Mario creator outlines Nintendo strategy
Creator of the game company's biggest franchises discusses Wii, PS3 and surprises yet to come.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Psst. Want to know a Wii secret?
The man who created Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong wasn't too sure about the new name for Nintendo's next generation console either at first.
Of course, he's a big fan of it now - and fully supports it. But like a large percentage of the company's fan base (and the rest of the gaming world, for that matter), he really liked the machine's code name: Revolution.
"When we first thought about it, myself and others felt that the name Revolution was very appropriate to what we were doing," Shigeru Miyamoto told me recently, "but [Revolution] is a name that was almost threatening to non-gamers. It wasn't acceptable. So we thought this was more friendly and inviting."
Miyamoto, of course, has had longer than the rest of us to get used to it. The Wii name, he said, was finalized more than six months before it was announced to the world.
In truth, while the name is still accompanied with some eye rolling, it's starting to settle in with gamers, who are shifting their focus to the machine's software after Nintendo's very successful showing at E3, the video game industry's annual trade show.
Show attendees stood in line for 3.5 hours and more to play the Wii. Somewhat startlingly, complaints about the wait time were rare. Users seemed to enjoy the system's unique controller, which translates wrist and arm movements into onscreen action, taking the emphasis away from buttons and thumbsticks.
Before E3 began, though, Sony (Research) sprang a whopper of a surprise on the industry. The controller for the PlayStation 3 would also be motion sensitive, allowing players to affect onscreen action by simply moving their arms. While the announcement caught many off guard, Miyamoto said he wasn't as surprised as some others were.
"That always seems to happen and we kind of expected it. It reinforces for us that we've been on the right path all along," he said. "We've gotten used to others copying what we do – and we're having a lot of fun with it. ... On the flipside, I suppose they must be worried about any other functionality we may announce."
Nintendo might have hinted at some of that additional functionality at its press conference. Towards the end of the event, Miyamoto, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, Reggie File-Aime (Nintendo's public face in North America) and a contest winner demonstrated a Wii game on stage.
The game was Wii Tennis - but instead of using generic character models, the onscreen faces in this match were caricatures of Miyamoto, Iwata and Fils-Aime (the contest winner did not have a personalized character). At the time, it seemed like a visual in-joke for conference attendees, but Miyamoto said the Wii might be able to create those personalized visages for players and their family members.
He declined to go into specifics, but added "we have some different ideas about how to take advantage of that functionality – and we will be sharing that type of functionality with third parties."
A motion-sensitive controller wasn't Sony's only surprise at E3. The company also announced a retail price for the PS3: $499 and $599. That's higher than Microsoft's Xbox 360, which currently retails for $299 and $399 - and while Nintendo has not announced a launch price, analysts believe the Wii will most likely cost between $199 and $249 when it goes on sale in the fourth quarter of this year.
"I knew before [they announced the price] that it was going to be expensive," said Miyamoto. "Even then, it was a bit of a shock. But I think it's clear that they don't want to lose a lot of money per unit."
A lower price might make the Wii more attractive to cost conscious consumers, but Nintendo will have to ensure it is able to meet demand. It's a difficult problem for a new gaming system. Microsoft (Research) experienced significant shortages with the launch of the Xbox 360 and many feel it could be even harder to find a PS3, given the popularity of its predecessor.
Supply problems are something Nintendo is particularly familiar with. The company has seen the popularity of its DS handheld unit surge and been unable to keep up with demand. Even Miyamoto said he is concerned.
"I think one challenge we might face is similar to the one we are facing with the DS in Japan," he said. "We will have to work to make sure that doesn't happen."
While the Wii's gameplay did win complements at E3, many noted the system's graphics looked dated - particularly when compared to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Indeed, it's tough to tell the difference visually between a next-generation Wii game and one running on the current system, the GameCube.
While the controller might attract people's attention, I asked Miyamoto whether he was worried that the radical difference in the visual quality of the games might negatively impact sales.
"I think there's more than one way to get the attention of consumers," he said. "Obviously, graphics are what the other two companies are doing. I think what we'll do for Wii is show people open interaction. ... We're designing a system that's relevant to everyone in the house. Our hope is that Wii will be something different."
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Morris is Director of Content Development for CNNMoney.com. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org