"The (change) really was to make sure we avoided somebody else's misstep," Peter Main, vice president of sales and marketing for Nintendo of America, said during a press conference from Space World, Nintendo's annual fan fair and media event in Tokyo. "We're noting the misfire that occurred one year ago when somebody came to market with 400,000 units."
The GameCube now is set to arrive in North America with 700,000 units on Nov. 18--10 days after Microsoft enters the market with its Xbox. Original plans called for Nintendo to have 500,000 units on sale in America as of Nov. 5. Plans for a Sept. 14 Japanese launch with 500,000 units remain unchanged, as does Nintendo's schedule to have 4 million units in America by the end of March 2002.
Main said the new date will still give Nintendo plenty of time to make a dent during the holiday shopping season. And he said the company was unconcerned about now entering the market after Xbox.
"The fact the other guy may or may not show up on the indicated date is immaterial to us," he said. "The launch date was entirely a discretionary call. It just makes sense to make sure this is the most successful launch we've ever had."
Gartner analyst P.J. McNealy said the change in timing shouldn't hurt Nintendo because its audience is distinct from the older, hard-core gamers Xbox is likely to appeal to.
"They'll still have the kiddie market locked up," he said. "And it means Nintendo won't get lost in all the Xbox hype that week."
Nintendo also announced several new GameCube software titles, including a new entry in the "Legend of Zelda" series and a Pokemon game to be introduced next summer. The company highlighted titles coming from outside developers such as Electronic Arts and former hardware rival Sega, which announced a GameCube title featuring its signature character, Sonic the Hedgehog. Nintendo traditionally has been known for developing its own characters, such as Pokemon and the Mario Bros., rather than working closely with outside software makers. Main acknowledged that situation helped Sony's original PlayStation gain a sales edge over the Nintendo 64.
"There's no question that during the N64 years...there simply wasn't enough third-party support to satisfy all game-play tastes," he said.
Nintendo is also touting the GameCube's ability to work with Nintendo's GameBoy Advance, which is by far the market leader in portable game players. The GameBoy Advance will connect with the GameCube to serve as a controller. And on certain titles, players will be able to swap content between the units. A character the GameCube displays on a TV screen, for example, could walk onto the GameBoy Advance screen, letting the player continue the game on the road.
"The storyline of games on GameCube can expand in almost limitless ways," Main said. "All of this customization will challenge game designers and game players to new levels."
McNealy said the GameBoy Advance features should be a big bonus for GameCube marketing. "That just helps solidify their position with the younger market," he said.
While Microsoft and Sony are touting the online capabilities of their consoles, Nintendo had nothing new on that front, saying GameCube titles will support online play when consumer demand warrants it.