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E3 Interview: Nintendo's Kaigler: 'We Need Core Gamers'
E3 Interview: Nintendo's Kaigler: 'We Need Core Gamers'
June 4, 2009 | By Christian Nutt

June 4, 2009 | By Christian Nutt
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Depending on who you listen to, Nintendo has had a stronger or weaker showing at E3 -- but the general consensus, even among the enthusiast press, seems to be trending positively.

The company is largely in iterative mode, relying on trusted IP on both the casual (Wii Sports Resort) and hardcore (Metroid: Other M) sides, with two new Mario games in between. The major surprise was the Wii Vitality Sensor, which showed -- uncharacteristically -- without so much as a concept demo.

Meanwhile, the competition in the console wars, Sony and Microsoft, both showed advanced motion control solutions for their platforms.

Gamasutra spoke to Denise Kaigler, Nintendo of America's VP of corporate affairs, to find out her take on the show's announcements at her company and at the others, and to see if we could gauge the mindset of the company that seems locked into the industry's number one spot at the moment.

During the press conference, Nintendo of America president and COO Reggie Fils-Aime joked, prior to debuting hardcore darling Metroid: Other M, that he reads the blogs and is well aware that Nintendo's core, long-term fan base has been less than impressed with the company's output. How much does that audience impact the company's strategy?

"We all read the blogs -- everyone does," Kaigler says. "If you're asking if what we read on the blogs has an absolute impact on our strategy, I guess the simple answer is that our strategy isn't done right at that moment... our strategy is long-term. Our strategy has always been to expand the gaming universe."

However, she says, "We need core gamers. We recognize that and we've always known that, though. We announce games when they're ready to be announced. I'm glad you described the overall tone of the press conference as being balanced, because that's what our strategy is."

Kaigler makes clear that the company appreciates its fans: "To hear the sound of the applause when we announced Metroid: Other M was amazing. We got chills."

The Wii Fit Audience

Wii Fit Plus, as implied by its title, isn't so much a sequel to the original game as an expansion that improves its basic functionality -- in fact, Kaigler confirmed that it will supplant the original title and is compatible with its save data, and contains all of its content.

But will such a strategy appeal to the millions who own the original? "We do believe that [Wii Fit Plus] will appeal to the audience," says Kaigler. "It has everything that the millions of consumers who have already expressed their love for Wii Fit, and has everything else."

Working With Developers

Kaigler referred to Nintendo president Satoru Iwata's GDC keynote when asked about Nintendo's relationship with its developers. Says Kaigler, "I know you were at GDC, and I know that one of the reasons Mr. Iwata wanted to speak at GDC and hand [developers] on a silver platter 150 million consumers [on DS and Wii] -- what an install base!"

But is the technical and design expertise of Nintendo filtering down to the development teams? Does Nintendo have processes in place to make sure that happens? Kaigler was a bit more vague on that.

"I would hope and assume that the information is getting down to the folks that need it." Says, Kaigler, "All you need to do is read any news report to understand the opportunity." Sure, the opportunity's obvious -- but is appealing to Nintendo's audience? That question is murkier.

With the market penetration for the Balance Board peripheral which comes packed with Wii Fit so high, Kaigler says the company is "making sure our partners understand the opportunity that the Balance Board presents for them." Commercial opportunities are there, but assistance may prove elusive.

But Kaigler does see strong support on the E3 show floor. 5th Cell and Warner Bros. Interactive's Scribblenauts for the DS is being touted by many as the sleeper hit of the show.

"We're glad they've [the developers] made that shift" in thinking about creating DS games that take advantage of the platform, says Kaigler -- and "It's so cool that [Ubisoft] has demonstrated their commitment to Wii Motion Plus by making Red Steel 2 exclusive" to the peripheral.

On Being, Staying Number One

"It's up to us to make sure that we're continuing to push the envelope" on software design, says Kaigler. "We've been fortunate that consumers have chosen Nintendo time and time again. We're going to try to keep that level of support among consumers of all generations."

With Wii Motion Plus, says Kaigler -- despite the fact that it's packed in with surefire hit Wii Sports Resort -- "We're not taking anything for granted. We never take anything for granted. You can open up any newspaper and see companies who were number one and don't even exist anymore... It's up to us to earn our place at number one."

Our discussion with Kaigler ventured into the shifting fortunes of the different companies over the history of E3 -- when the show began in the '90s, the big fight was Sony versus Sega, with Sony the obvious and clear winner.

"That's exactly my point. For Nintendo to take anything for granted would be crazy, it would be stupid, it would be irresponsible. We don't make the decision to be number one. We make the decision to bring to market certain products and technologies," says Kaigler, and consumers respond.

"Pick any number of technologies out there," she continues. "We didn't know how much we needed them until we got them. That's what our philosophy is -- to develop and bring to market fun experiences that the consumer won't even know they want until they've got them!" 


Important Questions Remain

Kaigler was a little bit reticent to talk about the mysterious Wii Vitality Sensor, but when pressed, did mention some concrete details. "We're going to hear more about it ... They're working on it. It's slated to hit retail next year, 2010. The accessory will come bundled with the software, much like Wii Fit comes bundled with the balance board."

Another important question is just how well Nintendo's audience responds to its downloadable content efforts -- its network just doesn't seem as robust as the competition. Unfortunately, in the case of DSi, Kaigler wasn't answering. "I don't have the data handy on what our downloads are for DSiWare. It hasn't been out for very long and it's finding its audience."

Nintendo is truly a global company, but the vast majority of its development takes place in Japan. This can be a pitfall for companies, as has been absolutely demonstrated over the course of this generation. Does NOA truly have input into Nintendo Ltd.'s software decisions?

Says Kaigler, "It's a collaboration, it really is. It's a true collaboration."

"Reggie and the localization teams in the US work very closely with Mr. Iwata and Mr. Miyamoto and the development teams in Japan. I think one of the reasons those games appeal to such a broad range of consumers is that collaboration."

Three Consoles, Three Motion Control Solutions

Of course, both Sony and Microsoft debuted motion control solutions at E3 -- Microsoft's Project Natal, Sony with its prototype camera/controller hybrid.

What's Nintendo's reaction? Says Kaigler, "It's great to see that motion sensing control has now become an industry standard. It's great when anything is announced that can continue to build on what Nintendo started years ago. Anything that continues to expand the market and bring more gamers into the video game industry is great for the industry, certainly great for consumers, and it's great for Nintendo."

However, she says, "There's no information to really judge; we don't know anything about the price or availability of the products that were announced. Certainly the key difference is that we pioneered motion sensing control three years ago."

"It's here and it's now. And show attendees can go down to the show floor and actually have fun playing with our technology and our games today. Seeing the smiles and laughs around the Nintendo booth is fabulous, it's contagious."

But surely these companies have the potential to bring these products to market with compelling software solutions, right? "You said one key word twice -- 'potentially'. That's a pretty critical word: potential. For us to respond to potential, there's nothing for us to respond to; nothing for us to react to. We're going to keep doing our thing and hope that the consumer continues to have fun with our products."


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Comments


Sean Parton
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"I don't have the data handy on what our downloads are for DSiWare. It hasn't been out for very long and it's finding its audience."



PR speak for "it's crap, and not doing nearly as well as we though it would." Damn channel boots me out before I can even check on most of it, and it's as slow and laggy as hell. Not to mention that, from what I understand, the selection has stayed barren since launch, with nothing of note being released on it.



I have to admit that's my only major gripe with Nintendo at the moment, but it's a big one.

warren blyth
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For some reason I was convinced the Wii Vitality Sensor was a red herring: that what they'd really do is include a metal pulse-sensing plate/surface in an upcoming wiimote (like exercise bikes at the gym). but it appears they're serious about releasing it as it's own plug in.



I can't quite wrap my head around their endless hardware add-on strategy. I guess it keeps core costs down. but hasn't history shown that you need a guaranteed large install base or developers won't touch an innovation? i see them touting the balance board as a platform to build (games) on. I'm curious how they're overcoming the old fears (see : light gun support. or eyetoy support).



Similarly, a friend suggested they could release Zelda 4swords as a downloadable with DSi support. but this would only happen AFTER they sold a ton of DSi units right? which likely isn't happening? ... Similar problems are likely for ProjectNatal and Sony's GoofyGlowyWand (if they're still 1 or 2 years out, that's pretty far into the lifecycle to ask developers to start thinking about support).



I guess it's just weird to me that the industry is so focused on sure bets instead of allowing for people to take chances with innovative software alongside the innovative hardware. Curious if better tools/SDKs are the solution, or cheaper demo-like titles (yoshi's touch&go), or if allowing users to fool around with demo/ideas for the hardware is the solution (i don't think MS allowed consumer devs to mess with vision camera though. sigh?).



I guess it's all about a killer app that pushes the plastic (guiterHero style), right? So that would make it strange to announce hospital appliance accessory without the accompanying killer app example. I guess it was meant as "remember this. See how it surprises in the long term. Learn to trust our vision!" more than "can you imagine all the great uses this will have?".

I guess the plan is to change how consumers thing about the cheap plastic joystick (addon) market. ... I hope they succeed!

Matt Marquez
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@warren: well said! If video games need a secure future, then someone needs to jump ahead. The three major companies are doing just that, and while there are going to be a few hit and misses, at least they're seeing what works and what needs work. This generation feels like a prelude to what the next generation's standard is going to be in a big way.

Victor Bunn
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@warren



hmmm...I think the Wii changed everything. In the past it was true that most add-ons failed at retail but the Wii Balance Board with Wiifit are one of the best selling add-on/software combinations in the history of gaming. I remember when analyst were quick to point out that Nintendo's success with the DS does not translate into Wii success. But it did. I also remember analyst saying that motion was a fad that would last 6 months to a year and yet here were are, post E3 09 and Sony and MS are pushing motion alternatives, this being Sony's third if you combine the sixaxis and eyetoy.



To make an argument for a killer app for the add-on, as in the need for a killer app, is redundant. Clearly, any designer/publisher/producer knows that software sells hardware. DSi has already sold 600,000 units in how many days after launch? Even Sony/PS3, at the bottom of the food chain in terms of userbase still has over 22 million users. I think it's a safe bet with the success of the Wii and developers and gamers alike complaining about the lack of power with the Wii, a good percentage of people would welcome a chance to experience motion controlled games and make/play them for PS3 or 360 with better graphics and sound support and the extra features those consoles provide.



It's clear that some of the old trends of yesteryear don't apply like they once did, if at all.

Mike Siciliano
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Nice comment Victor. Very persuasive.



I really think that Nintendo's choice to release a Vitality Sensor so soon after only a second major Balance Board title is unnecessary, and, well, probably a marketing disaster. Yes, the Balance Board is kind of find and gets you to exercise. But that is its appeal. A vitality sensor? That reminds me of personal organizer software released on the DS and Game Boy (several iterations). Doesn't sound like it will attract anyone.



But my one question to everyone is: Why are you all surprised? Have you forgotten Nintendo's track history with addons? Setting aside the fact that Nintendo has released a revised handheld approximately every 3 years since the Game Boy Pocket, let's take a look at each console generation's major peripherals:



NES



Zapper

Power Pad

Power Glove (It's Mattel, I know)

Four Score (Or Satellite)

R.O.B.



SNES



Super Scope

Super Game Boy

SNES Mouse

MultiTap (Hudson)



Nintendo 64



Rumble Pack

Expansion Pack

Transfer Pack

64 Disk Drive (Japan Only)

Microphone (Hey You Pikachu!)



GameCube



Game Boy Player

Microphone

GBA to GCN cable (Four Swords)

WaveBird



So again, why is anyone surprised by another Wii accessory? If the Balance Board is selling, then of course Nintendo will try to sell you another accessory.

Jeferson Soler
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@ Mike Siciliano



Just for the record, Bandai was the one that originally developed the Power Pad and Nintendo bought the rights for it at a later time. However, Nintendo did develop NES Max and NES Advantage for the NES and you still have a valid point about Nintendo creating accessories for their consoles as well as for their portable systems (like the e-Reader for GBA). Like you said, nobody should be surprised neither by this nor by third-party companies wanting to create unique accessories for any of the Nintendo system.


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