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.
Eurogamer: You mentioned you want to achieve further handheld growth in 2006 - are you going to achieve that with another iteration of the DS hardware?
David Yarnton: We've got the hardware there now and I think one of the things we've seen in Japan where the growth has come is the release of the content. I mean, Nintendogs was the first one that came and gave us a spike - okay, seasonality as well, but we still haven't actually caught up on Nintendogs and there's still demand out there we haven't supplied. Next one is Brain Training and we've seen the same thing in Japan and as I mentioned with Brain Training it was 13 weeks after launch that it hit its first big spike and then continued to get higher - and those people are new users as well, so very much the content is the thing now.
Eurogamer: That's true obviously, but Nintendo does have a history of redesigning handheld hardware and there has been all this discussion about whether you guys are going to do a DS redesign this year.
David Yarnton: If I turned around and said to my staff that we're doing something new they'd probably throttle me, because what with this last 12 months of product that we've done and also what we've got in the first quarter...
Eurogamer: Can you categorically rule out then that you'll have a DS redesign announcement at E3?
David Yarnton: That's been rumoured, I don't know for how long, but we haven't got any plans at the moment. Nothing I know of.
Eurogamer: One of the things we have heard Nintendo talk about and even Nintendo UK, which is obviously different to the way things have been in the past, is the next-generation console. Obviously you're not talking about that today, but in general, Microsoft's done a global launch, Sony... although they're being quiet about it, from what we've heard from publishers and so on, they're saying they absolutely have to launch in all areas this year. Are you going to be the only people that launch a console in 2007?
David Yarnton: If you look at other companies... We've got so many products to juggle. One of the things is we always want to make sure we do it properly and do it right, and we'll launch when we're ready and when the product's right, and that's all under control as far as we're concerned.
Eurogamer: Would it be fair to say that the questions we have regarding price and release date and so on will be fully answered in May when you do your big Revolution presentation?
David Yarnton: I think E3 will be the big one to wait for when, and I don't think anyone in the UK is going to get a sneak piece of information on something as important as that [laughs].
Eurogamer: How will you be supporting the GameCube this year?
David Yarnton: Ah well, look, we've got to be honest in the UK, especially. GameCube we can't say is, uh... We're number three and we've got product to release there, but I think what a lot of people don't realise is that GameCube in Europe is probably number two when you add up the other territories, and in Japan it's number two and in fact it's been outselling Xbox 360, so on a global basis GameCube is a very strong business for us as such. Unfortunately the UK market hasn't been our best area, but you know that's why we want to make sure for the future. And I think you'll find that a lot of things we've been doing and the way we've been doing things have been different to what we've done in the past, and not just I suppose in communicating with the media but also to some extent in the way we're dealing with trade. We're doing a lot of things with trade differently than we have in the past, and it's all to sort of make sure for the future that we do a better job.
Eurogamer: One of the things you said during your presentation... You had a slide talking about how Sony lost it a bit with the Walkman and now Apple's moving into their space - all part of your evolution theme. Obviously you guys have made no secret of your intention to move away from what you see as traditional gaming...
David Yarnton: No I think that's wrong in context, to the extent that we see it as one aspect of the business. We're not deserting the market that we have or those who've supported us over the years. What we're looking at doing is growing and to grow that we need to look in other areas, because that's a finite number of customers that you can have there and we're not going to, as I say, desert or neglect that.
Eurogamer: Well yes, it was one of the three parts of Satoru Iwata's TGS speech along with keeping old gamers happy and attracting disenchanted gamers back, but what I was really getting at is that you're talking a big talk at the moment, and is that a reflection of Nintendo's ambition? Do you see yourselves as being able to regain what some would probably call your former glory?
David Yarnton: Our ambition is to be number one, so there's a number of different areas for us to do that. We can take them head on or we can move outside as well. We aim to be number one. We're number one in the handheld and there's no reason we can't be number one in the console area? In a number of markets, as I say, Sony dominates, but we're not far behind.
Eurogamer: So in this generation, you think?
David Yarnton: This generation as in GameCube? [Laughs] I don't think we'll catch up with GameCube.
Eurogamer: I'm already moving on a bit, sorry. In terms of Revolution, obviously.
David Yarnton: Who knows. Who knows.
Eurogamer: Have you played Xbox 360? What do you think of it as a machine?
David Yarnton: I've seen it, but I haven't played it to be honest. We've got one in the office and I've seen it in store. Some of our guys sit and I watch them play it. I was watching, I'm trying to think what the racing game was...
Eurogamer: Project Gotham?
David Yarnton: Yeah. It looked nice, but... I won't talk about opposition products.
Eurogamer: Okay so you're not talking about opposition products, but where do you see multiformat gaming going given that you're diverging so much? Are we likely to see popular games appear on the three consoles any more?
David Yarnton: I mean, you can look on Nintendo with popular games like Mario Kart and a lot of our games which are only on one format and they still sell really well, and a lot of people are probably wishing they were on multiformat. And there's room for that on all of them, and I think looking at the support we're getting from third party, I think it'll most definitely be not only multiformat games but also we know they'll develop exclusive games for Nintendo products as well. So a lot of them have seen the success of DS and the support we've got with them and the number of titles coming through is reflecting that. A few people may have made some wrong bets early on, but it's almost a floodgate coming back as far as support there. And we've got something like 20 titles that'll be launched just with ourselves on DS between now and April, and then you add third party on top of that so there's no dearth of titles.
Eurogamer: Don't you worry though on the Revolution that people are going to take a PS3 or Xbox 360 game, port it on the Revolution and then try and figure out how to make the control system work with it?
David Yarnton: One of the things we've said before with DS is that it's the start of us being able to provide consumers with a human interface, more opportunity and that's the progression I think we look at there, offering that much better gameplay experience people can have through the console or through the hand control, whatever it may be, making it simpler and easier while not neglecting the opportunities for complexity as well. But we can make it simple for people.
David Yarnton is general manager of Nintendo UK. We also spoke to David about related issues concerning Nintendo's trade ambitions, and you can read more about that side of the business on our sister site, GamesIndustry.biz.