Fresh from watching Jonathan Ross and his Nintendo chums announce a 25th March European launch date for the the 3DS and fail to announce a price (in Europe Nintendo has only set a trade price, leaving retailers to tag the console at £220-£229), David Yarnton, the man who runs the Big N in the UK, found the time for a chinwag with Eurogamer to discuss all things glasses-free 3D.
Here, in an interview conducted in a room deep within the bowels of the freezing Amsterdam warehouse in which Nintendo wowed some 1300 attendees, Yarnton discusses the 3DS' hefty price tag, defends its region-locking, expresses his delight at the new, streamlined Friend Code system and explains the difference between Spot Pass and Street Pass.
Eurogamer: Why have you let shops decide how much the 3DS costs?
David Yarnton: We don't set the retail price. Someone can sell our product for whatever they want to. We don't control that. But we've had a look online. We've been talking to retailers and they've been told their cost prices now. They've established price and we've been told, looking online, that it's anywhere from £220 to £229.
Eurogamer: How do you feel about that? Is that about right for you?
David Yarnton: It's still really good value. The fact it's a 3D entertainment device – you can't get anything that's 3D at that sort of price without having to wear glasses as well. Get that one in.
Eurogamer: Is it good value compared to iOS and Android devices? And even Windows Phone 7?
David Yarnton: If we go back a few years, when we first launched DS in 2004, 2005, people looked at us and said, wow, this is unusual, it's touch screen. Who's going to buy this at whatever price it was at the time? It was the same with Wii. People looked at that and said it's all in a different direction. Now with 3D we've been disruptive again, and innovative.
People will look at and say this offers something I can't get anywhere else. It's the same with all the other products we had. It was an experience they could have with our products they wouldn't get anywhere else.
As much as there's a plethora of devices out there for all sorts of things, you can't get a glasses-free 3D gaming experience on anything else apart from the 3DS. If you look over time, we've never professed to be anything else apart from a gaming company. That's what our expertise is: developing, we think, really good games and consoles for them to be played on.
Eurogamer: You've said there will be 25-30 games available in the launch window. What does that actually mean? Which will be available to buy on launch day?
David Yarnton: The 3DS has the strongest third-party publisher support we've had for any hardware launch. We've got a broad range of games at launch. We talk about the launch window or period being up to the end of June, towards E3.
At E3 you'll see a lot more product announced. I'll give you a list of what we're having on day one. At this stage some of the third parties aren't confirmed 100 per cent.
Eurogamer: So you'll announce the games available on day one soon?
David Yarnton: It's imminent. We're trying to confirm with third-party publishers what will be available. The other thing is, we're doing a global launch. I'm trying to remember whether anyone has done a launch within four weeks globally of a new hardware format. The logistics of trying to get all that to the market, we're still finalising.
They're not jumping on the bandwagon – they've been developing for quite a while on 3DS and they've been really excited. It's just a matter of trying to make sure what's available at the time of launch. It's a massive project to do it on a global basis.
Eurogamer: The statement you put out on the region locking issue said, 'There is a possibility that Nintendo 3DS software sold in one region will not function properly when running on Nintendo 3DS hardware sold in another.' Can you clear this up for us: will all 3DS games be region-locked?
David Yarnton: There are a number of different factors that come into it. Part of it is, when you're looking at the software and the different areas, what additional features are included that may not necessarily be available in other territories? For example, we might have in one territory downloadable content that's not necessarily suitable or we don't have the means to do it in another territory. So therefore it may not be compatible.
The other thing is, if we look at it at on a regional basis, we have to be very conscious of – the customer may not really care about this – but different territories have different ratings. We're very conscious of making sure we toe the line as far as government goes. In Europe we've got PEGI. In Australia there's a different rating. America's got a different rating. Japan's a different rating.
The other part, DVDs are also region-locked. It's nothing new. I know people would love to sample the box of chocolates from everywhere, but at this stage... As time goes on, who knows what's going to happen?
Eurogamer: Is it the case that all 3DS games will be region-locked?
PR: All games will be region-locked.
David Yarnton: The other day, when I was playing the American version of Mario vs. Donkey Kong, because of some of the downloadable content in America we couldn't get here it didn't work on my DS XL, but I could do it on my DSi. Some of these things are already there. It's just variances of how it's developed per territory.
Eurogamer: Delighted to hear you've streamlined the Friend Codes system for the 3DS. How important was it to improve the Friend Codes experience? Is it a response to the poor experience on other Nintendo hardware?
David Yarnton: We always believed the games on Wii and the social aspects of them are really important, of people being able to play together. As we had the technology and the know-how to be able to develop it further, we still want to make sure we can provide a safe environment for our customers. We have customers of all ages. Part of that is our company being responsible by doing it. We've made it a lot easier because the 3DS has other functionality we can open up to make it easier.
Eurogamer: Is it evidence of Nintendo embracing online gaming more so than it has done in the past? This will be a criticism I'm sure you're familiar with.
David Yarnton: People's impression of online gaming, and you made the comment Nintendo embracing it. We've had online gaming with Wii for a long time. With Mario Kart, playing with people from all around the world.
It's in a different form compared to other people, who look at other areas. We've got our version I suppose you could say of online gaming. It's changing and evolving all the time. We have a lot of people, a lot of people, connected with the Wii through online gaming. It's just something that's our offering. We look to be unique and a bit different rather than being the same as everyone else.
It will evolve as well. You'll find it evolving all the time as to what consumers want and, as the technology changes, what we can offer them.
Eurogamer: Will the 3DS have at launch internet functionality?
David Yarnton: It doesn't come with it, but it will be downloadable.
PR: The browser will not be included at launch.
Eurogamer: On launch day, will I be able to walk into a shop and buy a 3DS? Should I pre-order? Will it sell out in the UK? Will there be shortages?
David Yarnton: We plan 3DS to be our biggest hardware launch ever. DS was a huge launch for us. It was the biggest one then, then Wii was bigger. If we look at 2008 and 2009, stock was really tight. They were record years as far as that goes. People are always critical about being out of supply.
Obviously the 3DS being a global launch, it's going to be tight on numbers. But as we get closer to launch and we get a better indication, we're very much encouraging our retailers to take pre-orders, because that then enables us to gauge demand at an earlier stage – real demand, not just someone putting their name down. So we can gauge what it's like for our production.
Hardware's not just turned on like a tap. Lead times are there. We can't react as quickly as maybe some of us would like. But that also means that when we do get more stock in we can make sure it goes to the right places.
We will react before we launch as far as where the stock's going to go, do we need more, before we've even launched it. But to get the real gauge of that, we need to have some solid pre-sale numbers.
Eurogamer: So will there be shortages?
David Yarnton: Until we get closer we don't know. We think we've got a really good number. Mr Iwata's spoken of four million units on a global basis. That's a lot of hardware to launch globally in the space of four weeks. And there's more stock coming through. It's not, bang, four million and then it stops. It's coming through. If we sell what we've got we'll be very happy.
Eurogamer: What I'm getting at is, what do you advise a gamer who's interested in buying the 3DS to do?
David Yarnton: I would be looking to put a pre-order down. Very much so.
Eurogamer: You would say that.
David Yarnton: I know a lot of people talk about companies pushing pre-orders. We're looking at it very much for us to be able to help us in production and understand demand and make sure we can satisfy everyone.
Eurogamer: The 3DS' 3.5 to 5 hour battery life has disappointed quite a few people.
David Yarnton: Actually, if you have the 3D, Wi-Fi and other functions off it's longer than five hours. You're looking at a totally new piece of equipment that's doing lots of different things compared to previous products. It's a different ball-game. But if you don't have the 3D on it will be longer than five hours.
Eurogamer: But we want to have the 3D on. That's what's great about the 3DS.
David Yarnton: That's right. But with any product in this form we encourage people not to spend hours and hours and hours playing. They need to have a break in-between. At that stage they can recharge it.
Eurogamer: Gamers can recharge while the 3DS is recharging. There's a lot going on with the 3DS. Nintendo hardware has in the past been simple, robust and easy to understand. Is there a danger that we may feel overwhelmed by the 3DS' features and functions? Could some features go unused?
David Yarnton: What you've got to do is give the opportunity not just for our customers to have all sorts of different experiences but also for the developers and publishers, who will push things. Some people will use all the features and functions as they develop something and that will appeal to certain people. It may not push someone else's buttons.
Then there will be another game or product that doesn't use everything because it's aimed at a particular segment. But we've got to make sure we've got something there that can be pushed to the limit and can give the opportunity. I remember going back years when we launched SNES, and right near the end Donkey Kong Country came out. Suddenly near the end developers started to get to grips with it and some fantastic product came out.
We're only early days with this. We haven't even launched. 25th March is still to come. There are a few people out there who may not even be developing at the moment that are going, wow, what can we do with this? We will probably find things we didn't even expect.
Eurogamer: I haven't been enthusiastic about augmented reality games in the past. Why should I be enthusiastic about them with the 3DS?
David Yarnton: That's the great thing about the 3DS. You don't just get the piece of hardware. You get seven augmented reality cards that give you the opportunity to try it. To me it's really interesting, taking the game, or the concept, into the environment you're in. I can see the potential in areas away from gameplay.
It could be museums and art galleries, where people take their 3DS along and there's an augmented reality card there that brings what they're looking at into much more life in a 3D way.
Eurogamer: You should pitch that to someone.
David Yarnton: I can see people doing that. Sometimes you look at static museum displays, but with this you could bring it to life. They'll be doing their Spot Pass or Street Pass at the same time.
Eurogamer: Street Pass. Spot Pass. How many passes? Explain the difference between the two.
David Yarnton: A simple analogy to use is, with the Street Pass, you're out and about. It's out on the street. It's everywhere. A spot is specific. A spot is somewhere. A spot pass is a point. It could be a Wi-Fi hotspot. It could be at home where you've got a Wi-Fi at home. That's where you'll get a Spot Pass and you'll download content. Street Pass is more mobile where you're going past someone and data swaps between 3DS units.
David Yarnton is managing director of Nintendo UK.