Spaceworld: Peter Main and Satoru Iwata press conference

[08.23.01] » Nintendo higher-ups explain how they're taking care of business.

   Peter Main, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Nintendo of America, and Satoru Iwata, Director and General Manager of Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s Corporate Planning Division, held a press conference today to talk about the upcoming GameCube launch and to answer a few questions about the business side of things.

   Mr. Main spoke first and reiterated "the Nintendo difference," which according to him is based on "an absolute commitment to our players. Above all, we just want to make it fun." He then commented on some of new features the ability to hook up a Game Boy Advance to a GameCube will bring to games, using Kirby's Tilt 'n' Tumble 2 and Animal Forest as examples. In the first instance, the Game Boy Advance will apparently be used as a sort of "gutter" area; Kirby will actually "fall off" of the main GameCube screen and into the Game Boy Advance. In addition, a special tilt pack will attach to the GBA in order to use it as a motion sensitive controller which will influence the action on screen.

   As for Animal Forest, the example given was the way players can access a special island on their GBA screens, as well as use the GBA to create clothing and wallpaper designs for objects in the GameCube game. Neither game will require a separate game cartridge; all of the game data is stored on the GameCube discs and is downloaded onto the portable machine.

   He acknowledged that in the past, "despite great first-party successes, there wasn't enough third-party support to satisfy all gaming tastes," but promised that Nintendo was working to fix that in the current generation and named several high-profile third-party titles such as Star Wars: Rogue Leader, Soul Calibur 2, and Super Monkey Ball. Addressing a commonly asked question on whether or not there is a Pokémon game in development for GameCube, Main said only "Of course there is."

   Finally, Main spoke out on the reasons for the announcement of the GameCube's launch delay. He was careful to stress the fact that the previous schedule for November 5th had been a ship date, not a street date, and that the new November 18th date is when consoles will actually be in stores, so the true delay is less significant than it first seemed. Furthermore, the extra time will allow Nintendo to increase their U.S. allocation of GameCubes to 700,000 on launch day, an increase of 25% over what they would previously have been able to deliver.

   Next up was Satoru Iwata, who explained that the company's strategy for the future would continue to emphasize the younger set. Defending this position, he said that "This criticism has always confused us for a couple of reasons. First, youngsters are the people with the most time to play the games, and often the most passionate. The fact is that Nintendo is the only manufacturer who seriously targets this market. Second, young people are important for another reason. They are the purest and truest indicator of game quality."

   After Mr. Iwata's speech, the two were open to questions. When asked about the possibility of Square or other third-party developers coming to GameCube, Main commented that "There is more third party support than what we've shown to this point. Our focus is not on maximizing the number of developers on this system, it's in optimizing the quality of those developers. We're absolutely convinced we've got top-quality developers around the world working on this project." When someone broached the issue of Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi's earlier public rejection of Square, Main took a harder stance, saying "We can't talk about the future, but as of right now, we have nothing to talk about with the Square situation."

   Mr. Main also discussed various the benefits of a "preawareness" campaign vs. the standard presale method. "Bundling is not part of our program. Somebody else thought that was a good idea, and we wish them well with it. Every retailer in the country has been pushing to start those programs; we are more focused on a preawareness campaign as opposed to locking up deposits. The successful launch of GBA took a grand total of 8 weeks despite our insistence that there not be a massive presell campaign on that."

   A key ingredient in the "preawareness" campaign is Club GameCube, which will launch next month. "We are creating 12 sites around the country that launch in September that take the product on tour. It will stay in these major markets for 10 days ... that will lead up to the installation of the 8,000 interactives by mid-to-late October." Nintendo's campaign will emphasize a strong concentration on building awareness in a short timespan, backed by a large advertising budget: "75 million is ... U.S.-only, it does not include Canada, Latin America, or any other part of the launch that's taking place this fall. Total Nintendo spending is about 400 million dollars worldwide this year. There's a hardware campaign and 7 individual software campaigns."

   On the subject of international launches within North America, Main also had something to say on the South American launch. "We've not yet announced a ship date for Brazil, we're currently working on that, but other regions in Latin America will be receiving their product at the same time we're shipping elsewhere in North America." However, he was unable to provide any pricing information for Latin or South America.

   Several attendees asked about specific games or genres. Mr. Iwata cited From Software's Rune as an example of Nintendo's efforts to reach out to the RPG audience, although news on the Mother front was bleak. "We don't have anything to tell about Mother 3," he apologized. Mr. Main mentioned that some Japanese GameCube titles would not see release in the U.S., but was uncertain as to whether Animal Forest would be one of them. "We're still not certain of that. We were surprised with the tremendous success that product had in Japan and we're constantly reevaluating that."

   The most controversial game under discussion was Metroid Prime; when asked whether Raven Blade's cancellation spelled trouble for Retro's ability to handle such a high-profile franchise as Metroid, Mr. Main reassured attendees that "All of our second-party groups work closely with NCL's EAD development group, and Retro is certainly part of that group. They're working very closely with Retro with respect to refinishing and finishing that game. We're confident it will come to market in great form."

   In more general matters, Mr. Main admitted that the GameCube's pricing would not initially follow Nintendo's rule of turning a profit on every console sold. "We expect to incur a small loss on the GameCube hardware initially, and you're right that it hasn't been our habit in the past but we expect it to turn okay early next year."

   These predictions came in spite of concerns over the U.S.'s general economic climate: "It's incredible that even with the slowdown that the industry is experiencing 29% year on year growth. We like our prospects with GameCube ... we're the best deal in town with a system at $199.95." One aspect of the industry he was confident would pose no threat is the perennial thorn in gaming's side, piracy. "One of the key reasons Nintendo has chosen to use the proprietary 3.5 inch optical discs is ... it's a proprietary architecture ... we feel very confident that we have strong, strong security measures in place."

   Finally, in regards to recent studies on whether or not gaming causes antisocial behavior, Main attempted to put any worries to rest. "There's been a variety of commentary over the last 25 years over videogames and their obvious benefits in promoting social interactions, certainly with the advent of 2-and 4-player games. There's been several hypotheses, all unproven, and we're confident that Thanksgiving--truly a time of togetherness in America--is a time to bring this family-oriented product to America."

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