By David Becker
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
May 28, 2001, 4:00 a.m. PT
When the rest of the video game industry zigs, Nintendo zags.
While competitors Sony and Microsoft were busy sketching brave new online worlds for their game consoles during last month's Electronic Entertainment Expo, Nintendo was sticking to "the here and now," as Peter Main, executive vice president of marketing for Nintendo America, put it.
That means the main selling points for the company's upcoming GameCube console won't be cutting-edge graphics and Internet connectivity, but , family-friendly software, and the return of beloved Nintendo characters such as Mario and Pokemon.
Nintendo is counting on those factors--along with the upcoming Game Boy Advance, the next generation of the handheld gaming phenomenon--to keep pace in the increasingly competitive game hardware business.
Main spoke about the new challenges of the game business and Nintendo's competitive position during an interview with CNET News.com.
Q: It seems like Nintendo is being cast as the underdog in this round of the console wars. Does that feel odd, considering that Nintendo helped create this business?
Why the closed lips for so long?
In the interim--while Microsoft had nothing else to do and Sony had the PS2 to push--we had a lot of N64 (consoles) to sell and Game Boy Color to sell. For that reason, we strongly urged our retailers to not even start talking about Game Boy Advance until the week after Easter...in preparation for a launch in mid-June. Likewise, we decided we were going to stay under the radar of the gaming public on Nintendo GameCube to continue interest in the existing product.
Any time you put a bona fide reason for delaying the purchase of one of these systems in front of the consumer, it hurts the market. I think coming out of this show, the noise about GameCube and Xbox is going to hurt PlayStation 2 sales for a while. I think an inordinate number of people will decide to wait and see what this is all about. That's not so good for the industry--but I can't say I'm feeling so bad for Sony being slowed down a little bit.
Any regrets about coming out on the market now instead of a year ago, when Dolphin (the original name for GameCube) was originally scheduled?
Now we're ready to go to battle. We'll be ahead of Microsoft in the Japanese market...and we'll be here duking it out with them in the U.S. from day one.
There seem to be a lot of different perspectives here on what a game console should do besides play games. What's Nintendo's position?
Do those killer apps potentially include things like Web browsing and e-mail, such as Sony will offer through America Online?
To suggest that kind of multipurpose activity--I guess it's the same high ground PCs went after when they said, "We're going to be the gamers' platform of choice because we can do all these other things." The consumer's already said that's not exactly the most exciting idea.
As far as online gaming, the idea for now seems to be a PC format where you buy a game and get a couple different versions of it, including one for playing over the Net. Is that a compelling proposition for Nintendo?
What I mean by that is last year, Pokemon, a ridiculously unusual gaming application...sold over 10 million pieces of software in the U.S. alone. Why did that happen? Not clever marketing--that was a whole new idea in gaming, finding, collecting, trading items. I think that shows this is clearly not just about chasing the potential of technology. It shows this is about finding creative ways to deal with the tried-and-true story lines of gaming. Our focus is on that kind of creativity as opposed to, "Here's what the hardware can do; what can we apply to that?"
With this new generation, the Game Boy and the console will be able to connect for the first time. Are you looking for the Game Boy's success to help drive console sales?
Are you nervous at all about the handheld gaming market with cell phone games starting to catch on?
We're watching (cell phones), but I think some key issues are being overlooked in addition to the obvious--namely the screen. We did not expand the screen size (of the Game Boy Advance) 50 percent just because we thought it was a nice idea. You need that kind of capability to play the bulk of genres of today's games--sports games, adventures.
Just as important...is the controller. The controller is really a critical part of this. In order to really enjoy gaming, you have to have intuitive control elements. For somebody to be so presumptuous to think they're going to get the consumer to figure out the keypad to control a game, they're really missing a fundamental aspect of what video gaming is.
What that means is you're going to see games that are pretty basic, pretty perfunctory in these environments. And that's reflective of people who don't really understand what the gaming business is all about.
Games are just a part of what Microsoft and Sony do, while for Nintendo it's your whole business. What do you think your competitors don't understand about the game business?
What's even worse is we're driving a disappointment factor (into) consumers who have been voting by not buying out of disappointment with the quality of product being bought to market. I think if we all have an interest in this beyond tomorrow or a year from now, we want to be promoting stronger developers and even better consumer satisfaction.