Reggie Fils-Aime, president and chief operating officer for Nintendo of America, probably wishes last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) went a little more smoothly.
Many expected the Japanese game company would reveal crucial details regarding its Wii U game console, which is currently scheduled for a nebulous “holiday” launch, has no price attached to it, and no official line-up of day-one software.
When this information was withheld at the company’s E3 press conference in Los Angeles last Tuesday (the event focused instead on showcasing Wii U games in development), the press wondered whether Nintendo's next system was really ready for its fall debut.
It was with these questions in mind that I sat down with Mr. Fils-Aime on the second day of the show.
Over the course of our 20-minute chat he made clear that Wii U is not being rushed to market in light of tumbling Wii sales, that he will not shy away from measuring the system’s performance against that of its record-breaking predecessor, and that there is still “work to be done” when it comes to explaining to the public what Wii U is all about.
Chad Sapieha: Heading into E3, what were the main things about Wii U you wanted to get across to the press and public?
Reggie Fils-Amie: We wanted to get across that the Wii U experience is something unlike anything they’ve ever experienced before. It’s something that they will want to experience for themselves.
We also wanted to communicate that no matter what type of gamer you are, we have products for you, whether you want a more active experience, like Assassin’s Creed or Batman: Arkham City – Armored Edition, or you’re a fan of a game like Wii Fit U.
Third, we wanted consumers and media to understand that what we’re showing at E3 is just the tip of the iceberg. We’re just beginning a steady stream of information about Wii U.
Nintendo has recently experienced some difficult financial times. Is Nintendo rushing Wii U to market to compensate for sluggish Wii sales?
The short answer is no. This is not a system that has been rushed in any way.
And, in fact, our challenging financial performance has not been due to the Wii’s performance. It was driven by our performance on Nintendo 3DS.
In Canada and the U.S. the sell-through rate of Nintendo 3DS after 14 months is better than it was at the same point in time for the DS. However, because of the lack of strong software from Nintendo, the lack of online capabilities, and the lack of other entertainment at launch, it caused us to [reduce the handheld console’s price], which generated a significant negative situation for us.
Now that our 3DS business is healthy and on a positive path, that product is going to be the predominant volume and profit driver for our business this year. The impact that the Wii U will have will be somewhat modest because we’re launching it during the holiday season.
In the games industry, success is often a comparative measure. The Wii sold incredibly well for its first few years, which places you in a tricky spot with Wii U. Many people will compare Wii U’s initial sales to those of the Wii. How will Nintendo judge Wii U’s performance and whether it’s a success?
Rightly or wrongly, we will compare the sales rate of Wii U to that of Wii. We have to. In order for us to grow our business and financial performance, in order to reach more consumers, we have to achieve a level of performance similar to that which we had with the Wii.
That’s a tough proposition. As you highlighted, for the first three years we were constantly sold out on Wii. So we have a very high bar. We will have to compare ourselves to our historic performance. In addition, we’ll compare consumer reaction, look at sell-through sales, and look at online activity. And all of these aspects will be important.
But make no mistake. I’ll be looking at the weekly and monthly sell-through patterns of this new console versus the Wii to understand how we’re tracking.