I can envision a touch screen-and-voice-driven hip-hop or rap music game that utilizes all that same technology and pushes Nintendo DS out there and really drives it in the forefront, in terms of what the technology is capable of doing. So I think part of our job is truly teaching the development community what the system can do. In my view we've only scratched the surface. We probably, as a worldwide development community, have only touched about the first 30 percent of what Nintendo DS can do. As games like Nintendogs and Electroplankton come out I think we're going to start seeing more and more. This system is truly robust and we look forward to bringing out some fantastic product ourselves that truly take advantage of Nintendo DS.
GS: Has there been any thought given to bringing the Play-yan out in the US?
RF: The Play-yan is a really neat idea. What we're looking to do is see how we make it applicable for our consumer out of the box. What I mean by that is, to have the Play-yan, to have an SD card, maybe have one or two free music downloads that are built into a package is really what we're trying to conceptualize, because we think that's right for this American marketplace. So more to come at E3 on that.
GS: What did you think of Microsoft's vision of what the future holds for consoles?
RF: I think the two keynotes highlighted a difference in philosophy and a difference in route to market between us and in this case Xbox. J did a wonderful presentation, but it was predicated on a vision where it's all about power, processing power, graphics power--that's the path that they're going on. Mr. Iwata's presentation, frankly, was all about the emotion of the gaming experience and how do you bring that to life in new and provocative ways that really drive the consumer to enjoy the experience. Now, our system will truly be powerful. ATI and IBM are fantastic partners, they make fantastic products, and certainly Revolution will be substantially more powerful than all of the systems on the market today. But that's only part of the story. It's really all about pushing the four vectors that Mr. Iwata touched on. It's pushing on innovation, it's pushing on the interface, it's pushing on the intuitive nature of the system and making it inviting, making it applicable not only for the core consumer but for the casual consumer as well.
GS: What can we expect from Nintendo at E3?
RF: At E3 we will certainly share more information about Revolution. Having said that, Revolution won't have a big presence at the booth itself. It'll be touched on in our press briefing...I'll talk about it with our retailers, and we may show some things in the back room so to speak. But on the show floor it really is all about Game Boy Advance and showcasing the great product we have for that system. It's going to be about DS and the new games we're launching for the August-through-holiday time period, and showcasing the great product for GameCube, especially the Legend of Zelda game.
GS: The new trailer has obviously gotten fans riled up for the new Zelda game. When should they expect it?
RF: We're targeting the fourth quarter. We will certainly keep the fans excited about it. We have a lot more footage to show, it will be playable at E3, and it's a fantastic game. I've had the opportunity to play some of it and it's phenomenal. It's deep, it's rich--it has all of those elements that you love in a Zelda game and graphically it looks beautiful. So from a Nintendo fan's standpoint, stay tuned. There'll be a lot of information shared between now and E3 and it will probably have the largest presence, from our perspective, on our show floor.
GS: What's the lasting impression you want people to walk away with after they leave your booth at E3?
RF: We want them to leave feeling that "Wow, Zelda is going to be a huge hit and I want it now. And I'm going to go to my local retailer and put a deposit for the super premium edition of the game," which we'll make available. We want the fans to walk away saying, "Wow, look at all this great GBA product and I'm going to be a two-handheld consumer, having both my old-time GBA as well as my brand-new DS." I want the consumer walking away just totally blown away with all the great product coming out for DS, especially Mario Kart, Metroid Prime Hunters, and Animal Crossing. So, in total, I want our fan walking away saying, "Yes, I need to be a three-system household, SP, DS, and GCN."
GS: What was the thinking behind making the Revolution backward compatible?
RF: I think it makes it easier for the consumer to stay excited about Zelda. Now consumers can go buy that Zelda game without fear that they won't be able to keep playing the game for a long time. It was a very strategic choice to share the information about backward compatibility. Backward compatibility was a very big, very strategic choice. Just like backward compatibility for DS to GBA. So this was something that was very important for us, especially to conceptualize as you create that new system. How do you make sure that that new software delivers all the experiences you want as well as have that backward compatibility? It's not as simple as it sounds.
GS: How do you think the handheld market is going to change in the coming years?
RF: In the month of December, handhelds represented a quarter--25 percent--of total hardware and software dollars for the American marketplace. I think that that's going to continue to grow. What that means is that consumers will be investing more and more into the handheld space. I think that will have an impact of making some of the current systems live longer, it'll start becoming a profile that's similar to the console space. But, having said that, don't misunderstand me. We're still going to drive innovation in this space. Whether that's new colors or other things we do, we will be constantly innovating in the handheld space.
GS: With the upcoming release of the PSP, there's been a definite move to position it as a rival to Nintendo's portable systems. How do you view the PSP and DS?
RF: On one hand we all do compete for the same dollar in the industry, right? The gamer only has so much money to spend on the combination of hardware and software systems, so from that standpoint, certainly we compete. Having said that, a $250 system with, call it $50 software, yeah--that's a pretty rich proposition. Versus a $150 for DS, $79 for SP--we think our systems are much more affordable. We think our software is much more innovative and so we see ourselves being in a bit of a different space than what PSP is trying to do.
GS: Where do you see Nintendo 10 years from now?
RF: My hope is that Nintendo is sitting with a large market share in this American marketplace. That we've successfully launched a series of platforms, hardware for the home as well as portable systems, and that we continue to be the innovator in this space. That's my personal vision for Nintendo and certainly, having spoken with Mr. Iwata, I know that's his vision as well.
GS: Thanks for your time.
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