The biggest buzz around E3 this year was centred on Nintendo's new 3D console, with the hardware taking a lot of people by surprise both technically and in terms of established support from third-party developers and publishers.
In this interview with GamesIndustry.biz, European managing director of marketing and PR Laurent Fisher discusses the importance of close relationship for a hardware launch, the upcoming efforts required to inform consumers the new hardware is more that just an upgrade, and why it's essential to remove as many barriers to the 3D experience as possible.
Q: You obviously had a big impact with the 3DS at E3, and it felt like it's been a long time since a hardware reveal at the show generated so much buzz – what's been the initial feedback you've received from the show floor and from partners?
Laurent Fischer: The best way to summarise that is I did a quick check, and it's not an official number, but I gathered information from all publishers and as of now I've seen around 70 different titles announced for the 3DS, including first-party titles of course. For hardware that started its public life only days ago that's amazing, and what I was pleased with was you can see very, very strong support from everyone. You can see from the line-up that we have huge titles that no other publisher is doing, without us thinking twice about it, such as Metal Gear Solid. I couldn't see any publisher that isn't very motivated by the console so we're really pleased by that. One of the major objectives of our E3 was to stress that it's important for Nintendo that we get this level of support from partners. Of course we're happy about it, but it's more than we would have dreamed of with such support from our partners at this new time for consoles.
Q: It was really impressive to have that level of support with titles like Metal Gear, Kingdom Hearts, Assassin's Creed and Resident Evil, especially after support on the other DS systems has cooled down.
Laurent Fischer: Regardless of which title, what's important is that we have the full scope. At the end of the day, Nintendo's 3DS purpose is following what we've tried to do with the other DS consoles – to inspire everyone. To reach that objective what we need is to provide every kind of software, from the very niche games to the biggest, strong established classic franchises. Having every publisher on board will allow us to do that. If only Nintendo is publishing titles on the 3DS we know it's going to be hard because we are not good at everything. We have strengths, but we're aware that we're not able at all to cover all categories for all consumers.
Q: How long have these partners been working on the technology, because it's being suggested the system could launch early next year, and yet you were only showing demos and trailers of potential content at E3?
Laurent Fischer: It's quite recent, in general. As we explained, it's very important to us that we have their support and all the Nintendo teams have been dedicated to our partners and spend the time with them. What is important is the surprise effect that the 3D can give on the screen, it was one of the best tools to convince publishers to work as soon as possible with the hardware. They wanted to get hold of it immediately.
Q: How do development costs for the 3DS compare to creating content for the DS and DSi?
Laurent Fischer: It's too early to say. We have not had any discussions with developers were we have discussed those things, it's something we cannot comment on at all.
Q: You've not discussed the price of the 3DS, but can we expect the price point to be a similar business model to previous DS launches? Nintendo has always launched products with a reasonable price tag, compared to some of the more luxury items on the market – can we expect that approach again?
Laurent Fischer: It's early because we are in a very early stage, and we have no fixed date for launch. We have no plans established for when we are going to launch and how we are going to launch it. You have described the general frame, that we always strive to have a positioning of the console that will help reach a massive audience as soon as possible. Obviously, it's far too early to have any comment about that.
Q: How are games going to be distributed on the 3DS – it's cartridge based?
Laurent Fischer: We haven't communicated that yet.
Q: I noticed an SD slot as well, will there be any capacity for downloadable content on the system?
Laurent Fischer: There will be. Obviously what we have explained about the console is that we will provide a connected system which will enable the user to get some additional content. The wording we use is "without them noticing it". Hence it's something that can be downloaded. Some content will be made available through online abilities to the consumers so we will have some sort of storage capacity, but again we have not made available the spec.
Q: Is there a big marketing challenge in showing new consumers that this is more than a upgrade to the DS system as the Lite, DSi and DSi XL have been? That this is a major leap, not just in terms of 3D, but as a more powerful handheld system?
Laurent Fischer: At Nintendo we have already experienced challenges in that area. When we first launched the Nintendo DS with two screens and a touch panel it was very difficult to reflect in the marketing activities to begin with. The same happened for Wii, explaining that it was motion control, something that was so innovative and new it was difficult to project that to the consumer in terms of the experience. But we've managed that for both consoles, and for 3DS we have one basic issue in terms of marketing – how can we reflect the 3D effect? How can we represent that in any kind of area? We had that first discussion during E3, the question of how do we do that. And as of now the best way is for the consumer to see it. It's something we will work on very hard, how much can we put the console in people's hands? Whether it's the business people, the retailers, the journalist, who obviously need to understand what the console can do. We've started that job at E3 and the surprise that's generated is very positive in that sense. Definitely the one that will be more difficult is the consumer, and that's something we will have in mind. Whatever we say at Nintendo about the experience will never reflect the actual experience that you get when you get hands on.
Q: There's a buzz around other 3D on the market – games from Sony, 3D TV, 3D movies are becoming more regular at the cinema – do you think Nintendo 3DS offers the best way to interest consumers in 3D as it's one of the cheapest ways to create experiences in the 3D sector?
Laurent Fischer: We always have to be very cautious about new technology. When you dig out in the past what people were saying – "this 3D technology is going to overwhelm everything, in three years it will be mass market". I think at the end of the day it's the consumer that will decide. From our point of view when we were thinking about 3D it was very important that it needs to be easy to access in the sense that it doesn't need any additional accessories, such as the glasses. As long as we are able to create something that is easy to access, is comfortable to use. And we have also provided the option to minimise and optimise the 3D effects – that is very important. Every individual is unique, you may wear glasses for example, you may have issues perceiving 3D based on other factors. What we have is the technology now to change that with no effort. With a handheld the experience can be adjusted very easily and enjoyed.
Q: Are you concerned that sales of the DS or DSi might tail off now that consumers know there's the 3DS in the pipeline?
Laurent Fischer: We don't know when we're going to launch the 3DS, and with the other DS hardware it's been reaching unprecedented levels of sales. What we know also is that currently this hardware is benefiting from thousands of different software and games in a library. We're providing that today to the consumer that can enjoy the DSi experience right now. Of course 3DS will provide something new, but the DS still has a lot of potential. Our weekly sales tell us that with the proposal we have we're still selling and have a lot of potential. All the way to Christmas we have a lot of titles from ourselves and other publishers, we still have a lot to come. So long as we have the software, there's always the potential to sell.
Laurent Fisher is managing director of marketing and PR for Nintendo Europe. Interview by Matt Martin.