What an E3. Sony came out swinging, all but weaponizing the PlayStation 4 with an arsenal of promises about used games, game lending and offline play. Microsoft spent much of the show deflecting media opprobrium about the Xbox One’s less consumer-friendly take on those points, wheeling out games, games and more games like a lion tamer trying to stay one step ahead of the lions. And Nintendo…well, Nintendo chose to step outside the ring entirely, spotlighting first-party reveals like Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Mario Kart 8. As class acts go, Nintendo was arguably the classiest in its just-the-facts Nintendo Direct@E3 Presentation.
Nintendo’s two greatest challenges going forward, in my view, involve convincing looky-loo casual gamers — the same strain that emerged unexpectedly last round to snatch up Nintendo’s $250 Wii in droves — that $350 isn’t too dear a price to pay for the only version of the Wii U worth buying (the Deluxe model), while at the same time convincing core gamers looking for the next great Mario, Metroid or Zelda game that Wii U up-and-comers Pikmin 3, Super Mario 3D World, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and The Wonderful 101 are sufficiently in that wheelhouse to justify spending nearly as a much (for the Wii U) as a new PlayStation 4.
I ran those points and others by Nintendo V.P. of Corporate Affairs, Cindy Gordon. (I spoke with her last in September.) Here’s what she told me.
We haven’t heard as much about Nintendo TVii since its launch in December. How much is it being used these days? Any notable changes coming to the service this year?
Nintendo TVii is the most popular non-gaming application on Wii U. In the last few months, we added Netflix and MLB. The TV Tag feature is now more prominent on the Home menu. We are always working to improve the experience, so stay tuned.
Nintendo 3DS launched strong, then faltered sales-wise, leading to that late summer price drop which went on to then drive very significant sales. The Wii U seems to be in a comparable predicament. Why, assuming you agree that Nintendo needs to, aren’t you moving more systems?
Software drives hardware. Yes, Nintendo 3DS got a boost from the price reduction, but it was the strong software lineup seen in games like Mario Kart 7, New Super Mario Bros. 2 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D that drove consumers to the product. Exclusive games are what changed the momentum for 3DS, and we’re still seeing those effects with Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and Fire Emblem Awakening. We expect the same for Wii U. We’re bringing our A game to the Wii U with exclusives like Pikmin 3, Super Mario 3D World, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and outrageously fun family games like Wii Party U and Mario Kart 8, in which you can race without gravity. These games are new, totally engaging and crazy fun, and we expect them to create the strong and positive momentum for Wii U to hit its stride.
The Wii defied early critical dismissal by crossing over to a nontraditional gaming demographic, but that demographic was able to enter at the $250 price point. Don’t you think you’d drive more sales if you eliminated the Basic model and dropped the Deluxe’s price to $300?
There’s a strong value proposition in Wii U. It’s a versatile system with unique social and entertainment features and a growing and fun library of exclusive titles. Consider this: Five of the top 10 best-selling franchises in home console history – Mario, Zelda, Smash Bros., Mario Kart and Wii Fit – are all on the way soon for Wii U, and either playable or viewable here at the show. At the end of the day, people buy a video game console to play great games. By this measure, the Wii U can compete with anyone. Nintendo has everyone covered with a broad array of amazing new games on the way. We aren’t talking price at the show. We are here to showcase games.
What would you say to gamers who, rightly or wrongly, hear that Wii U sales are well below expectations, and worry — especially in a market this turbulent and with unprecedented competition from nontraditional game platforms — about the console’s future?
There are more and more gamers enjoying a growing industry, and Nintendo is leading the charge in many ways. Our strong software lineup playable here at E3, on store shelves and what we have coming in the future means that there are a multitude of experiences you can only have on Nintendo systems, delivered by Nintendo developers. Because Nintendo develops its own hardware and software, we’re uniquely positioned to deliver experiences in games optimized for Nintendo systems. That means games that are fun, challenging and inspired. As long as we keep delivering this type of innovation we will have a strong advantage.
You told me back in September that the Wii U was “core enough” for that demographic, but the lineup announced in Mr. Iwata’s Nintendo Direct presentation seemed a little sparse, with many of the games either delayed until late 2013 or listed as coming in 2014. Do you feel you have a strong enough lineup to compete against Sony’s and Microsoft’s launches this holiday?
Yes. Between now and the end of the year, Wii U owners will enjoy games like Pikmin 3, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and The Wonderful 101. That’s a rock solid lineup of great games that demonstrate that Nintendo has something for everyone.