E3 2013 is over, leaving Nintendo the summer and probably most of the fall before the competition moves in with its shock and awe campaign. Nintendo’s challenge: prove to gamers that the Wii U is interesting enough, cheap enough and offers the kinds of games they’ll want to play (and keep playing) through 2013 and beyond. Without the games, what do you have, really?
Below-expectation console sales, for starters, a problem Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata agrees has to do with the system’s lackluster software lineup. But that’s also a solvable problem, argues games luminary Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Pikmin), who told me the best is nearly here, with games like Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Zelda: The Wind Waker HD arriving by year’s end.
With Wii U, Nintendo has kept online access optional. What’s your reaction to the idea of a game device that requires constant Internet access? What do you think, as a player, of the idea that you might be watched or scrutinized by a company?
Nintendo’s stance is that we realize not everyone in the world is connected over the Internet, and because of that we’re very much in support of providing offline experiences for those players who don’t have an Internet connection. That said, we also realize the time has come when most people do have an Internet connection, so we’ve created a system that is designed to take advantage of an Internet connection in a way that benefits the consumer.
We haven’t provided this as a means for us to really benefit from it, per se, but more as a service to our customers, so they can enjoy our games beyond what we’ve already created, and I say that from the stance of using a network connection to be able to provide patches that will add additional functionality post-launch or, you know, potentially if we have any bugs that need to be fixed we can do that. And so, really, it’s more from a position of providing a service to our consumers as a way to continue to extend the gameplay and their enjoyment of our games.
What are the advantages, in your view, of a tablet-style, dual-screen interface that employs one kind of motion control versus a controller-less interface with a single screen that’s gesture-driven?
First of all, we don’t require that all developers implement Wii U GamePad dual-screen functionality into their games, but from a Nintendo first-party development standpoint, we’re putting a lot of focus into how we can leverage two-screen gameplay. We look at it both in terms of how we can provide new gameplay experiences, but also in terms of how we can improve the interface. We think that with the two screens and the touchscreen, we’re able to provide experiences that are much more convenient and easy to use for the consumer.
Of course the real benefit is that once the consumer buys the Wii U system, they’re able to get that entire system with the GamePad — that second screen built into it — at a very reasonable price. Everyone who has a Wii U is able to take advantage of these functions, which makes it easier for developers to design their games in ways that leverage them.
So, I think it’s really up to the developers to decide what types of games they want to create and what types of systems they want to put those games on. From Nintendo’s standpoint, we’ve created Wii U to be the only hardware that is best-suited to the living room at a reasonable price that comes with a guarantee of the quality of Nintendo software. Obviously, we’re gonna put our efforts into taking advantage of the hardware capabilities to create amazing new experiences for our consumers, but it’s up to other developers to decide how they want to bring their creative ideas to life.
You’ve talked about powerful consoles having the “too many ferocious dinosaurs” in the room problem, but Quantic Dream made an interesting point with its The Dark Sorcerer PlayStation 4 demo about system power delivering, in the right hands, the ability to bring a level of emotional dimensionality to, say, the modeling of human expressiveness that’s unheard of in gaming.
From my perspective, with regard to the more powerful hardware systems, to me what still remains incredibly important is the developers maintaining a focus on creating unique games because if all that everyone does is uses the enhanced power to create more and more games that look and feel the same, then all that it becomes is a competition about the power of the hardware rather than the uniqueness of the experience. That, to me, is where developers should be devoting their effort.
The Wii seemed to arrive at this perfect storm moment between increased interest in gaming and the advent of plausible motion control — that, and it was easy to explain to people. The Wii U by contrast is a much harder quick sell — not the sort of system you can summarize in a few sentences to a family member or friend who doesn’t game. How are you dealing with that messaging challenge?
First and foremost, I think, with Nintendo products what’s often most important is that people touch and play and interact with our products — once they do, they begin to truly understand what makes them great. I think the same can be said of Wii U.
We’ve seen that, while it can be difficult to initially explain to people all the benefits of Wii U, the people who have purchased the system and have been interacting with it have high satisfaction levels. Our original objective with Wii U was to try to develop and release the system before tablets and those types of devices had penetrated the marketplace and were being found in most households, but I think that people who have tablets in the household now will actually have an easier time understanding the benefits of that combination of tablet-style gameplay with the television. And, particularly because of the cost advantage that Wii U has, the fact that you can instantly turn the system on and have that instant connection between the tablet and the TV helps make that benefit even more clear.
As we begin to release our software, with the strong software lineup that we have this fall, I think gradually more and more people are going to begin to buy the hardware for the software and to understand the benefits of having Wii U in their living room.
Part of Wii’s success, I think most would agree, was its $250 price, which made it hundreds of dollars less expensive than competing systems for years. Sony’s PlayStation 4 is going to debut only slightly more expensive than the Deluxe Wii U. Do you think you’d capture more of the audience you sold the Wii to if you could get the Wii U Deluxe model’s price down by $100? Even $50?
Unfortunately, I’m not the one who determined the price, so I can’t provide a specific answer on the price of the system. But the one thing that I think everyone needs to understand is that when you’re buying a Wii U, you’re buying a hardware system that comes with a tablet-like device and so if any of the other hardware systems were to try and include a tablet or device similar to the Wii U GamePad, those hardware systems would go up in price by easily a hundred dollars or more.
You once said “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” But Wii U’s suffered a number of game delays so far. What would you say to potential Wii U owners who are worried that the games they want to play, especially those based on Nintendo properties, are arriving too slowly?
With Wii U sharing the Wii name, a lot of consumers probably think, “Because the two systems share the same name, they probably share a similar development environment,” and therefore it should be easy for the design teams to get their games out based on their experience with Wii. But in fact the Wii U development environment is significantly different from the Wii development environment — there’s been a big jump in terms of its capabilities.
The development teams have been learning a lot about the system, and the unfortunate result has been that, in a lot of cases, the development on games has ended up taking about six months longer than we had originally anticipated. Many of the titles that we had slated for launch originally seem to have shifted by about that long. And about that, I’m very sorry to all the consumers who bought the system originally. But what I can say is beginning, really, with Pikmin 3, we have big titles coming almost every month starting with the launch of Pikmin 3 and going all through the end of the year and into next year. And so, because of that, all of the fans who have been waiting for Nintendo software, I’m sorry to have taken so long, but we have a very strong lineup coming and there will be a lot for you to experience on the Wii U in the coming months.
Many were unfair to the Wii during its inaugural year, but the system sort of roared to life and went on to become one of the top-selling game systems ever. For Wii U, is there an acceptable market penetration level that perhaps lives below what the Wii achieved?
The entertainment business is one where what happens with products has an incredible amount of variability. You can have some products that immediately sell like crazy, then trail off, or others that start off slow, then have a strong build, or some from the beginning that just don’t perform well at all. And so it’s difficult to say, from a numbers standpoint, where we would want something to end up.
We’ve designed the Wii U system from the beginning to be a hardware system that we think is really going to add a great deal of convenience to the living room, to the interaction with the TV in the living room, and so with our perspective we’re focused entirely on bringing out software that will make people want to buy the system, at which point they can experience what’s so great about having Wii U in their living room. We anticipate that after the software arrives, people will spread the word about the system and it will start to perform better.
For gamers who have never played a Pikmin game, what about Pikmin 3 would you most like them to know? How would you persuade them to give it a try?
I’m very glad you asked that question! So the original Pikmin is a game that we released over 10 years ago and it was a unique game that’s still to this day unlike anything else available. But when we released it on GameCube, there was a core group of fans that played the game quite a bit. We just didn’t have as broad an audience playing it and experiencing it as we’d hoped. So with Pikmin 3, we wanted to create a game that allows even novice players to come in and experience it, but at the same time, gives more advanced gamers quick and early access to all of the depth and the strategy that’s involved in that gameplay. And so we’ve designed Pikmin 3 to be a game that you’ll want to play repeatedly and that you can truly immerse yourself in because of its incredibly deep gameplay.
The real focus has been on easing that transition, both for the novice gamer and for the advanced gamer, and doing it in a way we believe can appeal to everyone, from young kids to older adults, encouraging you to play creatively and test the boundaries of what’s possible in the game. This thinking style of gameplay is something that I believe once you taste it, will be fun for everybody.
When you play, you’re commanding a squad of 100 Pikmin, plus two additional explorer characters, and the basic action that you conduct in the game is very simple — it’s a matter of simply throwing the Pikmin, calling them back, throwing them at tasks and calling them back. And yet with the Pikmins’ abilities and the breadth of strategies available, it opens up broad possibilities of how you can approach the gameplay. The other thing is that Pikmin 3 does a great job of immersing you in the world of the Pikmin and allowing you to experience that world firsthand through this simple and yet incredibly deep gameplay mechanic, and so I hope that everybody will look forward to playing the game and giving it a try.
Last up — and I ask because it’s my favorite in the series — will we ever see The Wind Waker‘s distinctive visual style return to a Zelda game?
Well, we’ve prepared The Wind Waker HD for Wii U, and because we’ve done this and brought the toon-shading of that game to Wii U, there’s a chance that we may use that toon-shading again with something else.