Nintendo wants the Wii U launch on Nov. 18 to be the video game event of the holiday season. Scott Moffitt, the company’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, is the man in charge of making that happen.
The Japanese giant has a lot at stake when it comes to the Wii U, which some have criticized as a not-quite-next-generation console that is about as powerful as Sony’s six-year-old PlayStation 3. Nintendo began advertising the system in earnest last week to convince gamers otherwise. We spoke with Moffitt about Nintendo’s approach, the ad campaign, and its timing.
Here’s a transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: Tell us about what’s in motion right now. What’s happening as you lead up to the launch?
Scott Moffitt: We’re in the final countdown stage. We’re watching the imports every day, when the boats come in, to make sure we’re getting the product we’re anticipating. We started our marketing in earnest a few days ago. We’ve been building interactive kiosks in stores. We’ve got about 5,000 of those, so people can experience the system for themselves. That’s important for a complex product like this. We went live with advertising last week in social media and really in earnest over the weekend with some cinema. There’s a lot going on.
GamesBeat: The ad campaign seemed like it came late. What’s the thinking behind the timing of the ads?
Moffitt: The timing is almost to the day the same as we used for Wii. We weren’t trying to copy that plan exactly, but it just happened that way. We put a media plan together. We wanted to build awareness quickly, so it’s multi-touchpoint. There will be messages coming at people from every direction. We thought that Wreck-It Ralph was a good place to have some cinema. That’s where our advertising premiered over the weekend.
It’s not like a hardcore game where you need to release your advertising five weeks ahead of a game launch. For us, it’s fine to be closer to the launch. I think that makes more sense. The other factor, candidly, is that with an election campaign this year. There was less media available prior to when we bought, and it was much more expensive.
GamesBeat: Being virtually sold out added complexity to everything, right? If you convince more people to buy something this week, they’re not going to get it. They can’t even order it, right?
Moffitt: Right. Frustration can build up. That wasn’t really part of the plan either, though. We buy through an up-front process like a lot of big advertisers, so we committed to these media buys long before we knew that we were going to have a sold-out situation to pre-sales. We hoped we would be sold out, that pre-sales would be brisk. But we didn’t have the luxury of waiting to see that to know what our major plans would be.
GamesBeat: Have you guys made any projections on sales? I remember some analysts saying 4.5 million sales would be likely for the holidays.
Moffitt: What we’ve said is we’re capable of shipping 5.5 million units between Nov. 18 and March 31, the end of our fiscal year. That’s a global number. We’ve not broken it out by time period, so how much of that is week one, how much is holiday, we can’t say. Similarly, we’ve not disclosed how much of that will be in each region. The U.S. will clearly have the longest selling period, because we’re the first market to launch.
GamesBeat: If I tried to place an order, supposing some retailer had pre-sales still open, how long would it take at this point before I might get one? Is it well into the new year?
Moffitt: No, not at all. We’ve been through these processes before. We want product to be available on day one in stores throughout the country. If you line up or get there early, you should be able to get product on day one. GameStop has not sold all of their day one allocation. They’ve sold what they were making available for pre-sales. Those are two different numbers. Now, a lot of what we gave them, they’ve sold to pre-sales, but, like every retailer will, they’ve held some back so they have product on day one for consumers that come in the door.
We have said that we’ll have more Wii U units on store shelves in week one than we did for Wii in 2006. We’ll also have replenishment much more frequently during the holiday than we did for Wii. Having said that, though, we’re guessing there could be shortages. It won’t be there every day. Shipments coming in each week could sell very quickly.
GamesBeat: What’s the message for pitching people on why they should buy it?
Moffitt: The concise message for Wii U is, we want people to experience new and different ways to play with the GamePad. We want to reinvent gameplay, and give people a more immersive experience with a second-screen controller.
It’s the first of the next-generation consoles. It’s the first HD console from Nintendo. It offers more than just gaming. It enhances your broadband entertainment, whether it’s TV or streaming movies. It has new social features like Miiverse that give people new ways to connect with other gamers in a unique networked experience.
GamesBeat: Some of these things are coming in as fairly new revelations, as far as exactly what they’re going to be. What’s the thinking on slowly rolling out what we’re going to get on day one, as far as information on things like TV and Miiverse?
Moffitt: Wii U has a lot of technology embedded in it. It has a lot of features and functionality. There’s a lot to take in. There is a need for you to experience it, and so we very much want the advertising to convince people to go somewhere and learn more — to take an action, whether that’s to go online and read more about it or go to one of our mall tours and get a chance to play it. That’s an important part of understanding this product. But if we overcomplicate the message, it would be hard for anyone to absorb it all. A sequenced release of information, we thought, was a good way to reveal the different features.
GamesBeat: Everybody expects it to sell well during the holidays. How do you keep it going through 2013?
Moffitt: It’s all about content, and it’s all about reaching out to and educating successive waves of consumers. The content coming on day one … there’s 24 games. Four of those are first-party titles, including New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land, Ninja Gaiden III, and Sing Party. Then there’s more content coming from third-party publishers, the other 20-plus games. In the launch window, from now until March 31, there are over 50 titles. So you can see, in that first quarter there will be at least as many or more new games coming.
Those games represent content that will appeal to many different types of consumers. There will be content like Wii Fit U and Sing Party and Just Dance 4 for casual gamers. There will be content for core gamers that love shooters and sports games — Madden and FIFA, ZombiU, Assassin’s Creed III. There are great family games like Nintendo Land and Scribblenauts Unlimited. As long as we have the content for each potential buyer group, we have a good chance of reaching them.
Having said that, with Wii, we reached a cultural phenomenon that was really unprecedented. We can’t predict that will happen again. A couple of things are clear, though. The world is a different place than it was when Wii launched. There weren’t as many social networks then. No tablet computers. Smartphones were just coming out. The landscape is completely different. So is the console we’re launching. No console in history for us has had as many features and functions or as strong a software lineup.
GamesBeat: That touches on something we were going to ask about. What is your competition for entertainment time?
Moffitt: With that changing landscape, it’s incumbent on us to win consumers’ time. We have to give them new and different experiences. If we’re just rolling out a faster processor and better graphics, that wouldn’t be enough to excite gamers. We need to make sure we’re giving them an experience they haven’t had before.
The competition is certainly broad. It ranges from toys to electronics. There are plenty of things that could end up under the tree. We’re the only gaming company with two hot new products this holiday. We’re excited to see how everyone responds.
GamesBeat: How are you going to get more of the bigger developers and publishers to commit more titles? Ubisoft has eight titles coming, but you could use more support from the likes of Activision and Electronic Arts.
Moffitt: We know that publishers in the last cycle had to make a choice on whether the economics warranted developing a separate standard-definition Wii version of their titles. They also had to remove functionality that was available to them. They weren’t able to monetize through microtransactions or add-on content. That made it a challenge for them to develop for the platform. It cost them resources. They couldn’t realize as much gain as they would have liked.
We’ve removed those barriers. That problem is history. This console will be in high-definition like the others. We expect that third-party content will be robust, more robust than it was for Wii. Our first-party titles, of course, we expect to be as strong as they’ve always been. The big difference on this new console will be third-party representation. It’ll be much stronger. That’s a plus for all gamers.
GamesBeat: The games business has been changing more rapidly in the last few years. How is the console going to be future proofed, so to speak? How is it going to be something that will last and not be passed up by some of these changes?
Moffitt: This is my personal belief, but I think that the console business has some issues similar to the big-screen TV business. There are evolutionary changes in technology that may make your TV not the hottest thing on the market, but you don’t buy a new TV every year or two years because there was a gradual improvement in some tech specs. Gaming consoles seem to be similar.
Phones, on the other hand, aren’t as durable. It often feels like you’re renting them more than owning them. Because you carry it everywhere you go, they get banged up. There are small, incremental changes made in each one, but since it’s a less expensive purchase, you can justify a new one.
There’s no way to fully answer your question about how we future proof. It’s incumbent upon us to keep bringing relevant, interesting content that takes full advantage of the technology. Over the life of a console, you learn how to do that, how to take better advantage of the technology. Having said that, when you have a highly connected device — and we know that with 3DS, for example, about 70 percent of owners have connected it in some way to the Internet — it allows you to make things up, to make changes over time, to provide new features and new applications when you learn that there might be an opportunity to give consumers a new way to enjoy their hardware.
GamesBeat: One thing that was still up in the air from way back at E3 was whether you could do two tablets on one machine and have head-to-head gameplay in the living room that way. Is that still up in the air?
Moffitt: It’s not up in the air, but it’s the same answer we gave at E3. The system is capable of it. When we have a game that takes advantage of that, then we’ll make that available as an added accessory that people can buy. As of the launch window, there are currently no games that require a second GamePad. But the system itself is capable of accommodating a second GamePad. It’s easy to imagine what kinds of games could use that. It’ll be fun when it comes, but there’s nothing ready yet to take advantage.
GamesBeat: Are there any other things worth noting that we haven’t touched on?
Moffitt: Broadly, as we look forward to the holiday, we expect that we’ll have some shortages of Wii U. Nintendo’s number one priority this holiday is 3DS and 3DS XL. We’re seeing an ever-growing momentum in our handheld business. Nineteen months in, we’re still a million units ahead of the pace of DS at this point in its life. As you know, DS was the best-selling gaming system of all time, and so we’re pleased with that. We’re seeing great momentum from the 3DS XL launch in August.
We’ve got two fantastic Mario games that’ll be available this holiday. Paper Mario: Sticker Star launches this Sunday. New Super Mario Bros. 2 launched in August, of course, but this is its first holiday season. I mention that just because it’s going to be a pretty hot gift this holiday, in addition to the Mario games we launched last year.
We have fantastic third-party support from Disney with Epic Mickey, along with Scribblenauts and Skylanders: Giants. The third-party lineup is much more robust than it was last year.
Our dual distribution strategy is still rolling out. What I mean by that is, allowing consumers to either buy their games digitally — using codes they picked up at retail or straight through our eShop site — or buy them physically in stores like they always have. That continues to give gamers more options as far as how they buy our content and how they carry it around. It’s easier, for a game you’re going to use every day, to own it digitally. We’re finding some of those titles have a relatively high share of digital purchases versus physical. Others are skewing more physical. 3DS, in any case, is really priority one for us.