Exclusive Interview: Satoru Iwata
Nintendo President Satoru Iwata (right) graciously spared a few minutes of his time at this year's E3 to talk with us about people's reaction to playing Wii, his view of the PS3 price point and controller, and to reassure us that the Game Boy is far from dead as some had speculated. Read on!
by James Brightman on Monday, May 22, 2006
GameDaily BIZ: First of all, thanks very much for taking the time to interview with us. Now that people have been able to get their hands on the Wii console and its unique controls, how pleased are you with the reaction it's been getting here at E3?
Satoru Iwata: What we are trying to say at E3 this year is talking about [evolving from] past experiences. Nintendo started the trend of the conventional, plastic-style of the game controller but we are now saying that we needed to do something completely different from [what's on the market] today with the Wii. So I thought it was a very challenging message, and actually we originally had the expectation that maybe it would be a mixed feeling, positive and negative with people coming to the E3 show, especially because the majority of people visiting the E3 show are avid gamers who have been playing games for many, many years. So it must be a rather challenging message for them to abandon the conventional way of gameplay.
We originally thought before E3 that it would be a mixed feeling, that we would get mixed feedback, but the results, already based on information we have heard so far, are indicating that the great majority of the visitors to the Nintendo booth are showing very, very positive responses. That's why I'm very glad and satisfied with the results so far.
BIZ: Yeah, I must say, from what I played at the Wii booth, I found it to be very intuitive and the motion sensing was responsive; I really enjoyed it. Is there one game of the Wii titles so far that you have really enjoyed playing yourself?
SI: Well, among other things of course, I would have to say Tennis, because everybody I believe was expecting Zelda to be the very last demonstration to be shown at the media briefing. Instead, I insisted on having Tennis simply because I thought that Tennis should have great potential for the Wii console and Tennis can be enjoyed by anybody very intuitively, so I should say that I like Tennis.
About 20 years ago when Super Mario Bros. hit the market, it was just the time when people were getting very interested in video games. And when one player is playing with a Super Mario Brother... and as soon as the player makes [a mistake and loses his turn] others say, "Ok, let me try. I really want to do that." But now when some players are playing with a video game, and there are some people surrounding them, even though the player himself or herself might say, "Why don't you do that?" The surrounding people say, "No I cannot do that; that's not for me." But with games like Tennis I think that we can change that situation. When people see somebody playing with Tennis, I believe other people immediately can understand what the player is supposed to do and say, "Let me try it."
So I think that kind of situation is really encouraging in order to expand the gaming population.
BIZ: I know that Nintendo has not officially announced a price for the Wii, but a rumor we spotted this week in EGM suggests a $249 price tag. Do you want to comment on that?
SI: [Laughs] As you know, that is speculation and we did not comment on the price point at all. What we've been repeatedly saying is that it's going to be an affordable price point, and when we say affordable, you may want to check our past records of price points, launching price points for any past hardware... I think you'll agree that we always come up with an affordable price point. So when we announce the Wii price point in the near future, I believe you are going to say, "That's an affordable price point."
And talking specifically about the E3 show, I really don't think that not making an announcement about price is anything unusual. Last year, Microsoft did not tell anything [about price] concerning the Xbox 360. Two years ago, Nintendo did not announce the price point or launch timing for the DS, and the same is true for the PSP with Sony. But in the near future we will be in a position to tell the exact information, so please look forward to it.
BIZ: Speaking of Sony, I wanted to know what your reaction was to their media briefing, especially their expensive price and the fact that they now announced motion sensing for the PS3 controller.
SI: As for the latter part of the question, actually we were anticipating that Sony would make that kind of announcement, so I had to make a kind of wry smile at the time. Having said that, however, putting the motion sensing technology into the classic [PS3] controller, which is going to be held with two hands, is pretty much different from the motion sensor being incorporated into the Wii remote or the combination of the Wii remote and the nunchuk controller... There's a huge gap between the two, I can tell you, with that whole experience, so I really don't think that the inclusion of motion sensing into Sony's classic type of controller can affect in one way or the other the advantage that we have with the Wii controller.
As for the comment on the price point that Sony announced, the only thing that I may be able to tell is that probably there's a huge gap between how the platform supplier wants to price it and how the customers want the supplier to price it. And other than that it's very hard for me to comment on that as the corporate president running a rival corporation. I think the ultimate decision has to be made by the actual customer and as one of the potential customers of PS3, of course I think it's going to be kind of a [tough] price point for anybody to purchase; that sentiment has been shared by a number of people working in this industry that I've been able to talk to so far.
BIZ: We found it curious that Nintendo decided to make two versions of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Since the Wii is backward compatible with GameCube, wouldn't it have been possible to just unlock the Wii functionality on the GameCube version?
SI: We really wanted people to experience how Legend of Zelda played utilizing the unique control style of the Wii, but at the same time because we already made the promise to our customers that it's going to be a GameCube game... in order to meet these two objectives we are now talking about introducing two different versions.
BIZ: Were you surprised by how successful the DS and DS Lite have been in the Japanese market? Nintendo at times couldn't even keep up with demand...
SI: From the end of last year up until right now the sales of DS and DS Lite in Japan have been simply explosive. It was unprecedented in the Japanese game [industry] history for there to be that kind of incredible demand for one platform. I believe it was achieved by the user expansion; you know, those who have never played with video games are now deeply into the game software and hardware of the Nintendo DS.
And especially talking about the DS Lite, even though it's an upgraded version of the existing model, they share between them the same obsession [among users], and Lite was introduced more than one year after the launch of the original DS system in Japan. Yet we just cannot keep the amount of supply high enough for the market. For example, in the April time period alone we shipped approximately one million units of Lite and DS combined, yet they are all gone... Unbelievable! So it was just unprecedented and we want [that kind of success], but we could not imagine that we could reach out to this great a number of non-gamers. So I think that we have many great lessons from this that we can [apply] to launching the Wii.
[Nintendo rep] Time for just one more...
BIZ: We recently read a quote from you in Reuters, suggesting that the Game Boy may be phased out. What does the future hold for the Game Boy line?
SI: No, it's not true after all. What we are repeatedly saying is that for whichever platform, we are always conducting research and development for the new system, be it the Game Boy, or new console or whatever. And what we just told the reporter was that in thinking about the current situation where we are enjoying great sales with the DS and that we are now trying to launch the Wii, it's unthinkable for us to launch any new platform for the handheld system, including the new version of the GBA... Perhaps they misunderstood a part of this story, but as far as the handheld market is concerned [right now] we really want to focus on more sales of the DS; that's all.
And of course, as you know, the backlit version of the GBA in the United States is still selling very well, so that we are continuing the production.
BIZ: Thanks very much for your time, Mr. Iwata.
Translation by Nintendo's Yasuhiro Minagawa, Manager of the Public Relations Group, Corporate Communications Dept.
Unfortunately, because of time restrictions we could not ask as many questions as we would have liked—perhaps next time.
At the conclusion of the interview, Mr. Iwata picked up a metal briefcase and smiled as he opened it to display each controller type from the respective systems that will be supported by the Wii's Virtual Console. It was a nice touch.
Our E3-related Nintendo interviews aren't done yet. Coming soon we've got Takashi Tezuka, General Manager of EAD Software Designing Dept. Stay tuned!
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