Nintendo's enjoyed something of a honeymoon in the last few months as consumers responded to the lure of the DS and the industry came to grips with the implications of the Revolution controller. But that can't last forever, and yesterday Nintendo UK invited us down to London's Science Museum to talk a bit about how it will be maintaining the DS' momentum in the next few months with games like Brain Training (on a related note, Nintendo's sponsoring various elements of the museum to the tune of £1 million), Electroplankton, Phoenix Wright and Animal Crossing. Afterwards, we sat down with UK general manager David Yarnton and asked him about Wi-Fi Connection, Nintendo's multiplayer ambition, and of course the rumoured DS redesign and Revolution unveiling due in May.
Eurogamer: You mentioned that there will be 1,000 new Wi-Fi Connection hotspots. Does that mean we've now got 8,500, or is it just that 1,000 of the original number has been activated, because I was led to understand some of the Cloud ones didn't work yet?
David Yarnton: No, if there's a Cloud site it should be active. Then you had BT. We're actually looking at installing about 500 sites - I wouldn't say ourselves, but with BT - into retail outlets and BT are doing a rapid expansion of some sites as well downtown. It's actually quite interesting, because The Cloud I think are putting some Wi-Fi spots into a lot of British Telecom phone boxes. So there's expansion there. We've just actually added - I think it's come online - Ireland as well, so there's rapid growth there. I'll check on that though, cos I don't know where you got that from!
Eurogamer: Well my local pub doesn't actually work yet. Anyway, you said you've measured "three million connections" to Wi-Fi Connection - does that actually mean three million different DS systems have logged onto it worldwide?
David Yarnton: In actual fact... We haven't released the latest figures, but that one was I think before Christmas. I can just say it's a lot. Those figures, those three million though are actual connections; it could be the same person multiple times, but it's in the realms of over half a million.
Eurogamer: You're obviously launching Animal Crossing here soon. How much localisation work's been done on that? Will it have our festivals and things like that?
David Yarnton: There's been a lot of work done on it. I mean, the great thing about it - I know Animal Crossing has historically been a bit of a sore point in Europe with the timing of the release etc. - but because of the huge success of it in Japan and the US doing so well, very much it's been seen that it's worth investing in, so there's been a lot of work done on that. We've got multi-language as well, so there's a lot been invested in it.
Eurogamer: So the different language versions presumably still allow people to interact over Wi-Fi Connection?
David Yarnton: Um, I think it'd probably be difficult with the language barrier, but it should be fine.
Eurogamer: Can we play with people who have the American version, because obviously a lot of people over here have already bought that?
David Yarnton: Yep, should be. I mean, that's what we're looking at; we're looking at a global community, so we don't want to actually put up borders just because of the language and things like that. I think that's the great thing about our games; it does allow that, it does enable that global community for people to play together with anyone in the world.
Eurogamer: You've obviously made a big deal of safety on WFC - not letting people communicate directly with PictoChat or voice comms in Mario Kart for example. That seems to me to be a very one-size-fits-all approach. Is that appropriate, really? I mean, you're expanding to bring in people of all demographics...
David Yarnton: It's not just a factor of safety issue in respect of talking about younger children, it's also about people being able to control a little bit about who they play with. They can play with people that are their own level; we don't want people to log in and find they're playing some guy who plays every day and find that they're uncompetitive, because that really puts people off when you crash or you're beaten really badly. The way we've also done it with the buddy system means people can play with people of different levels there. We have to take certain responsibilities and the safety is an issue, so we need to do that.
Eurogamer: Can you conceive of a time when Nintendo will perhaps release a game with the same kind of features you have now with the preventative security measures and another version perhaps - I mean, Microsoft with their Live system have broken it down into different zones. Is that something that's conceivable for Nintendo, different versions of games for different ages?
David Yarnton: I think you've got a natural levelling there with the type of games as well. You've got Metroid Prime coming and being Wi-Fi there'll be older people playing that potentially than playing Animal Crossing - in fact, I could be wrong there because Animal Crossing has such a broad appeal! It's really interesting actually with Animal Crossing in Japan; amongst the first people on the uptake on it were actually new users, so a lot of the people who actually bought Brain Training then bought Animal Crossing, and it was actually the gamers that came in later. And we thought hey, this is really interesting... I mean, look, who knows what the future holds in certain areas? It's almost snowballing - what we can do, what we can't - and we're still learning a lot of things too.
Eurogamer: In the discussion group you had after the presentation there, one of the points on [compere] Melanie's top ten list was self-expression and how that's growing to be very important. Is allowing users to express themselves important to Nintendo?
David Yarnton: I don't know how we describe self-expression in a game as such. I mean you look at Electroplankton and you can use your own self-expression there to a certain extent. Pac-Man, where you can draw your own characters. I think that's something for the future that we very much look to be able to provide people with that opportunity.
Eurogamer: Yeah I'm thinking more in terms of self-image - things like having your own avatar, your own identity, the gamercard on Live sort of thing.
David Yarnton: It's something that we've looked at. I mean, if it's of interest to consumers then that's the sort of thing we'd look at in future because of demand for it, but it's not something we're looking at at the moment.
Eurogamer: Moving off the Wi-Fi stuff, you've announced very good sales for the DS are year-end. How's the Game Boy Micro been doing in Europe?
David Yarnton: If we look at all the formats, everything's had its position. Obviously DS is the major emphasis and we've done well there, SP's been doing well, Micro's actually achieved what we were hoping. It's probably a different market that we're aiming for; there's going to be people that want every format, so some of them have bought it, but there's also when we were targeting it was very much a fashion item. It's what we want it to be, a cool sort of item to have, and it's been pretty good. We weren't expecting it to knock off DS or knock off SP or anything like that; it was an opportunity we saw for a product that's done very well.
Eurogamer: It's just it's the only thing you haven't actually announced sales figures for.
David Yarnton: Well, we had a trade presentation this morning where we did announce, so we're not really hiding them, we're just not publicising them so much.