Iwata: Revolution downloads not free

Talking strategy, the Nintendo president confirms his company will charge for next-gen console access to its back catalog; announces the company will build 1,000 DS hot spots in Japan.

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In a business strategy conference held today by Nintendo, president Satoru Iwata outlined a number of company plans for the current business year and beyond.

Iwata repeated the theme that Nintendo's next-generation console, "will provide different kinds of uses that will be of interests to each members of the family." But he didn't elaborate, only making a general remark that by "expanding the definition of games, games should become a subject of interest to everyone." For example, Iwata said the Revolution's capability to download and play back classic Nintendo titles will be of interest to parents, letting them enjoy the console as much as their kids.

Iwata also talked a bit more about the Revolution's capability to download and play games from Nintendo's previous consoles, called the Virtual Console system. First off, he shot down speculation that all first-party Nintendo games will be downloadable for free. "There's rumors floating on the Internet that the Virtual Console will be available for play for free, but we have no plans to distribute [the games] without charge."

Iwata's comments contradict recent statements by Nintendo vice president George Harrison, who implied in a recent GameSpot interview that first-party Nintendo titles could be "downloadable for free." However, Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo of America's vice president of marketing & corporate affairs, told GameSpot that no pricing structure has been decided. "For Revolution and accessing older games, we haven't finalized how we will structure it yet," she said. "It is possible that players will enjoy these games without a charge from Nintendo, or there may be some pay structure for accessing the actual product. We haven't finalized it yet. Our goal is to make it as easy and inexpensive as possible, which could be free."

Iwata took a similarly ambiguous tone vis-à-vis pricing of downloadable NES, SNES, and N64 games. He said, "We believe that there's a number of ways that we can use the system, such as to offer a bonus download with the purchase of a new game, or allow some games to be downloaded during a limited time during a campaign period."

Iwata also repeated Nintendo's stated desire to have third-party developers get in on the game-download action. "We hope to establish a format where both Nintendo and [third-party] software makers will be able to make a profit by using the resources from our past."

Iwata also discussed the Revolution's internal 512MB flash memory, which he said will be used for saving game data, downloading virtual console games, and for "expansion of the Revolution's capabilities." He didn't go into specifics regarding its connectivity to the DS, though he confirmed that users will be able to download demos for the handheld at home.

Iwata also stated that Nintendo is aiming to have over 90 percent of its customers play games using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, its online gaming service. To that end, Nintendo plans to set up 1,000 wireless DS hot spots in Japan, located in high-traffic areas and in stores where its products are sold.

Iwata also said all games published by Nintendo will cost no charge to play online, though third-party games may charge a fee. He said that along with connection difficulties, fees are the biggest reason wireless play hasn't been more embraced by the mainstream. "Because of these hurdles, only a small percentage of people that have bought online-compatible games have actually connected to a network and played online," he said.

Thus far, two games that will use the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection have been announced: Animal Crossing DS and Mario Kart DS. Both titles are slated for release on the handheld within the year in Japan and the US. However, they will have company soon, as 25 third-party publishers have signed up to release games that take advantage of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, according to Iwata.

Iwata also said that Nintendo is well aware of privacy issues on the Internet. He said Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection will feature a function where users can limit their online playing to private sessions with only people that they know.

Nintendo is also making things easier for gamers without wireless Internet connections at home. According to the latest issue of Famitsu, Nintendo will release a wireless USB network adapter that can be hooked up to the PC and act as an access point for the DS and Revolution. Specific details on the USB adapter haven't been disclosed.

Also during the conference, Iwata showed Nintendo's new Game Boy Micro, which was the first time it was actually presented in Japan.

"Nintendo is adopting a metal body for the first time in its [game] hardware. We'd like it to be tried out by people that are embarrassed to walk around with a Game Boy Advance SP. This is another step we're taking to expand the range of gamers," said Iwata.

However, Iwata did not disclose an official price for the product, only commenting that Nintendo has no plans to sell it for a lower price just because its body is smaller. The Game Boy Micro is reportedly more costly to manufacture than the Game Boy Advance SP, which currently sells at 9,800 yen ($92) in Japan.

As has become his habit, Iwata once again explained that the gaming population in Japan has been declining due to a number of reasons, most importantly the lack of time that people nowadays have and the difficulty of modern games. He went on to state that Nintendo's solution to the problem is not to try to expand the audience market with games that look extravagant and are difficult to play, but to create games that people of any age, gender, and skill can enjoy.

As an example, Iwata cited the virtual-puppy game Nintendogs. The title has sold nearly 400,000 copies in Japan since its release. Three dogs are available from the start, and the user can unlock additional canines by having the DS "communicate" with another DS.

However, Iwata did not completely deny the importance of complex games, saying: "People have only a limited amount of time. They want to play splendid titles that are like a full-course French meal for once or twice during the year, but I think we need to stop all the games from becoming like that. With the Revolution, we hope to realize a market that offers games with different kinds of volumes and prices."

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