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Nintendo: Our 'powerhouse' franchises will ignite holiday sales

The company sees the Wii U performing similarly to the portable 3DS and rebounding. "We know the power of great software driving hardware," one executive tells CNET.

Mario and Luigi
Nintendo is poised to exploit its exclusive games, such as those featuring the company's star players -- like Mario and Luigi, above. Josh Miller/CNET

LOS ANGELES -- Nintendo isn't fazed by disappointing sales of its Wii U system, and expects a sharp rebound for the holidays.

"We know the power of great software driving hardware," Scott Moffitt, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Nintendo of America, said in an interview with CNET on Wednesday. "We have powerhouse titles that will drive hardware sales this holiday season."

Moffitt is referring to Tuesday's unveiling of several new Wii U games, including Super Mario 3D World, two Zelda games in Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds and an HD remake of Windwaker, and Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze.

Nintendo is hoping that the strength of those franchises, which have their own legion of fans, will be enough to reverse what has been a disappointing early run for the Wii U. Since the debut of its next-generation system late last year, consumer reception has been mixed, with only 3.5 million units sold worldwide.

Nintendo scaling back its press conference to a more informal gathering to show off its games at E3 only further fueled the impression that it couldn't hang with larger players Microsoft and Sony, which each put on massive events for their own E3 presentations. Indeed, much of the focus at the show has been on the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. The hardware for the PS4, in fact, was first unveiled on Monday.

On the idea that Nintendo's presence in the industry was waning, Moffitt said, "That was absolutely not the case." He expects the Wii U to follow the same kind of sales trajectory as the portable Nintendo 3DS, which saw stagnant sales initially but popped when Mario games began appearing on the system.

He said games like Super Mario 3D World offer "moments of joy" that gamers will want to share, and he hopes that will lead to the same kind of phenomenon that drove Wii sales.

"With some great content coming on Wii U, we will ignite sales and start seeing phenomenal growth," he said.

Indeed, Nintendo could still draw the crowds at E3. The company cleverly set up several colorful photo opportunities using props from its upcoming games. Fans could pose in a Donkey Kong barrel with the full Tropical Freeze background, board Link's ship in "WindWakers," or hang out in a pipe next to Mario and a few gold coins.

In addition, he touted the 3DS as a continued success. In an industry where every system has seen declining sales, the 3DS is the only device that continues to grow. Moffitt said the 3DS is poised to have the best holiday sales despite increased competition from smartphones and other mobile devices.

Still, some third-party developers have noticed, and have eased back on their resources for the Wii U. Electronics Arts told CNET on Monday that they viewed the other next-generation consoles and mobile as the fastest growing areas in the industry. Last week, 2K Sports confirmed it wouldn't be bringing "NBA 2K14" to the Wii U despite "NBA213" being a launch title for the system.

"Those developers all have to make a choice on where they spend their resources," Moffitt said. "Some of them are finding they can't do it all."

Moffitt, however, said the company has great relationship partners, and touted other developers such as Ubisoft, which is releasing the highly anticipated Watchdogs, as well as Warner Bros. Interactive, which is working on Batman: Arkham Origins.

In the end, he said it was about driving up the user base, which will attract the developers.

A Merry Holiday for Mario?
The critical holiday sales period will serve as a good barometer of the enduring popularity of Nintendo's brands. At that point, the Wii U will be stocked with games based on its favorite franchises.

But the Wii U faces stiff competition with both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 making their debut at that time. The Xbox One is slated for a November launch, while Sony has yet to specify the timing for the PS4.

Moffitt believes supplies for the other systems will be limited and that sales will largely go to hardcore fans of each system. At the same time, there are a lot of fans of those systems that also play Nintendo games, he said, suggesting that some may seek out a Wii U if they can't get a PS4 or Xbox One.

The Wii U needs a catalyst to spark sales. CNET

Microsoft and Sony tend to go after a similar target market of dedicated gamers, while Nintendo has a much broader potential base, Moffitt said. Beyond fans of dark shooters, the Wii U attracts families and gamers alike.

"We invite gamers of all ages and all ability levels to enjoy our platform," he said.

The Wii U comes as Microsoft and Sony (Microsoft, in particular) attempt to position their systems as more than gaming devices. Both have talked about the entertainment capabilities, with hopes that their systems will evolve into the entertainment hub of the living room.

Nintendo has talked about the integrated television capabilities of the Wii U, but they so far haven't impressed many.

Nintendo on Mobile (or Not)
While Moffitt wouldn't completely rule out the idea of its first-party games ever ending up on a smartphone or tablet, he said it was highly unlikely. For now, Nintendo isn't even considering it.

"We draw the line at creating a playable game on those devices," he said. "We have a firm position."

Nintendo believes it can't re-create the experience of its games on a multipurpose device.

"When you have the marriage of hardware platform dedicated to gaming and Mario, there's magic that can't be replicated on a phone," he said.

The Nintendo 3DS remains a hot seller, and is the company's mobile play. Sarah Tew/CNET

Nintendo instead sees smartphones and tablets as a way to communicate with fans and raise awareness for its products. Moffitt said he wants fans to purchase games through its digital store.

Nintendo sees the 3DS as its mobile play. Its stance comes as the smartphone and tablet market continue to surge and have long eclipsed the gaming market.

On whether Nintendo making its own phone, Moffitt said it was an interesting idea but unlikely. He noted that the 3DS offers some of the features of a smartphone, from playing videos to downloading music, and that more would come in subsequent generations. But Nintendo has more pressing matters than building a phone, he added.

Weighing in on the controversy
Because the Wii U is out, Nintendo was left out of the controversy over used games and persistent online connection. Microsoft has suffered from a few weeks of bad publicity, and did little to help itself by releasing a confusing set of guidelines. Sony jumped on that by coming out against restrictions on used games, winning over a lot of gaming fans and kicking Microsoft when it was down.

The Donkey Kong display at Nintendo's E3 booth. Josh Miller/CNET

Moffitt declined to comment on how his rivals were handling the issue. But he pointed out that the Wii U is backward compatible with the Wii, and works with the same peripherals. The Wii U also works just as well without an Internet connection, and there isn't a need for a daily authentication like the Xbox One.

As for used games, Moffitt said that's less of an issue because Nintendo users tend to keep their games, since a new Mario Cart game doesn't come out every year.

"We try to make decisions that will respect our fans and their intelligence and win their support," Moffitt said.