Nintendo's Kaigler talks Wii price cut

Q&A: NOA VP explains what took so long, addresses speculation of an HD Wii, talks first-party support for Balance Board and MotionPlus.

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While the rest of the gaming world was focused on yesterday's opening of the Tokyo Game Show, Nintendo of America pulled the trigger on the long-awaited first price drop for the Wii. The system--which has been selling for $249.99 since its November 2006 launch--will be dropped to $199.99 in the US beginning this Sunday.

Nintendo of America exec Denise Kaigler.
Nintendo of America exec Denise Kaigler.

Earlier today, Nintendo of America vice president of corporate affairs Denise Kaigler answered a handful of questions for GameSpot about the price drop, the industry's recent sales rut, the console maker's relatively sparse support for its hit Balance Board and MotionPlus peripherals, and Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada's recent remarks that he expects a new high-definition Wii system and controller by the end of 2011.

GameSpot: First off, the obvious question about the price drop. What took so long?

Denise Kaigler: [Laughs] Was it a long time?

GS: Nearly three years, which is longer than some systems' entire life spans.

DK: That is true. This is the first time we've dropped the Wii price since we launched in 2006. The Wii console has done very well, as you know. We have sold [every month] at least 250,000 units since it launched 34 months ago. No other home console has ever done that.

So it's time now to do it. We're going into the holiday season. We're about to launch a couple of very strong titles. We announced yesterday the launch date for Super Mario Bros. Wii. We just launched Wii Sports Resort. On October 4, we'll launch Wii Fit Plus. With the great content that has already launched on Wii and is soon to launch on Wii, the timing is right to give consumers even more incentive to go out and purchase the industry's best-selling home video console.

GS: When you launch a system, are there projections you have as to when you might expect to drop the price? And if so, did the Wii go longer than you initially thought?

DK: I can't talk to you about what our internal discussions have been, but certainly pricing is a very delicate issue and there's a lot of discussion around it before it's executed. So we executed during the time we felt was right, and we're excited about what this could mean for consumers.

Our research shows that there are 50 million consumers in the US alone who are sitting on the sideline wanting to be engaged in this fantastic, fun form of entertainment but just haven't found the motivation or been given the incentive to do that. We believe by lowering the price to $199.99 and by launching these great new titles, this is the right time to do that and this will be the incentive that gets these consumers in the game, so to speak.

GS: Microsoft and Sony just lowered the prices on their consoles. How big a factor were those cuts in bringing the price of the Wii down now?

DK: Not at all. We were not driven by any other factors but our own business decision to do this. As I mentioned, this was timed to take place exactly when we're executing it. The holiday period is the best time for us to offer this great incentive for these consumers on the sidelines.

Nintendo expects Wii Sports Resort sales to continue strong through the holidays.
Nintendo expects Wii Sports Resort sales to continue strong through the holidays.

Another key factor for our decision is the timing of what we also announced yesterday, what we're calling the World of Nintendo consumer sampling tour. It's an opportunity for consumers around the country to experience for themselves what all the excitement is about.

From October through the end of the year, we hope to put our games in the hands of at least 1 million consumers in about 35 or 40 markets throughout the country. We're going to be showcasing most of our holiday products--those already on the market, like Wii Sports Resort and those that haven't launched, like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and the Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for the DS.

GS: Will the accessories get price cuts as well?

DK: We have not made any other announcements for any other price cuts.

GS: Game industry sales have been down for months, but analysts are expecting things to turn around and grow again from September until the end of the year. What are Nintendo's expectations for the rest of 2009?

DK: You know this industry very well, so you'll certainly recall our pacing last year, where we had during the first half Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, and Wii Fit--three phenomenal titles. This year, our strong lineup is coming out in the second half of the year. Between Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit Plus, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, we've got a very strong lineup that we believe consumers will respond strongly to.

That's our hope, but it is up to the consumer. The consumer makes the final decision. So we believe we're making fun, compelling gameplay experiences with these titles, but the consumer is the ultimate judge of how good a job we've done. We're definitely doing our best to get them into retail, and certainly lowering the price of Wii helps do that. Hopefully at the end of the year, we can look back at sales that are stronger versus other time periods, but again, the consumer's going to make that decision.

GS: Square Enix's CEO told the Financial Times that he expects Nintendo to release an HD version of the Wii and a new controller in 2011, and we've heard analysts suggest similar things before. Can you comment on that?

DK: We read the same comment. It's always interesting to read comments from other companies about what Nintendo's supposed plans are. We don't have anything to announce on that.

GS: By the end of this year, Wii Fit and the Balance Board will have been out for a year and a half in the US, with Nintendo developing a total of three compatible games--one (Wii Music) that uses the board in a limited fashion, and another (Wii Fit Plus) that is an enhanced version of the board's pack-in game. Can we expect Nintendo to step up support for the Balance Board?

DK: The Balance Board is a remarkable accessory, and there is a tremendous amount of potential for games to be developed using that truly fun interface. As you know, there are numerous third-party titles on the market that utilize the Wii Balance Board. Certainly, our designers are always looking at ways that we continue to utilize our accessories, and the Wii Balance Board is certainly one of those accessories developers are looking at leveraging to further enhance gameplay.

GS: With the Wii MotionPlus, can we expect more robust first-party support than the Wii Balance Board has received?

DK: I don't want to do a comparison of Wii MotionPlus to the Balance Board, but I will say Wii MotionPlus has tremendous potential. The response we've gotten from consumers has been fabulous and phenomenal, so we definitely recognize it's a very powerful, engaging accessory that completely transports you right into the heart of the game you're playing. There's no other motion-sensing controller like it on the market, so we're excited to look at incorporating that experience into other titles.

So just like with the Wii Balance Board, yes, our developers are working at leveraging that technology into other games. And as I mentioned with the Balance Board, we also have third parties that are incorporating that technology into many games.

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