Nintendo: Making mobile games 'flies in the face of what we believe in' [Interview]

Mario 3 iPhoneThe maker of Mario couldn't be in stranger times. As Nintendo prepares for what could be one of its strongest holiday seasons with critically-acclaimed games and the 3DS raring to go, the company expects to report its first financial loss in over 30 years. And let's not forget Nintendo's staunch opinions of mobile and social gaming, which are quickly outpacing Microsoft and Sony as the company's biggest competition.

To get a better sense of what to expect from Nintendo this holiday and why the company refuses to dabble in mobile or social games, we sit down with Nintendo of America president and COO Reggie Fils-Aime (pictured below). Spoiler: He's excited, like, really, really excited about the new Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Let's talk holiday releases. We all know what's coming out with Super Mario 3D Land, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Mario Kart 7. What game are you most excited about?

Me personally? It's like asking me which of my children do I love the most. I'm a huge Zelda fan -- my favorite game of all time is Zelda: Link to the Past. One of the benefits of my job is that I get to play games in development. I have a special Wii in my office, and I've been playing Skyward Sword since E3 [in June]. I'm very much looking forward to that game.

As I practiced and got ready to play at Jimmy [Fallon] last night, it rekindled all of the things I love about Zelda. It's puzzle solving, it's the battles, but now with the Wii Motion Plus, every battle is a puzzle to solve. And it's such a big game. The development team said that this is the largest Zelda game that they've ever created.
Super Mario 3D Land
Now, what other parts of the holiday lineup--maybe not necessarily Nintendo releases--are you excited about?

Let's talk a little bit about 3DS. So, I've been playing Super Mario 3D Land [picture above]--another one of my advantages: I get the games early. And that game is fantastic. That is a game that the 3DS was built for. [That's] in terms of taking advantage of the different viewpoints, different ways of navigating to fight Bowser and save the princess.

From a non-Nintendo standpoint this holiday, I think what Activision has done with Skylanders is really innovative. And that's a game that plays extremely well--the 3DS version plays well, the Wii version plays well. So, I'm looking forward to playing Call of Duty. I play all the games, [and] I make sure that I spend time on competitive systems as well.

What are you playing on the competitive systems?

So, I've played Battlefield [3] on the home consoles, I've played it on PC. I've played some Gears of War to see how that played, I played a little Resistance [3]. You know, I think it's important for me to have knowledge, insight on everything that's coming out. I got to see Skyrim at E3, and I'm looking forward to seeing that. But I try to get my hands on everything.

Reggie Fils-AimeHow is Nintendo catering to the casual gamers this holiday? It seems like a lot of the releases of the past few months have been for the hardcore Nintendo fan.

In terms of the more casual gamer, I would highlight a number of things that we're doing. First, from a third party perspective you've got Just Dance 3, Zumba Fitness, so there continues to be new, fresh content for the more casual user. Second thing I would highlight is we recently introduced the line of Nintendo Selects, so these are highest quality, strong selling games now being made available for $19.99. Included in that lineup is the original Wii Sports, so for consumers that bought hardware over the last year or so that didn't come included with Wii Sports, that product is available. But also Super Paper Mario, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Mario Galaxy--I mean, some great, high quality titles that for maybe a new-to-the-Wii buyer, those products are available.

The last thing I would highlight, in terms of content for the more casual consumer, would be the new Kirby game that just came out last month. Classic Kirby: inhaling enemies, picking up new abilities, so I think there's great content out there for the casual gamer. In fact, I think that's what makes Nintendo different, if you will, is this holiday, we've got content for every type of gamer. If you're more active, great. You've got Zelda, Call of Duty on our platform, there's great content for you. But if you're wanting more casual content, great: Just Dance 3, Zumba Fitness, you know, even Black Eye Peas: The Experience.

Speaking of casual, since the 3DS has released it's been largely a system that seems to attract the, like I said, hardcore Nintendo fan. What would you say are Nintendo's plans to increase the appeal to casual gamers for the 3DS?

Well, our two big holiday titles for this year will certainly broaden the audience. Everyone loves Mario, [and] everyone loves to play Mario Kart [pictured below]. And the way those experiences are tailor-made for the 3DS certainly will continue expanding the base. As we look to next year, Mario & Sonic at the London Olympic Games is coming out on 3DS early next year--that's gonna' continue to broaden. But my expectation is that, come E3, I think we'll be showcasing a range of different titles that, for a more casual consumer, they'll see reasons to jump on board with the Nintendo 3DS.

We've heard that digital transactions are coming to the 3DS, which is pretty big news. How those transactions will work exactly?

In terms of what the next system update will allow, it will allow developers to sell add-on content, and whether that's for a physical game or a digitally released game. In terms of how it will work, it's up to the developer whether they want to make it to buy new levels, new items--all of that is up to their imagination. Essentially, what we're doing is creating the framework for those transactions to happen.

The digital business on the 3DS is very strong, and it's not only the gaming content we're making available through the eShop, but the video content we're making available through Nintendo Video. So, it's already a robust environment and the Nintendo 3DS is our most connected device ever, which is great.

Will Nintendo ever release digital upgrades or add-ons to its games?

We're interested in it to the extent that it makes sense to the consumer. And it's interesting: I've had this conversation with a number of our key developers, and their mentality is, "Reggie, when we sell a game, we want the consumer to feel that they've had a complete experience." Now, in addition, if we want to make other things available, great, and we'll look at that. But what we're unwilling to sell a piece of a game upfront and, if you will, force a consumer to buy more later. That's what they don't want to do, and I completely agree. I think the consumer wants to get, for their money, a complete experience, and then we have opportunities to provide more on top of that.

So, are we speaking to the free-to-play space, in terms of you download the game and pay a dollar for in-game items?

All I'm saying is--your question was--will Nintendo participate in this additional digital content? And the answer is yes, but the way that we'll do it is that whatever we sell initially, we will feel that that is a complete experience. And if that's all the consumer wants to do, that they'd be satisfied.
Mario Kart 7
While we're on the 3DS, it's tough to ignore the launch and the price cut that happened over the summer. What is the number one thing that the 3DS needs to succeed on the same level as the DS Lite?

Content. It's all about the content, and we're gratified when we see reviews for Super Mario 3D Land, for example, giving it a perfect score. We are gratified when we saw that with the launch of Ocarina of Time in 3D. It's those types of games that make the 3DS a must-have piece of hardware. It reaffirmed for us that lesson that software drives hardware, and that the launch and ongoing for the system to be effective, you need to have titles to drive the install base.

President Iwata says Nintendo will be exploring new types of games with the 3DS. Can you tell me more about that?

For all of the success we've had with DS, 50 million units here in the U.S., content with a bit more of an edge from key third party publishers really never came to the platform--handful of exceptions. So, one of the first things that will differentiate the 3DS is that we are getting that type of content. And probably the best example of that is the Resident Evil game that will come out next year from Capcom. Beautiful game, and if you love Resident Evil, it's everything that you want.

In terms of other genres, absolutely we will continue to push the envelope with new, unique, differentiated experiences that you can only get on the Nintendo 3DS and that widen the consumer demographic. So, will there be content to appeal to consumers 50 plus the way Brain Age did? Absolutely. Will there be content that's going to appeal to women the way we are able to do with the DS? Absolutely. I can't go into the details of what exactly those titles will be, but stay tuned. There is information that we'll be sharing prior to E3, plus a lot of information at E3 as well.

Pokemon Say TapA recent Bloomberg report says investors want Nintendo to make mobile games. When Pokémon Say Tap was announced for iPhone, Nintendo stock prices spiked. Then, when people learned the game was not from Nintendo, the stock fell back to normal numbers. What do you think about that investor feedback?

First, we're an entertainment company. We don't make devices for the sake of making devices. We make our hardware in order to bring great entertainment experiences to life. Whether that's the DS, the Wii or the 3DS--or even back to the NES and the SNES--that's our philosophy. Therefore, the concept of having our core franchises on other systems really flies in the face of what we believe in, and that's because by understanding the hardware, that's how we're able to bring these great experiences forward.

The two great examples of this, coming this holiday, are Skyward Sword for Wii and Super Mario 3D Land for 3DS. You know, we've made the same development tools available to everybody else creating content for the platforms. But no one has created a game like Skyward Sword that fully leverages the Wii Motion Plus technology in a traditional gamer experience. It hasn't been done before, and this is going to be [the Wii's] sixth holiday.

For the 3DS, people are saying that [Super Mario 3D Land] is the game that the system was built for. And it's because we understand how to maximize the experience. So, I think those are great examples of why we believe that our content can best be brought to life on our hardware. And by following that strategy, in the end, it's the best for our investors.

Companion apps are huge, and Nintendo just announced that the 3DS eShop is coming to iOS and web. Have there been talks about expanding that approach of companion apps to games?

We consider a lot of things, and we'll continue to drive a lot of experimentation not just with Facebook or things that we do from a PC website standpoint. We want to make it easy for all of our fans to be connected to the key franchises they love and the experiences they love. So, we're constantly looking at everything. But in the end, the full game experiences will be brought to life, at least from a first party perspective, on our hardware.

A recent Flurry study says iOS and Android have taken 58 percent of the portable gaming market. So if Nintendo isn't interested in entering that space how does the company plan to keep up with this new competition?

First, I haven't seen the study, and Flurry is a company that consults app developers. So, as we look at our range of companies where we trust their data, and they have a methodology that makes sense--I just can't speak to the data. And I can't speak to the motivations of the company, as they are not a pure research firm. Having said that, the way that we compete is that we compete with our franchises, we compete with our differentiated experiences and we compete by giving the consumer the best value for their money. Nintendo has always been a mass market company. Even from back in the days of the NES, we always want as many consumers to jump into this industry that we love called video games, and to maximize the breadth of our reach. And the only way we can do that is great games, great experiences, differentiated experiences at a great value.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Nintendo President Iwata says every measure will be taken to ensure that the Wii U is a success. What does the Wii U need to succeed when it arrives in 2012?

The Wii U has to deliver a differentiated experience that can only be brought to bear through the use of these two screens. If all we do is a beautiful game in HD, it's been done before. We have to take advantage of the second screen, we need to take advantage of the connectivity that the system will offer and, if we do that, we believe that we will yet again disrupt the market the same way we with DS and Wii.

We've heard murmurs that people are calling Zelda: Skyward Sword the swan song for the Wii. Is there any truth to that?

Well, it is certainly true that the Wii is not over. I was the one who was asked the question originally, and I think some comments were taken out of context. So, what I can say is that there certainly will be more games launched for the Wii. And what I can say is that we believe there are still millions more systems to be sold. And I can say that the Wii will coexist side by side beside the Wii U for some period of time.

I think for any game to compare to Skyward Sword, I think is gonna be a tough challenge. All the reviews aren't out yet, but I counted this morning there are eight perfect scores. I don't know if there's going to be a video game in history that's going to be able to compare to Skyward Sword. So, to clarify my comments on this, there will be more games for the Wii, we'll sell more hardware for the Wii and it will coexist side by side to the Wii U. All those things I can commit to, but I can't commit that there's going to be another game that will score and be of the caliber of Skyward Sword. I don't think there's been one to date.

What are you most excited about in Nintendo's holiday lineup? What do you think of Reggie's opinions on the prospect of Nintendo entering new platforms like mobile? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
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