Is Nintendo really serious about online? How have third party relationships changed? Why is Nintendo so sure that the Wii has longevity? Next-Gen asks Nintendo marketing director George Harrison these questions and more in this extensive interview...
Earlier this week, Reggie had talked about getting serious about online. Sure, there are a lot of online gamers using Wi-Fi Connect, but I look at things that Sony and Microsoft are doing with their online programs, where they're really creating communities and focusing on user-generated content on top of multiplayer online. Where is Nintendo as far as that goes in regards to Wii? Right now we've only seen a few multiplayer online games like Mario Strikers Charged and Mario Kart Wii.
Harrison: Yes, they're mostly competitive type games... I think our first project was trying to open up that online gameplay itself to all the publishers and have a variety of those kinds of experiences. The other thing that was important that we just announced recently was WiiWare, so developers can get underway doing some new content and it can be downloaded online. That will come probably I would say in early 2008. It just depends on how long it takes them to get going.
How has the developer reaction been to WiiWare?
It's very strong. I think there's a lot of outlets that people want to find for creativity that aren't necessarily going to justify going to a publisher and having a retail sale of a product. You've got to do 200-500,000 units of a product to be able to justify [a published retail game]. But a developer may just have an idea they're working or a character they want to try out to see if it has appeal. So we think it's going to be a really good outlet for them.
So it'll be games that aren't ready for retail?
Or just types of gameplay and to see if there's enough there. It's really wide open for experimentation so people can do most anything with it.
I just would like to get a better grasp of where Nintendo's going with online, because to me it seems that that's where everything is, from distribution to online play to community. I see other companies really pushing that whereas Nintendo, as they did last generation, is still kind of sitting back playing wait-and-see. Is that the kind of attitude you're taking towards online?
Online's going to be always one of those things that's peripheral to gaming."Well certainly we tried to figure out when would be the right time to jump in, and we really didn't believe in the last generation that it would turn out right for us with Nintendo Gamecube. So for us, online's going to be always one of those things that's peripheral to gaming. We heard Microsoft talking about how many movies they've downloaded and things like that. That's not really our business though, competing with Comcast cable boxes and that type of thing. So the things we do online are going to be related to gaming, and most of its going to be around competitive type gameplay.
There's the ongoing debate where people, including competitors, say that the Wii has no legs or longevity. At the Nintendo press conference, Reggie said he'd be making the same argument if he were in competitors' shoes and that implies that critics are saying that because they're basically scared or surprised of Nintendo's success. But do you think that that argument has absolutely no merit whatsoever?
Well I think it's still hard for many people to sort of change the way they judge our industry. Our industry has been judged for more than a decade based on who had the fastest processor and the prettiest graphics. The same thinking went into the new launch of the PSP. "Oh, it's going to kill you, it's going to put GameBoy out of business, it's going to kill the Nintendo DS," and exactly the opposite has happened. PSP sales this year are down versus last year and [Sony's] whole premise was incredible graphics and a console game in your hand and it turned out to be that wasn't exactly what people wanted. And so we're trying to sort of follow our instinct and develop for the consumers and not just get trapped in the industry thing, which is [the belief that] you have to have the faster processor and prettier graphics, and you have to be a multifunctional machine that plays movies and other kinds of things.