Scott Moffitt is the executive vice president of sales and marketing at Nintendo. He’s got a tough job because video game marketing is changing. Nintendo is trying to sell its 3DS gaming handheld in the face of huge competition from Apple. And he had to create desire in the mass market to purchase the upcoming Wii U video game console. We caught up with him at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) video game trade show yesterday. Here’s an edited transcript.
GamesBeat: How was it going up on stage today?
Scott Moffitt: It was great, yeah, fun to be there. Fun to kind of actually get to talk at E3. Last year was my first E3, and I was more of an observer. My responsibility was both sales and marketing, so I met with a lot of retailers last year. I took the opportunity to meet with all of our retail partners. It was fun this year to get to meet more of the media and people like yourself.
GamesBeat: I got to watch someone play ZombiU, and I played the Wii Fit U Super Mario Bros. The booths are all pretty crowded, so a lot of them I just had to look. And after the keynote we saw Nintendo Land.
Moffitt: Okay, yeah. Did you get to see all five attractions?
GamesBeat: Yeah, two or three of them. There’s 23 games — I guess you’re not counting the 12 Nintendo Land mini games, right?
Moffitt: Well, we should be clear, yeah, that is one game. It’s multiple experiences within one game. Our belief is that Nintendo Land is the game that will help consumers understand not only the new integrated second screen controller, which we call the game pad, but also this asymmetric gameplay that it enables. We think this asymmetric gameplay is the revolution now. And we think that game is one of the ones that really best exemplifies how asymmetric gameplay can happen and what it does for gaming.
GamesBeat: I guess the second controller was somewhat of a surprise, sort of like confirmation of rumors that were out there. What was the thinking for doing that? Maybe re-assessing and then deciding, yeah, we’d better do this after all?
Moffitt: I would say it’s not so much that. I would say that, to be clear, we are showing games at the show here that really only require one game pad. But it’s possible to imagine that games could be enriched by having two game pads. And some consumers might desire games where both players could have the same information on their screens or could have the same experience on their screens.
GamesBeat: I think of Madden and…
Moffitt: Yeah, that’s a perfect example. There are others that are easy to imagine. So it’s coming to that realization, that yeah, there could be some great experiences that could be brought to life with two controllers. We announced that it could possibly work, even though we don’t have the experiences here to show it. Our preference, honestly, would be to release that kind of information when you have the games to prove it. We try to offer proof points when we offer new technology. But we went ahead and confirmed it today and announced it.
GamesBeat: I guess some people wondered if you would have to sort of ratchet down the performance level of the main game in order to accommodate one more tablet, because it seems like there’s one processor and graphics system that is supporting not only the main display, but the tablet display. It seems like supporting three displays wouldn’t be that easy, so maybe there’s a tradeoff in performance.
Moffitt: I don’t know about that, because we don’t have the games here to show it. It would certainly depend on the game, and probably what was being displayed.
GamesBeat: If that reasoning turns out to be plausible, if you do want to go to two, then you might have to think of a game that is not going to stress the system out.
Moffitt: I would say I don’t know. We don’t have the games. So we’re just speculating on hypotheticals that I don’t know the answer to.
GamesBeat: How far back, then, does the idea of the asymmetric gameplay go? Is that a central idea that started the thinking towards the console?
Moffitt: The thinking for Wii U began a couple of years ago with one simple question: How can we bring something new and interesting to gaming? That led to motion control in the Wii. Technology progressed and flat screens and second touch pad controls happened on the DS. That could have been one inspiration. But I think it goes back to, what can we bring to gaming that will change the paradigm and create interesting new gameplay mechanics? It really starts with that simple question. There probably were a number of types of technologies considered. This one looked like it would have great promise. And so this is the idea that was brought forward. I would say that with Wii U, it incorporates, certainly, motion control gaming, and we want all of your readers to understand that they can still play all their Wii games on Wii U — it’s backward compatible — as well as many of the accessories they’ve purchased over the years for Wii. Their Wii Balance Boards, their Nunchuks, their Wii Remote controllers, all those accessories are useful on Wii U. That enables asymmetric gameplay. You can use all those accessories, and then a different player can use the new controller to have a different experience. Certainly Animal Crossing, if you’ve played Animal Crossing Sweet Day, if you’ve tried Zelda Battle Quest or Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, all of them show how fun it can be when one person in the family, or one gamer, has the game pad and the other people have their standard motion control accessories.
GamesBeat: I think that the media reaction last year was sort of puzzled. I don’t know if it was as bad as the reaction to the original Wii, but I think everybody sort of was blindsided by the popularity of the Wii. Nintendo had faith, I guess, that this was the right way to go. Are you feeling some of the same thing this time around, too? The skeptics say, “I don’t understand this thing. What’s it going to do for games?” Did you guys have something to show or prove, to convince them that they’re wrong again?
Moffitt: I’d say that the reaction I’ve heard, talking to some people, has been really positive. So I think the industry is ready for innovation in gaming. I think they’re excited that we’re bringing true innovation and not just playing the graphics and memory arms race. I do believe that the reaction I’ve heard from retailers, from consumers, as well as from analysts, is that there’s great appreciation for the innovation we’re bringing. I think the idea of Wii U changing and transforming three pillars of home entertainment is pretty exciting. We’ve talked a lot today about how it can change gaming. You saw the unveil of the 20-plus games that will be available at launch and how many of them can be richer, deeper experiences using a game pad. The second pillar is, of course, social, and how it’s going to transform how consumers and players connect with one another, with the Miiverse. And then the third pillar, which we really only touched the tip of the iceberg of today, is how it will transform and enhance entertainment. So we revealed the partnerships with Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube. There’s more to come there. We wanted to focus this presentation on gaming, because that’s what this audience really cares about, and that’s what your readers care about. But down the road, very soon, we will unveil more of the vision in the third pillar, which is entertainment.
GamesBeat: The Miiverse seemed like it was organized around the interest graph. Facebook is always organized around the friend graph, so this seems like a different kind of social network. I guess it’s starting to get proven out in the market. Pinterest or whatever, some things are really catching on because of the interest graph.
Moffitt: Yeah, I think it really has. It’s one of the more unique aspects of Wii U; it’s built right into the system. When you turn on your Wii U, you’re going to see the Mii Plaza, and you’re going to see these icons of games and entertainment that your Miis are congregating around. Your Mii will be there and all of your friends’ Miis and your family’s Miis and people in your region as well as people around the world that have similar interests. They’ll be congregating around those icons, and that congregation is an indication of interest. So if there’s popularity around an icon that you haven’t yet experienced, you can go there and discover what all those people are talking about and what they’re enjoying that you may want to go enjoy as well. They can also interact and communicate with one another using a suite of social media tools. You can post your gameplay screens; for example, you can post some of your game accomplishments. You can post a question. You can get help for a part of a game you might be stuck in. The way I think about it is, it’s a network that’s organized all around gaming and entertainment, rather than Facebook, which might be organized around other things, and gaming is a small part of it. To build on that, we also revealed that it’s a browser-based network. So even though initially, at launch, it will work just on the device itself, in the future you’ll be able to access the Miiverse from your smartphone, from your tablet, from your PC at work; you can access the Miiverse and interact and check on the activities that are going on in the Miiverse from afar.
GamesBeat: That sounds like an example of openness. Historically, Nintendo has been more closed, and others have sort of pushed the door on openness, right? Is there some recognition there that openness is something that works as well?
Moffitt: I think there’s recognition that consumers do use multiple devices in their lives. So there’s recognition that people may want to check in on their gaming network from afar, and there are some other devices that can help them do that. We do see PCs and the Internet as helpful connective tools that make the Miiverse possible.
GamesBeat: Everybody’s got an interpretation of tablets this year. Is there a reaction you have to hearing about SmartGlass and the Sony cross-platform play with Vita as well? They’re all kind of tablet-ish, and you guys are into it as well.
Moffitt: Yeah. At least the SmartGlass example is conceptual in form, and so it’s hard to react to something that’s just a concept that I haven’t really seen proof points for. What I can tell you is that the Wii U game pad has been in development and is here and real and touchable and demonstratable by you and all of us. It’ll be available for purchase very soon.
GamesBeat: So it’s not quite demonstratable yet?
Moffitt: You can see plenty of examples of that here, where it obviously works and works seamlessly. What makes it different in my mind is that this is connected right out of the gate, right out of the box. You take it home, you turn it on, you power it up, and automatically you’re connected with the Internet, with your game pad, with your gaming system, and your TV. It’s seamlessly designed from the ground up to work together. And we have games that are already designed to take advantage of that second screen controller. So the proof point is there, and it’s fully integrated from the ground up, from design step one, rather than trying to integrate an apparatus or a device that wasn’t necessarily designed to go with your gaming console.
GamesBeat: Nintendo, say, wasn’t first on HD, wasn’t first on this Internet-connected stuff. It seems like part of the strategy is to wait for some of these things to become real and spread across the mainstream, and then to come up with something simple to serve these different sorts of developments. Is there a benefit to being slower to market, but maybe possibly more thoughtful about some of that?
Moffitt: I would say that what Nintendo tries to do is bring innovation to gaming that can enhance the gaming experience. If there’s technology innovation happening out there that may not enhance gameplay or may not make games more fun, more enjoyable, more exciting, or if the technology’s not necessary to make a game more interesting, more enjoyable, more exciting, then we may not be the first to jump on that technology. We believe that true innovation enhances gameplay, and our thought process starts there. Can there be an advantage to incorporating that technology at the right time? Absolutely. And so I think right now, touch screen technology really enables Wii U. And we’re thankful we’ve been able to find a great way to incorporate that into gaming and to make gaming mature and more interesting and more in-depth. If you saw the Batman: Arkham City game today, you can see how much more interesting that makes the Batman game. So yes, it’s a game that was out last year, but we think now the Wii U version becomes, automatically, the most preferred way to play that game. It’s more interesting, more in-depth; you can do things that you can’t do with a controller that doesn’t have a touch screen embedded.
GamesBeat: But context for the competition and the introduction of these new products is always changing, too. The 3DS was very good technology, but it seems like its market impact was blunted by the fact that Apple had done so well with smartphones and tablets. How do you guys look at that and introduce products into a market that is no longer what it once was? It’s no longer just a console market, right? Gaming has spread out to these other areas, too. So whenever you introduce a new product now, it’s not just other consoles you’re competing with.
Moffitt: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. The market continues to evolve. Speaking about 3DS and portable gaming, we’re pleased with our results on 3DS. The 3DS continues to track, to sell at a faster rate than the DS did when it was launched in 2004. We are now getting the content, and you saw a lot more content today. Going forward, we will have an incredibly rich lineup of games coming for this holiday season on 3DS, starting of course with New Super Mario Bros. 2, Paper Mario, and Luigi’s Mansion from our own first party. You saw a tremendous lineup of third-party games there in the reel. So great content coming for 3DS. I think it can help us continue the momentum. Of course, we are competing in a market that has changed from when DS was launched in 2004. It is a more complex market. But we’re finding, for those that really appreciate and desire a deep, immersive gaming experience that they can’t get from a fairly simple iPhone game, they’re still coming to our platforms and still understanding the value and appreciating the value of a dedicated gaming system. So as long as we continue to bring fantastic content in our first-party franchises, and that’s the only place you can play them, I think the fans will still be there.
GamesBeat: How is the Wii U developer support? I was surprised at how interesting and innovative the Rayman game was for Wii U.
Moffitt: That’s going to be a great game.
GamesBeat: Making a musical soundtrack from your button presses… [laughs] That’s pretty cool. Ubisoft is really all the way in on the Wii U. They’ve got eight games coming. So what are some of the other reactions you have from developers?
Moffitt: Wii U is going to launch with an amazing lineup of content. Both first- and third-party. Certainly you saw on the stage today, Ubisoft, Warner Bros. You saw Darksiders from THQ; you saw Mass Effect 3 from EA. The biggest franchises in gaming are all being re-imagined and reconstituted to take advantage of the Miiverse as well as the Wii U game pad. Current games as well as games that can stand…that can take advantage of the new technology that’s embedded in Wii U, like Batman and Assassin’s Creed. When you see Assassin’s Creed III, I think you’re going to see some things that allow you to play it in a different way and maybe a better way on Wii U than you might on the other consoles. We expect great third-party support, and the lineup that you saw today is a good start. But certainly Ubisoft, Warner Bros., THQ, Disney, Namco, among others, are bringing great content and bringing some of their best franchises to Wii U.
GamesBeat: Any last summary comments?
Moffitt: I’ll just say we’re excited about the transformative power of Wii U and how it can change gameplay. We think the idea of asymmetric gameplay and the Miiverse are new, unique ideas that, again, are going to change the way consumers interact with games, with each other, and with entertainment.
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase your ticket now to save $200!