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Q&A: Making Wii Work: The Way Of Need for Speed Nitro

As the Wii-specific Need for Speed Nitro launches, EA Montreal's Nintendo specialist Joe Booth tells Gamasutra about the psychology and tastes of the Wii gamer, and how creating a "social kind of play pattern" for the game was key.

Christian Nutt, Contributor

November 5, 2009

8 Min Read

[As the Wii-specific Need for Speed Nitro launches, EA Montreal's Nintendo specialist Joe Booth tells Gamasutra about the psychology and tastes of the Wii gamer, and how creating a "social kind of play pattern" for the game was key.] Although reaching the Wii audience is as challenging for many publishers as it is desirable, Joe Booth, senior producer and one of the heads of EA Montreal's Nintendo group, believes that his team is discovering process and concepts that can do it. This year, rather than trying to launch a SKU of the next generation Need for Speed game, the Wii and DS have their own version: Need for Speed Nitro, developed completely separately from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3's Need for Speed Shift. Here, Booth, who has a background in game development stretching back to 8-bit computers, and who ended his work on the FIFA series to begin working on Wii games, speaks about what it takes to appeal to the Nintendo gamer -- who that person is, and what role games like Need for Speed fill on the Wii. Tell me about EA Montreal's approach, and how you came to form the Nintendo Group. JB: I think what we do differently at the studio is that we don't necessarily think of features. We think of an emotion, we think of playtime... and then we are looking as to what to do with the other part of the studio [aside from Army of Two] and we have done a lot of Nintendo Wii stuff already. We had Boogie, we had SSX, and at the time the Wii was doing really well -- over-indexing -- and EA was under-indexing, and Games Label was under-indexing, so we pitched to do a group focusing on Nintendo. We pitched that to [EA Games Label president] Frank [Gibeau]. You know we have the cost advantage of Montreal. We have a good young workforce in Montreal, people that are coming out of college every year, so we have the cost advantage and we have the expertise and we had a vision of bridging that to consumers. We felt that there were two kinds of approaches to profits that weren't working on the Wii -- there was trying to make the cut-down gamer version of the next gen game, but on the Wii, so it doesn't have that richness. Or else cut down casual version of a next gen game, and our strategy is to kind of try and bridge both. I look at Shift, that is the game for me. As a gamer, the kids are gone to bed, the wife is in bed, and I am going to sit and have some Me Time. What we are trying to do with Nitro, we call it kind of "a game for us", so it is something that I will play with my kids, it is something that I will play with friends, more in a social kind of play pattern. Earlier, you talked about how you see two audiences for the game. How do you start designing that sort of thing? JB: We kind of do both -- we do the intellectual and we do the creative. One of the unique things about our studio is that we have a dedicated concept team that use virtual tools, headed up by guy called Vander, and he comes up with some crazy ideas -- kind of a toy where you are creating cars from the ground up so it is all physics based, and it was very different. So we were looking at that to begin with. That was our Need for Speed that we started. The challenge that we had, is that we didn't find play patterns around that, which was fitted for boxed products. But from that came the customization, and so we used that and then we looked at the audience model that we wanted to hit. I think that we were over-focused on accessibility as a value to begin with. We had stuff where we were sending our designers out to adopt families in Quebec. They would go out with this like Wii backpack, and they would go into these people's houses and video record them, when you put a Wii in the house. I think what we realized is that people don't want a Need for Speed meets Mario Kart. They want something that is different on the Wii, and we felt that what we learned is that you have to appeal to the gamer. So even if the gamer is a seven year old kid in the house, you have to have that depth and quality for him, and have the accessibility for everyone else. You talked earlier about how gamers can play this game and get into this game and play for a long time. I was kind of like, "Will they?" Joe: I believe if you're a 17 year old, 15 year old, and you're just looking for a game for yourself, and you have a PS3, and you have a Wii, then you're going to buy Shift. That's your play pattern. That's a game for that solo time. The kind of people that will pick up Nitro will be the guy in the student house that wants to have some more social time, the dad who wants to play, have something for the kid and then have something that's the game for him. Let me tell you a story about a guy called Nick. He's a friend of mine. He said to me, "I want to buy a gaming console. Really, I want to buy a PS3, but my girlfriend really wants to buy the Wii." In the end, he bought the Wii because he's a nice guy. He wanted his girlfriend to be able to play as well. He's the kind of guy that's going to pick up Nitro and have something. He's only got the one console. He's only got enough money to buy the one console. How did you identify that audience? Where did that concept come from? JB: We do a mixture. We do the market research. We have a very good marketing team at EA. Also, we're trying to challenge ourselves to look at the social changing, and how things are shifting. I think when the PlayStation came out, it was a big shift. Video games suddenly became a social currency for a 17 to 25 year old. I think what happened with the Wii is now, that's done a new shift. Where that ends up we don't know. And we have Natal coming, Sony wand coming... I'm growing up as a gamer, so I have different needs to what I did when I was a 20 year old. I have a kid; I have a family. There's more demands on my time. We're trying to understand what is the play pattern that is going to appeal to people. You've used the phrase "play pattern" a lot. To you, that's defined by how a person uses a game? JB: Yeah, it's the pattern of play. Marketers call it a "need state", which is: what are your needs and what state are you in? Play pattern is: okay, my kid wants some time with his dad. I want some gamer time, as well. I want a game that's going to challenge me as well as having this social moment with my kid. That's hard to fulfill. That's the thing. It seems also like translating those concepts into design is a real challenge. Do you have process that you've developed? JB: Yeah. We're not refined in our process. We go through stages. And we try and trick the team sometimes. We say, "Focus on that 17 year old. Do a lot of testing around that." But we know we built this wider stuff in. What we found with Nitro, though, was that the first version of the tuning was actually better than the next, more deliberate, phase. When it first came in, it had [difficulty] spikes all over the place. Then they smoothed all the spikes out. We played it, and it's not speaking to me; it's not speaking to the casual audience. So, we went back in and put spikes in there, even at the beginning. Even in the beginning, it's challenging for me in the first city or the first cup to get all 32 styles, but I know if I work it, I'll get it. Normally, you think of difficulty as a linear curve. It starts off easy and then gets stuff that's progressively harder. What we're finding is, by having spikes, that it actually engages you earlier on. Interesting also is you have all the control options, which is very Mario Kart. How does that affect the actual design of the game? You have to support the wheel, which is relatively imprecise, compared to the kind of traditional controls that a hard core gamer would be familiar with -- and people are also probably more exaggerated in their motion with it. JB: Where we end up is that different people, they come to the game with a preconception: "I want to play with the wheel," or "I want to play with the classic controller," or the Nunchuk. Where we ended up is that they actually support different play [styles] better, so that motion control is really good for the drifting. So, a lot of the [development] team play with the Wii remote. That's the screwdriver approach because it has a lot finesse for the drifting, which is harder with the Nunchuk.

About the Author(s)

Christian Nutt


Christian Nutt is the former Blog Director of Gamasutra. Prior to joining the Gamasutra team in 2007, he contributed to numerous video game publications such as GamesRadar, Electronic Gaming Monthly, The Official Xbox Magazine, GameSpy and more.

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