I love Nintendo. I hate Nintendo. As the company that first got me into gaming and technology, Nintendo will always hold a special place in my heart. But I’ve been frustrated by its move toward casual gaming with the Wii and its past missteps with the 3DS.
Now Nintendo is gearing up to release the Wii U, its newest console. It sports high-definition graphics and a tablet-like game controller. Yesterday the company announced that the Wii U will be available in the U.S. on November 19, starting at $299 for the base model and $349 for a deluxe model with added memory and a copy of Nintendo Land. It’s also taking a stab at living room entertainment with Nintendo TVii, a unified interface for searching and interacting with media across live TV, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and other services.
At the launch event in New York City, I got Nintendo’s executive vice president of sales Scott Moffitt take on the announcements. After joining the company last year, Moffitt has become the main person responsible for creating excitement for the Wii U. And as you can see from our conversation below, he’s thought quite a bit about what makes the Wii U compelling.
GamesBeat: Can you talk about the $299 price for the base model? That’s more expensive than the current consoles, and it also doesn’t come with a game. What was the decision in terms of pricing?
Scott Moffitt: Yah many factors go into pricing. … Let me talk first about our goal with going to a two-tiered model, to have two prices and two configurations, is to give consumers choice and provide flexibility. … That philosophy really permeated a lot of the decisions. It permeated what price point it should be but also what to pack in with each of the configurations.
The $299 price point in the basic sense allows the broadest amount of consumers access to the Wii U and all of its technologies at a really affordable price. For $299 you get everything you need to enjoy Wii U, and you have the capability to add memory as you want, and we know the price of memory is dropping precipitously. But it also allows you the choice of game…you’re not locked into a certain game.
Certainly, we think a lot of those consumers may really enjoy Nintendo Land if they choose to buy it — but they may not. They may choose to buy New Super Mario Brothers U; they may choose to buy Zombie U. We don’t know. It gives them at least one option that does not have a game, that allows them to choose a game. The deluxe set [$349] comes with added memory, a couple of added accessories, and it comes with Nintendo Land, all of which also puts it at a great value for those consumers that know they’re going to want that extra memory and they know they want that game.
Moffitt: So the idea behind Wii U is first we want it to be an everyday device. We wanted it to be the entertainment hub in the living room, in the family room, and we want it to be used every day. There are many ways to do that. Not everyone has a chance to sit down and play a three-hour video game every day, but they may want to access the web every day. They may want to watch TV every day. So having an application like Nintendo TVii increases the probability that consumers will turn on the system every day, use it every day, and interact with it every day.
Nintendo TVii is a great innovation. It differentiates ourselves from other consoles in a couple different ways: First of all…the vision is you can find, you can watch, and you can interact with TV like you’ve never been able to before. Starting with “find,” the gamepad allows you a very intuitive way to search for content regardless of its source. Whether it’s VOD, whether it’s live TV, coming from Direct TV or your normal cable provider, or any recorded content that you have, it searches all possible sources and displays for you what your options are. So it makes TV for me more fun and more intuitive, and easier to find something.
Once I find something you can activate it right from the gamepad controller, you can turn on that program, and it starts displaying on your TV. Then the interesting part begins, you can interact with that content in ways you haven’t been able to before on a gaming console. You can share thoughts about the program you’re watching, you can let your friends know about that content and if they’re not watching it at that time you can message them and say, “Hey, great show here, you may want to turn it on,” and you can chat back and forth. So it integrates the social and interactive component with TV in a way that hasn’t been possible before.
GB: This is my first time to really get my hands on the Wii U and what you guys are doing. It seems almost that the focus of this new controller, the tablet controller, is that it’s more tablet than console after a point.
Is this a way for Nintendo to combat the rise of mobile gaming on smartphones on tablets? Are you trying to almost create your own tablet — but it’s still not a tablet because it relies on the console — so you’re kind of playing your own game here?
Moffitt: I don’t know if I’d describe it quite in the words that you chose there. The way I would think about it is, Nintendo introduced the world to touchscreen gaming with the DS several years ago. So before the advent of tablet computing Nintendo is allowing consumers touchscreen and second screen gameplay, that was one of the inspirations for this innovation in gaming.
At our core we try to find new ways to enhance gameplay and to make newer more interesting, more enjoyable gameplay. That technology can come from anywhere — if we think we can incorporate it into our game and it will enhance gameplay, that’s interesting to us. That’s really the inspiration, that was the approach taken to developing the gamepad. So it was inspired maybe less by tablet computers and mobile gaming, than it was our own Nintendo DS … and the consumer experience with touchpad gaming, which is very intuitive to play.
What’s exciting about it for us is the thing it affords in the world of gaming, and the things it allows you to do in the world of gaming., As you saw with Call of Duty Black Ops 2, you’ve got this great cinematic quality game in front of you that’s been cluttered up with all of your map packs and accessories, now you can pull some of that content down onto the gamepad and enjoy all of the cinematic quality graphics that HD provides on your TV. That’s just one idea we saw from Activision today, when you play Nintendo land, you see many more ways to enhance gaming.
GB: It seems like the controller is both assisting group play, but the fact you can also pull a game out of the TV and just bring it straight in to the gamepad, it almost seems like a step towards making the TV itself irrelevant and making this controller your core gaming experience.
Moffitt: To be clear, the gamepad controller doesn’t really function as an independent gaming device; it needs the console. So you can’t take that and walk down the street to your friend’s house while you’re still playing the game. … The reason it has the capability to bring a game down to the gamepad screen … is it allows multiple members of the family to enjoy that same living room space, but maybe participate in their own activity. So if you’re playing a game on your living room couch, and somebody wants the TV to catch a program, you don’t have to interrupt your gameplay. … I think he possibilities for gaming on two screens are even more exciting.
GB: Is there any loss in quality when you bring the game down to the actual controller?
Moffitt: No, because it’s working still with the gaming console itself. There’s no loss in quality.
GB: It just seems like you’re transmitting a lot of data wirelessly … that could introduce lag and could introduce a lot of things.
Moffitt: Well, as you saw downstairs, there is no latency effect. That took a long time to solve — one of the technical innovations in the gamepad is that there is no latency effect, and that’s critical for gaming. So for any nongaming operation, you could maybe tolerate a little bit of lag, but you’ll see there isn’t any. But that took a long time to solve, and that’s critical for a second screen experience to work for gaming.
GB: Can you talk about how you’re actually transmitting that data, like the technical aspect behind it? Is it Wi-Fi? Is it some sort of proprietary technology that you’re using to wirelessly transmit data?
Moffitt: For us, the experience of how it works is far more important than talking about what’s under the hood.
GB: People are interested!
Moffitt: They are interested! [Laughs] But how it works is some of the secret sauce. The important thing is that the experience is magical. …
GB: What’s the official battery life for the tablet controller?
Moffitt: That’s a good question. I don’t know that. [He asks the PR rep overseeing our interview if she knows, and she says no.]
GB: That’s interesting, because I’ve asked at least a dozen people at this event, and nobody can give me the right one. Online, on the specs, which were posted on Nintendo Japan’s site in June, say it’s 3 to 5 hours. That seems really low. Is that something that you’ve heard of?
Moffitt: We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about that. That’s probably why if you’ve asked a lot of people. We don’t know. I think it’s going to vary depending on how you use it and what you use it for. That’s probably why there’s quite a range, if that’s on the tech spec sheet, that’s probably accurate.
It comes, obviously, with an AC adapter for both the console itself as well as the gamepad. The deluxe version also comes with a charging cradle; that’ll also be sold separately. So you can charge the gamepad controller when it’s not in use, or you can with it plugged in while in an AC power source.
GB: The conspiracy theorist in me is wondering if Nintendo is not talking about this for a reason.
[The PR rep chimes in wondering what tech spec sheet I’m talking about. I tell her to search for “Wii U gamepad battery life” but also added that the spec sheet came from Nintendo Japan.]
Moffitt: There’s no conspiracy about it, I can assure you.
[We’ve dropped a line into Nintendo’s U.S. PR firm to see if we can get an official statement about the gamepad’s battery life.]
GB: I’m also wondering what have you guys learned from the success of the Wii. Clearly, you’re building on the brand now. But the Wii also had its detractors among hardcore gamers. What have you guys learned from the mistakes of the Wii and from consoles before it?
Moffitt: First, we all know the Wii sold at historical proportions. It clearly was the number one selling console in this generation — we’ve sold 40 million Wii consoles in the U.S. So, tremendous success, there are a lot of great things to take from the Wii success story. There are also some learnings: We had supply shortages at the start.
We did learn we were able to introduce an innovation in the form of motion controlled gaming that consumers embraced and really loved. That motion control gaming behavior is still very much a part of the Wii U — the gamepad has an accelerometer, a gyrometer, so it’s motion control all over again. We’ve got a tremendous base of installed Wii games, as well as Wii accessories, all of that is compatible with the Wii U. So that’s a second learning, or observation — we want consumers to be able to leverage that investment, the tremendous investment they’ve made in Wii accessories and games with their Wii U.
We also learned that it’s important to have great content, and we want content that’s not only first party as well as third party. That’s why I think with this tremendous launch library of over 50 titles you see tremendous third party support. Our relationship with third-party developers has never been better.
GB: Can you talk about how you guys are avoiding a potential supply shortage?
Moffitt: I’m trying to get every unit I can to sell here in the Americas; that’s our goal. It’s really hard to anticipate consumer demand, but we are ramping up production as we speak to make as many as we can for the globe.