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Interviews

Jim Merrick

Nintendo's head of European marketing talks Revolution, innovation, competition and more in part one of our interview

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As an entertainment focused company, Nintendo's clearly heading up the 'innovation' movement with the announcement of DS and now the Revolution. While we've long since recognized Nintendo as one of the leaders in gameplay innovation, how recent is this seemingly new focus on hardware innovation?

Jim Merrick: It's a recognition of the market situation and Nintendo is perhaps ahead of the curve. Everybody's talking about market expansion and attracting new users now, but we're the first company that's really deliberating on new ways to reach those consumers. Nintendo has a long history of innovation - we spent the last week trashing traditional controller design, saying "Oh, we're going to change the world with these new controllers!" But as someone pointed out to us last week in Tokyo, we're responsible for most of those elements that make up today's controller designs so we probably shouldn't trash it so much! However, it's a recognition that we have to change the way we play games and the way we do business and we want to continue to grow the market.

If we follow what Iwata-san calls 'the past success formula', if we keep refining the existing model - more power, more pixels, more polygons, more levels, more enemies, better AI - we're actually making the games for a narrower audience playing those kind of intense games. We need to take a step back and refocus on a broad audience where we reach to everybody otherwise we're going to see the market start shrinking - as we're already seeing in Japan. And we have the luxury of being last where I think in Europe we're lucky and can take advantage of what's happened in Japan and do something before it happens here. It puts us in a very good position right now.

Obviously, the DS was your first big step away from the norm in terms of traditional console design. From a development perspective, how does a device like the DS - or even the Revolution - come into being?

Jim Merrick: There is always ongoing development - somebody asked me "When did you start working on the Revolution controller?" Well, about twenty years ago - it's a natural progression for us. When did we make a recognition that we had to change the user interface in order to move forward the market today? I think that was maybe two years ago at the keynote speech Iwata-san did at the Tokyo Game Show then, discussing what he sees as happening, watching the market shrinking with people moving away from games more and more. At that time he said that we had to make a change. It was about that time that we were looking at the lifecycle of our handhelds saying where do we go from here?

GBA has been launched, it's solid, it's going to last a couple of years, but it isn't doing anything to expand the market. So where can we go? There are all kinds of development projects in the works at any given time at Nintendo. Some of them leak occasionally - you might remember references to "Atlantis" about five years ago which was a new handheld that turned out to be GBA. At the time though it wasn't GBA, it was just another project, you know, screwing around with something else. We're always fooling around with human interfaces. You know, we've done a lot of different controllers and ideas in the past - from something like Super Scope to where we even had a little clip that measured your heart rate.

We linked it up to a version of Tetris and I played it once - it adjusted the rate of these falling blocks to try and keep you at this maximum level that you could handle. But actually, it was not enjoyable (laughs). But you know, we're always fooling around with a lot of different things like that.

One of the most immediately surprising things about the Revolution controller is the way it eschews traditional controller design in favour of what's essentially a glorified TV remote. What was the thinking behind the design from a purely aesthetic level?

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