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E3 Q&A: Nintendo of America's Beth Llewelyn On Wii

At E3 2006, Gamasutra sat down with Nintendo of America's senior director of public relations Beth Llewelyn regarding the Wii, as well as Nintendo's ongoing strategy for the next generation.
E3 2006 represents a kind of coming-out party for the Wii, the next console by Nintendo. Currently scheduled for a launch in the fourth quarter of 2006, the console features a number of unique features, from its unique remote-style controller to its ability to download and play classic games from not only Nintendo's archives, but other third parties as well. While many questions were answered during this week's media briefing in Hollywood, as well as with media getting hands on with the Wii for the first time at the event, others questions were left hanging. To that end, we sat down with Nintendo of America's senior director of public relations Beth Llewelyn regarding the Wii, as well as Nintendo's ongoing strategy for the next-generation. Gamasutra: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. I guess to begin I would like to ask you why has Nintendo decided to be so secretive regarding the Wii since its initial announcement? We know a lot more about it today obviously than we ever have, but even during the media briefing there was mention of “secrets yet to be unveiled?” Why keep everyone waiting? Beth Llewelyn: We can't make it that simple for you, come on. Our main goal for E3 this year, it is kind of the coming out party for the Wii console, and it was really to get people to understand and appreciate what we were talking about particularly for the last nine months since we first unveiled what the controller was like. So this was the opportunity to say 'Hey, it's real, these are the games, this is how you play, this is what we've been talking about, and this what the experience is about.' And especially the today through Friday, literally people are going to have hands on the systems. So we really wanted the focus to be on that experience, and for our purposes it really didn't make sense to come out and say 'Here's the price.” and 'Here's the specific launch date.' These are all things that we can, and typically do announce closer to the launch. But we really wanted the focus to be on, as we said yesterday, playing is believing. GS: Speaking of secrets, yesterday during the Twilight Princess demonstration we were told of a new feature of the Wii, specifically its controller, which is its internal speaker and force feedback. This feature was illustrated using the example of Link and his bow, and bing able to physically draw the sting back, let it go, and hearing the sound travel from the controller to the television. Can you give us another example of how you have see this being used? BL: Yea, like with the tennis game, you're going to hear kind of that 'pop' when the ball connects with the racket. Something like that. It really can be kind of limitless, depending on what the developer wants to do. You will be able to hear any time the weapon or object on screen connects with something. Just as you would in real life, you drop a catalog [drops a note pad on the table] and you kind of hear that there. Imagine that sound coming out of the controller, versus just the speakers in your TV or in your house. So it just adds that kind of depth to the game for more realism. Plus it's something that hasn't been done before and it was just a fun way to enhance the gaming experience. GS: That is the first thing I thought when this was announced yesterday, that this seemed like such a fun thing to do. BL: Yes. And again that goes back to Nintendo. What we have done from day one with this system was put most of our research and development towards the interface to make sure this experience is something new, something different. It's very easy to go down the same path our competitors are going down with graphics and other things but here's an opportunity to do something that's very unique as a way to excite the industry. GS: Looking to one of your competitors, Microsoft with the Xbox 360, that company mandates that each game developed for its platform integrates some sort of online capability into its games. Is Nintendo making any similar demands of third-party developers for the Wii? Will every game be forced to take advantage of the system's unique features, or has Nintendo simply created a sandbox so to speak, and will allow developers to play with whichever toys they see fit? BL: No, not to my knowledge. But I think that developers are very excited about the system and its potential, particularly with the controller because it is something fun and exciting to work on. And we are certainly starting to see and hear that particularly with the controller because it something fun and exciting to work on. We certainly started to hear that and see that with Nintendo DS because when we came out with that people were asking “Why do I need this?” and “How do I use this?”, but now people are coming around and the games we are seeing are very exciting and different. I think we are already seeing that sort of acceptance for Wii by talking to developers and hearing things like “So I can actually throw a pass, rather than just press a button”, or like what we showed with the tennis game, you actually move the controller like you would a racket. It just opens up all new possibilities in gaming, which I think with any developer is just an exciting opportunity. GS: Nintendo has always been a pioneer in the gaming industry, and many of its innovations have proven to themselves to now be industry standards. With the Wii's departure from convention, reinventing the interface and letting the visuals play a second fiddle, do you expect this to become the next new industry standard way of thinking for your competitors? BL: Well, you know, time will tell, and that's certainly a question that you can ask our competitors as far as what they want to do. We felt that it was important to take that different path. If graphics were all that mattered, then what does that say or do for the industry down the road? You get to a point where only the keenest eyes are going to be able to tell, for example, that the water looks better in that game versus that game. But picking up the Wii controller is something really different, and for an interactive medium that's really important. It's all about how to control and interact with the game, and so we are excited about what we are doing. Ultimately time will tell if this is where the industry is headed, and if we are on the right path and doing the right thing. In the end it's up to the consumers to decide. GS: Nintendo must expect that from a marketing standpoint, both Sony and Microsoft are going to go out of their way to make sure their in-store kiosks for the PS3 and Xbox 360 are situated as close to the Wii as possible in an effort to overshadow the Wii's potential with their system's visual fidelity. How does Nintendo plan to combat this, and encourage players to pick up the controller and play games for the Wii in the store in spite of the games being less impressive graphically? BL: Yes, and obviously it is very important to experience it. E3 is really the first step in that, reaching out to our core demographic and the gaming media who cover us, plus the expanded audience and a lot of other media who are here, as well as developers. It really does start now, and obviously will carry through until launch. Hands-on gameplay is going to be important, and we saw that with DS because it was the same type of thing. It wasn't so much of a graphics competition then, but more of a question of why are we doing or adding things and proving that there was room for both the DS and the Game Boy. DS was just a different way to play, and once people started using the touch screen they realized that it was cool and they got what Nintendo was doing with the system. Certainly the same thing is going to happen with the Wii system. It's just a matter of us getting out there. I can't go into details yet. Obviously we are working hard and fast at developing this marketing plan, but sampling and playing it will play a big part in that. GS: In previous years game development has been about building titles that more or less subscribe to an established set of rule and design principles, many of which are changed by the Wii and its unique controller. Has it been a challenge to encourage developers to adapt to a new way of thinking when it comes to design and development of their projects? BL: Well purposely we've made the system very easy to develop for. That was something to us on the GameCube side, and it is equally important to us here. And the control scheme is as well. It's very easy to adapt. But it's more on the creative side. You just have to twist your thinking, and discover how to approach this a little differently. Fortunately developers have been very excited about it, and as you can see on the show floor we have representation from nearly everybody, certainly all of the major developers. I think that clearly that they are embracing this idea. GS: And with 27 titles on the show floor here at E3, is the target to still have 20 or so on retail shelves at launch? BL: That's a moving target, and we'll certainly see as we get closer. Purposely at this show we also have not talked specifics about the Virtual Console. We'll start giving out more information on that in the near future. Bottom line is that we will have a good library of games available when the system launches. The important thing is what continues after launch day, and making sure that we keep up that steady flow of titles. GS: Here at E3 Nintendo lifted the veil of secrecy off the Wii's “classic” controller. Is this to be mainly used for GameCube titles, or it it also a universal means to control classic titles downloaded over the Virtual Console? Can it be used for new Wii titles at all, now or in the future? BL: Developers could certainly make a new Wii title to use the classic controller. Our main goal with that was for playing NES and SNES games, and to make it easy to adapt to that control scheme. That said, if a developer wants to use that controller they can. Obviously we want them to use the new controller because that is what makes the Wii system so unique, but it is up to the developer as to what they want to do. GS: What game are you most excited about for the Wii, and why? BL: As someone who is not a hardcore gamer, I am very excited about games like the tennis game. That is certainly some that I would feel very comfortable picking up and playing. I do love Zelda, and I have a place in my heart for that game, but I would say of the Wii games, certainly anything from the gold or tennis family is what I enjoy most. I am our target audience, to use the expression of expanding the audience. That would be me. There are games for the hardcore gamer on the console, but there are also games like tennis that the whole family can play with almost no instruction needed. GS: At E3 this week Nintendo announced that Zelda would come with two separate SKUs, one for the GameCube, and another for the Wii with additional functionality befitting that new platform's control scheme. Why was this decision made? BL: Well, that is the decision we have made for North America. We have decided, or are looking to doing two different versions of the game specific to each console. We have not decided what we will do in other markets. With millions of GameCube owners waiting patiently, we cannot guarantee that they will buy a Wii at launch. This decision meets the needs of those players who maybe are not quite ready to upgrade to a new system and are happy with what they have. And we still plan to sell quite a few GameCube systems this year. GS: Turning the attention to Nintendo's portables, the company has established the Game Boy Advance, and most recently the DS as pillars in its overall global strategy. With the introduction of the Wii, what is Nintendo's plan to continue to support these other two facets of its strategy? BL: Since 1989 when we introduced Game Boy we've always had a major handheld initiate as well as a console initiative. We'll go through a transition from GameCube to Wii for as many months or years as that takes, but on the handheld side we are still very successful with both our Game Boy and Nintendo DS, and we will continue to support both. DS obviously has a major push this year with several big titles coming out. The Game Boy itself has a number of titles coming out, I want to say that it's close to 80. Both handhelds are great systems and brands. When we first introduced DS we did say that it was one of three pillars, and we are still proceeding with that direction. GS: Speaking about the DS, when it was first announced, one of the tings that Nintendo said regarding the new platform was that it was a developer's system. With the Virtual Console, it seems as if the Wii is being positioned as a system for upstart developers as well. BL: Right exactly. In today's day and age, we're so used to with game development that it's got to have graphics, this and that, and the fear is that something like the next Tetris could come along and nobody would pay attention to it. We want to make sure that there is a platform for something like that. The handheld has been a little bit easier because traditionally the development costs are so much smaller. We want to make sure that on the console side there is room for that kind of creativity and opportunity as well. That is also why we made the system easy to develop for, and the Virtual Console also is there for developers to push not content out there that's new and different that maybe you wouldn't pay fifty bucks at retail for but would check out over the Virtual Console.

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