EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Laurent Fischer on Wii's new download offer and casual games development

Q&A: NoE’s Fischer discusses Wii Software

Last week Nintendo unveiled Wii Software, a new platform for downloadable games that will be sold online via the Wii Shop. Developers can upload anything to the service, as long as the games adhere to QA guidelines and are of suitable age ratings, so Nintendo won’t be vetting any content. The games will be paid for with Wii Points, with prices decided by Nintendo in consultation in studios (but the prices themselves are still to be decided).

But what else do we need to know? Develop spoke to Nintendo Europe’s marketing director Laurent Fischer to find out more…

What’s the motivation behind introducing the Wii Software platform?
As Mr Iwata has said for a long time, in order to make a video game it is now very difficult without getting into a huge financial investment. Cost and budget and time leads are absolutely tremendous.

Our thinking with the DS and Wii was to let all developers have access to a platform that gives them, firstly, a brand new way to make a video game, and secondly – because you are able to open so many doors to big or small studios, new or old – the chance to make the games they have dreamed of for years and years. Many developers were hit by budget and technical constraints and cost, but now we are knocking a lot of those barriers down. What was missing was their idea being able to remain true and reach the consumer, which is the purpose of Wii Software.

What kind of games are you expecting developers to make for Wii Software?
What we expect are innovative games. The key is that, again, you don’t need to have a high level of graphics to make software that is extremely popular – you just need a great idea and know how it works with the Wiimote. It’s really just so that developers can make their dream project that until now wouldn’t have gone through.

Nintendo has said it won’t be vetting the games aside from QA elements. So studios can submit anything?
Yes, were just providing a platform. Developers will be in charge of everything including age ratings. Once they have a devkit it’s all up to them.

Will developers also have to start marketing their own titles?
Definitely. What’s interesting is that there is already a huge audience for these games. My expectation is that many consumers are interested in this – so as a platform it will be, very quickly, very powerful.

We already have a very successful other side to the Wii Software system which is the Virtual Console – it’s already extremely popular. All those people that are already enjoying older games are used to downloading content via the Wii console so the audience is there – and when the content meets the audience it’s going to be very easy for all developers to have their content rapidly accessible.

And as we know, we have a huge amount of support from the development community so there are hundreds of games in the works at the moment that will be coming through. I think the way things are shaping up, the software line-up will deliver a good surprise every month.

How do you think it will compare to Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Store?
My simple answer to that is that developers will be able to use the Wiimote. [laughs]

And you think that’s enough?
Yes, I’d say so. The key point is that it’s Wii Software. When you see how the Wii games look and how people enjoy them when playing with the Wiimote, it’s clearly an attractive proposition.

Many publishers have very vocally talked about ramping up Wii development over recent months. Has that surprised you?
No. For us what’s obvious is that everyone now clearly understands where we want to go. When we launched DS our goal and strategy puzzled some people who thought that, with the PSP as well, they’d have even less time to make games. But we’ve shown that the DS is the best platform to help develop the video game industry. It’s a long-term job, and the DS has made it a little clearer that we are on track to achieve this objective, and on top of that developers have been able to master the DS as a console and now know what consumers expect from the software.

All of this experience combined has been translated onto the Wii. Since E3 last year a lot of people at studios have been talking about ideas they had stored in their desk or cupboards but could never use – suddenly they can happen thanks to Wii. That’s the key point.

Do you think the industry’s new casual games focus vindicates what Nintendo has been doing?
I guess it does. The truth is that we can’t stay in this market – the games industry is great as it is – but if we keep making the same games the industry will shrink. And all of us have to face this issue. We just want to enlarge the market. I’m not so keen to say ‘casual’ games because what happens is that once people take a step into the industry through games like Nintendogs, Brain Training, or MySims what is interesting is that they then enter what we call a ‘regular’ gaming profile – they buy software and not just ‘casual’ software. We see a lot of people who bought Brain Training as their first game, but then for their second bought New Super Mario Bros.

So these publishers need to be careful they don’t start segmenting the industry further?
What is important is that they aim to provide a unique and interesting gameplay experience. Good software is good software. If you can provide pleasure and entertainment – that’s key. We’re there for fun and entertainment; we need to make people aware that games are fun and entertaining, and then they will consider games as part of their overall media entertainment.

To go back to the point of changing the industry: how do you think you’ve done that – how are things different now thanks to Nintendo?
I still don’t think we’ve fully achieved our goal yet – it’s a long-term job that was started with the DS, and now the Wii is entering the same process. The best example is that we’ve been able to sell millions of copies of Brain Training software that is obviously unprecedented.

No one would have thought a few years ago that you would have 50 year-olds enjoying playing on a DS and enjoying playing it in public – which is even more interesting as I saw an old man playing on a DS in a park a few days ago. That amazed me as it wasn’t something I ever expected to see some time ago.

And in the future that could be more commonplace?
Definitely. We’ve just launched More Brain Training and I think, when we said we were going to launch Brain Training, no one thought it would be the best seller across Europe for the year. That’s completely unexpected and a good summary of what we’ve done. It’s a long-term thing, but the potential is huge.

Previously everyone read a book and went to the cinema – but not everyone played a video game. That’s the ultimate long-term objective: to make playing a game a common thing, and to enable people that own a console to play different kinds of software, from a Brain Training software to Mario software and My Sims software and so on and so forth.

There has been a lot written about Nintendo’s success over the past few months. How do you plan to keep that momentum?
As I say, it’s to keep following up. We have a long-term strategy, and have not established it entirely – and it’s not just our job, it’s the job of the entire industry, everyone to do this. We will deliver on our promise and prove that, in the long term, we can capture that ‘five to 95’ year old audience.

It’s a long-term job. We started when we launched the DS, and it has been there for two years. Wii has only just been with us for months, it’s just the beginning for that cycle. It’s so recent, and still fragile, that we will just keep pushing it.

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