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INTERVIEW: Nintendo

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW: Nintendo

2009 was a successful year for Nintendo globally, but sales did fall for Wii and DS. How did the European side of the business perform last year?

This was the third best fiscal year in Nintendo’s history, despite declines in both sales and profits from records set in the preceding fiscal year. Our Japanese parent company has to announce the sales in Japanese yen, and the higher appreciation of Japanese yen in comparison to the previous fiscal year also had an effect to significantly lower the global sales.

In Europe Wii lost some momentum in the first half of last year. However, the strong software line-up in the latter half of 2009 helped regain momentum and total sales of Wii in Europe have now reached over 22 million.

Whilst Nintendo DS sales in Europe were lower than the previous year, Nintendo’s share in the handheld market has not shrunk. What has shrunk is the whole handheld hardware market in Europe, possibly due to a shortage of hit titles and possibly because more attention from the public was paid to Wii with such titles as New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Wii Sports Resort and Wii Fit Plus. 

Having said that, I think it is worth remembering that total sales of the DS family of products have now reached over 41 million units in Europe.
 
What do you say to those who think that the Wii bubble has popped?

I think you just need to look at the facts to see this is not true – we achieved global sales of 20 million units of Wii in the last financial year alone.

Our aim has always been to expand the gaming population and with European sales of Wii now over 22 million we have taken some steps towards achieving this. However, there are still many more people out there who have not yet experienced the fun of video games and we hope to continue to provide compelling reasons for these people to consider buying a Wii.

What qualities in big Wii hits like Just Dance can the rest of the games industry learn from?

What is unique about this software is the sales trend – the first weeks sales were relatively low and over time its appeal has been spreading and five months after launch the sales pace has remained consistent. This sort of sales trend is similar to what we have experienced with software such as Brain Training, Nintendogs, Wii Fit and Mario Kart Wii – games that appeal to a broad demographic including new consumers who started playing video games as we expanded the gaming population. 

These new consumers are not necessarily aware of launch dates or what’s new or what’s been on the market for some time and at Nintendo we take this into consideration when planning our software promotional activities. I think the learning here is that the value of software should not be judged by the launch week sales alone. 
 
What is it that Nintendo can do to reverse the downward trend it is currently experiencing?

As I mentioned earlier, Wii regained its momentum in the second half of last year and the continued good sales of New Super Mario Bros. Wii and other major titles has kept this momentum going. We believe the strong software line up this year – with the imminent launch of Super Mario Galaxy 2 and further strong titles such as Wii Party and Metroid: Other M in the pipeline – will help to maintain this momentum.

Similarly on Nintendo DS we have some key titles launching this year that we hope will help to continue to drive sales of Nintendo DSi and DSi XL.

The first one I’m looking forward to is Dragon Quest IX. When you start to play this game, you understand why it became a social phenomenon in Japan. You feel the depth and the richness of the game, with a very unique multiplayer mode that allows you to take your friends on board in your adventure any time. 
 
Do you feel Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch can impact Nintendo’s handheld business?

As a hardware and software manufacturer, our goal is to offer a great game experience that no other platform can offer.

In addition to other video game platforms – including Wii – we are always competing against other forms of entertainment. We have been and will be trying to offer really unique and compelling entertainment experiences only available on Nintendo systems.

There’s been a period over the past 18 months where there’s not been a great deal of Wii software, particularly for the core Nintendo fan. And the more mature and core products that have come out haven’t performed very strongly. Do you feel that, because of the new markets Nintendo has moved into, you’ve lost that core following?

First, I guess it is important to keep in mind that it is difficult or artificial to draw this border between what is a core game or not. Actually we know that the best games are the ones that can appeal to any kind of gamers.

Nintendo fans have and always will be important to us. In the first half of last year there was a lack of strong software titles, however in the second half we had a much stronger offering with many games that appealed to our core audience.

This year we will continue to offer games that will appeal to Nintendo fans, we have recently launched Monster Hunter Tri; Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Dragon Quest IX are imminent and we’re looking forward to the return of Samus in Metroid: Other M and embarking on a brand new adventure with Link. 

How important is the core consumer to Nintendo Europe?

As I said, Nintendo fans have and always will be important to us and this year’s software line up is testament to that.

Do you feel that the core games you’ve listed can win back the Nintendo fan?

We hope Nintendo fans will be happy with the software line up this year, we’re certainly excited about it. If we just talk about our next big release this week, Super Mario Galaxy 2, it has been praised at the highest level by all people that could play it. This game is certainly the best answer we can give to that question.

Everyone’s rushing towards digital at the moment, and Nintendo has been active in this space since the launch of Wii. However, WiiWare and Virtual Console have not quite received the attention that XBLA and PSN has. Why do you feel that is? What can Nintendo do to improve its digital offering?

This is an area of our business that we are certainly very focused on. In terms of the content we offer, we are proud to work with an incredibly diverse and talented group of developers who have collectively made over 275 downloadable games for our WiiWare and Nintendo DSiWare services and we look forward to see what these creative people will come up with next.

We are working with these partners, to find ways to make these services better and more compelling to our customers, so that developers can take full advantage of them.

Natal and Move are due this year, and there is an array of traditionally Wii genres hitting these platform – including party games and fitness titles. What do you make of these new motion-sensing products?

We appreciate the fact that other companies are now endorsing the motion-sensing approach that Nintendo started offering four years ago. 

Since the actual experiences by the customers – not the technologies – are most important, Nintendo is not in a position to comment until these hardware and software actually hit the market. But for Nintendo, motion control and social gaming are realities today. We will continue to make efforts so that whatever we do on the gameplay interface can become another de facto standard in the industry.

Do you think these traditionally core gaming platforms can satisfy the consumer Nintendo currently caters for?

I think ultimately it will be the customer who decides. However at Nintendo we will continue to look at ways to expand the gaming population and find new compelling reasons for people to consider buying a Wii.

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