June 18, 2010 11:59 PM | Eric Caoili
"We love being on the frontier. 3DS certainly is," Nintendo EVP of sales & marketing Cammie Dunaway tells Gamasutra -- confident about the company's E3 lineup and the future of its hardware, both old and new.
The 3DS Handheld
When it comes to the company's Nintendo 3DS handheld, the executive is effusive in her remarks during this week's E3 show in Los Angeles. "I feel like it's amazing. That's what we hear most people say when they see it, 'I can't believe it looks this good!'"
The playable demos on the floor don't really make particular use of the 3D effects much more than cool visuals, but Dunaway says "it's more than just the way they look, it's the way it changes the gameplay."
Ubisoft has signed on with an Assassin's Creed game, and Konami's Metal Gear Solid 3-D is one of the showcase interactive demos for the platform. "The fact that all of these developers would be excited about being part of Nintendo 3DS says a lot about what the potential of this hardware really is," says Dunaway.
And of the Gaijin Games founder and Bit.Trip series developer Alex Neuse, Dunaway let drop that he told her "he is just over the moon on 3DS, and he can't wait to do Bit.Trip.Runner ideas in 3D."
Nintendo is also using the unit to demo 3D movie trailers, such as Dreamworks' How To Train Your Dragon. However, says Dunaway, "We don't know what the business model is going to be for delivering movie content, but we want people to see that this device is very capable." Of course, increased competition from mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPad, and Android means a difficult landscape to launch into. Dunaway seemed unconcerned by any problems, however.
Where does it fit in that market? "I see it fitting in as an ultimate gaming machine. Having dual screens, one with a touch pad and one that's designed for optimal viewing, really makes a difference. Having multiple ways of interface from the analog pad to the D-pad to the stylus...
"Having a camera that will take 3D images that might be able to be utilized in gameplay. This is just designed to be the premier gaming experience. And we're going to launch with the broadest titles of content that we've ever had for a hardware launch, so there will be something for everybody."
Speaking of launch, Dunaway did clarify that the company continues to plan to release the handheld before the end of its current fiscal year -- which is March 2011 -- in "major markets. And, she says, "Between now and then we've got an amazing lineup of DS software coming so people don't have to wait for great experiences."
The lineup includes ports of two Nintendo 64 games from the '90s - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64. Is that a problem -- particularly when these games are available for $8 on the Virtual Console?
"I think as long as it's part of the overall mix, there are certainly a lot of people who love these franchises. There will be a lot of new IP," says Dunaway.
What About Kinect and Move?
Dunaway doesn't seem overly concerned with Microsoft and Sony as competition on the motion control front. "For us, motion is central to everything that we've done since the launch of the Wii, and obviously consumers have responded to motion. It's been a big part of why Wii is now 5 million units ahead of where the PS2 was in this point of its life cycle," says Dunaway.
"We've taken [motion control] to the next level with Wii MotionPlus. We understand that you have to have great and innovative technology, but it has to be paired with best-in-class game design. I think Zelda is the absolute definitive proof point."
When it comes to the marketing spends that Microsoft and Sony will be making, Dunaway sees value and momentum as key to Wii's continued success. "We've got a very large install base in the U.S. We're close to 29 million units of Wii sold. Going into this holiday, a big part of our focus is to introduce all of this Wii owners to an amazing lineup of software."
This will also bring in new consumers, even in the face of competition, Dunaway says. And the $199 price point is fine to stick at -- given the package that includes the Wii Motion Plus and both Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, she says. "The Wii is an incredible value for $199... [it's] the kind of value and experiences that only Nintendo can offer."
"We've always said we wanted to have something for everyone, but this year I think we've really been able to bring that strategy to life," says Dunaway.
The company has a strong lineup of newly-announced Wii titles, such as Kirby: Epic Yarn, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Mario Sports Mix, and Wii Party, among others. Does Nintendo rely too much on its existing IP?
"I think that one of our focuses is to take these very beloved characters but to present them in totally new ways. So the experience is still original and unexpected. Kirby is probably one of the best examples of this from this E3... The experience, the look and the feel is unlike anything that's ever been seen before," says Dunaway.
Speaking of new ideas, its Wii Vitality Sensor, debuted during last year's show, is nowhere to be seen. What of it?
"We're continuing to work on the Vitality Sensor," says Dunaway. "As we thought about what we wanted to bring to E3, we realized we had a really packed agenda. We also thought about the atmosphere at E3 which is noisy and adrenaline-filled, and loud and stressful, and it just didn't seem like the best environment to introduce a product that's really about relaxing, so we decided we'd think about other venues that would be more appropriate," confirming (in a vague way) the tenor of the upcoming game for the device.
She's also bullish on third party relationships with Nintendo on the Wii thanks to some major announcements. "What I point to is two of the announcements we made this week: developers are very excited and supportive of the Wii. Activision bringing back GoldenEye, which for a lot of fans was a huge moment"; there's also Disney's "Epic Mickey, which takes a character that has been around for decades but uses him in a really new way, and uses the Wii remote in a really creative way."
These and other titles "show that developers are still really excited about the potential" of the Wii, says Dunaway.
When it comes to marketing games on the platform, she continues to suggest that publishers need to think in a different way when it comes to Nintendo's console platform. "We've definitely learned that life curves look really different than they have in the past, and that it's important to not just launch strong, but continue to support. But when you do, these franchises can reach audiences that are brand new."
The Existing DS Products
The Nintendo DS will continue to be supported even after 3DS launch, she says, as part of Nintendo's strategy of having multiple entry points on the market (it currently sells three versions of its DS hardware: the DS lite, DSi, and DSi XL.)
"What's worked well for us for the past years is having a full lineup of options for consumers... I think this notion of choice will be important even after the launch 3DS," says Dunaway, and thanks the strategy for the platform's "record sales."
Of course, as consumers approach an upgrade path from their existing DS units, there is one problem: there's no migration path for users' collections of downloadable DSiWare games from one hardware unit to the next. This impacts developers strongly -- it discourages gamers from buying these games with new hardware on the horizon.
"It's something we recognize is an issue and it's something we're talking about and thinking about and we want to make sure [of for] our loyal fans," says Dunaway. But their focus is more on selling software than making it safe to buy. "Right now we'll focus on continue to launch really cool DSiWare games ... We'll keep pushing great games, but we hear you on [that] desire."
Finally, one of its big launches for the original DS is Square Enix's Dragon Quest IX, which Nintendo is publishing in the U.S. The series is the strongest IP in the Japanese market, but hasn't been a big hit outside of Japan.
Dunaway is confident that this installment will break through, thanks to Nintendo's efforts. "We're putting big marketing effort behind this. We know that there are some incredibly passionate fans of Dragon Quest, so we've been reaching out, and working with those fans. We'll have a full mass media campaign with television and outdoor. We're going to do various events where people get hands on."
The game's "tag mode" allows users to trade dungeon and character data, and Dunaway sees it as a big feature of the game (as does the company in general -- improved passive communication was trumpeted as a big feature of the 3DS).
When it comes to DQIX, says Dunaway, "We particularly want people to understand how much fun the tag mode is." To do so, Nintendo will launch retailer events to get people back post-release to use the system's tag mode, which is local-wireless only.