INTERVIEW: Wii are talking to U

MCV talks to Nintendo’s new UK marketing director Shelly Pearce…

We have always been listening, but maybe people weren’t aware.”

If there’s one person that knows the conventional wisdom of ‘Nintendo doesn’t get the internet’ isn’t quite true, it’s Shelly Pearce.

The 14 year veteran of Nintendo – a decade of that spent as European comms boss – has a wealth of experience managing Nintendo’s reputation, and keeping track of what people have said about the company. Whether it’s the breakthroughs of the N64, the GBA boom, the GameCube’s struggle, or the genuine ground-breaking moments for Wii and DS – Pearce has seen it all, heard it all.

So she’s perfect to be taking charge of the marketing team at Nintendo UK at a crucial time. The manufacturer isn’t just readying a new console, but it is being more direct with fans via online video and social media, making a genuine stab at digital delivery, and is standing up to phenomena like the ‘second screen’ which pundits claim can kill Nintendo.

The company is under more scrutiny than ever, and has reacted to that by giving out more info than ever, with regular online broadcasts and announcements about the November 30th launch of Wii U, and attempts to be more engaged online.

MCV sat down with Pearce last week to find out more about why she switched roles and what to expect from Nintendo this Q4.

What attracted you to the role?

I’ve been at Nintendo for 14 years and head of European comms for ten, so it was the right time to see what else I could do. I’ve really only moved desks across the office to work with a team of people I have worked with for many, many years. The advantage I have is that 14 years of Nintendo, and a strong relationship with the European team. And I’ve been very lucky to inherit a team of very talented people, some of them who have been here and committed to Nintendo for a while, and some who are fresh and new. They are all very passionate, motivated and hard-working. It’s been interesting starting at peak season – I’ve had to hit the ground running, but my Nintendo experiences meant I knew what I was letting myself in for.

There have been a number of changes at Nintendo UK. Is all the upheaval over now?

Just about. We are obviously still recruiting for a general manager replacement for David Yarnton, and have a PR vacancy. But we’re very stable – James Honeywell is running the home console team, and Ben Taylor runs the handheld team, plus we have our events team, and a social team, including a new community manager. So we are fully-staffed and up-and-running.

The key thing is that even with the changes, some team members have been working here a long time and just got on with the job in the meantime. So that has helped it be a very smooth transition lately.

How does your new emphasis on social work for Nintendo which is famously protective of how it uses the web?

We are recognising what a huge part of people’s day-to-day lives social has become, whether that’s chats on Twitter, discussions on Facebook, or even down the pub – we want to be present where people are talking, in their own spaces. And we’re transparent about it, we get involved to either share official information or point people to what they want to know, and we’ve approached it in different levels. So Facebook is for those interested in Wii U; the Twitter account is for official messaging.

The community angle is to talk to core Nintendo fans, who we know have been following us for many years and probably could have done more with in the past – which is something we are now addressing. For instance we know a lot of people have had StreetPass events, and our community manager is going out to attend them, help grow those groups and even see if there are ways we can support them further.

Our Nintendo Direct broadcasts are very much the Nintendo take on all of these themes, by relaying our announcements direct to gamers.

MCV has asked Nintendo this many times, but how do you compete with smartphones and tablets when you have a touch-screen handheld and tablet-controller of your own?

The two are very different, and while I’m sure Nintendo has said that back to MCV for many years, they really are. Nintendo makes dedicated video games consoles. Other devices out there aren’t games devices. And we believe in our products, that’s the key thing. We have absolute confidence in how we can deliver. We know people enjoy the hardware we make and the games we produce – those two working together is what Nintendo is all about. Other devices aren’t necessarily good for games. For our core fans particularly that’s important.

I really think the answer is about being true to what we are – and I think there is still a big appetite out there for pure games on a pure games console.

For Wii U, could there be a lapsed market of gamers out there to target? It hasn’t been a strong year for sales, and we’ve seen some people turn away from games.

I think this is the perfect time to launch a new console. There is a demand out there for something new. And there’s the promise of longevity with this platform. People played Wii for seven years, and Wii U is backwards compatible with all the older hardware, games and accessories. So the premium pack is everything you need, out of the box, for Christmas day. And this really is a new generation of console. Maybe at E3 2011 we didn’t make that clear enough – it really is a new box as well as that innovative controller, and it offers many different things.

How do people discover Nintendo games these days? The media is changing fast, whether with less campaigns on TV, louder social voices, or fewer magazines.

TV is still the best way to raise mass awareness amongst everyone.

But today once you’ve raised that awareness people go online to learn more. And that’s not just Facebook, Twitter, YouTube campaigns – it’s anything online. That’s why it’s such a key part of everything we do now.

And then after that people try and get their hands on it, that’s why for any of our hardware we have big sampling efforts.

Nintendo has very specifically paced the Wii U campaign. Why?

Because there is a lot to talk about, and lots of features, and we don’t want to throw it all out there in one go. It’s so we can help people listen and understand.

The broad audience was important to Wii early on. But it has been six years since that launch. Has anything changed in how you approach them?

I think it’s just about talking to them again, and we have reasons to talk to them again now. I wouldn’t say we lost them – because they are still playing Wii and DS. But when we start talking to them again we re-energise the market.

The nature of the market right now is that people are spending less money, but if you have a product you know people want, and as long as you drive awareness of it, you can unlock their intent. Maybe not immediately, but you can encourage those who have been reluctant to spend in the games market towards trying more of the console, and then thinking about Wii U as a Christmas present or a gift.

About MCV Staff

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