HENDERSON, Nevada — Hard-core and casual Nintendo fans anxious for new systems and games will need to brave an emptier-than-planned winter, according to Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime.
During a quick interview at last week's Design Innovate Create Entertain (DICE) conference, the Nintendo executive laid out plans to satisfy some of the highest-profile and some of the more obscure wants of the growing collection of Nintendo fans.
"We apologize that it continues to be a difficult problem to get your hands on [a Wii]," he said, acknowledging the short supply that has stymied many people anxious to get their hands on Nintendo's new console. "The fact is, we manufactured 4 million Wii consoles by the end of the calendar year. Our challenge was getting them not only into our warehouses and then into warehouses of our retailers, but there is some handling of the consoles in terms of putting the "Wii Sports" disc in. That whole inventory chain is what prevented us from selling all 4 million that had been produced." He said production is being ramped to 1 million systems a month, with a further ramp-up in the future.
Wiis are beginning to show up in stores, but it's Nintendo's DS Lite portable that is in even shorter supply, despite being on the market in the U.S. since last summer. "We put everything in the marketplace that we humanly could by December 25th. But from December 26th until mid-January, we were effectively out of stock." Fils-Aime said relief will come in stages. "It's going to be tight probably until March. And then as we gear up for the April 22nd launch of 'Pokémon Diamond' and '[Pokémon] Pearl,' things should certainly open up at that point."
With Nintendo barely considered a factor by many gamers excited about PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 a year ago, these are not bad problems for Fils-Aime and company to have. The Wii and the DS are hot, and the memory of the far less popular GameCube is fading. (That system is still being made, Fils-Aime pointed out, but won't be getting a price drop from the $99 tag it's had for almost three years: "Frankly the price point is driven by the manufacturing costs and the manufacturing costs for that don't allow us to go below $99.")
But the fate of a gaming executive is not to relish what has been delivered but to figure out how to satisfy demand for what people want next. "A year ago, people were challenging me: 'What are you going to do to make sure there's strong third-party support?' " Fils-Aime said. "We have it. Now folks are saying, 'Where's all your strong first-party titles?' They're coming. But we're being very strategic when we're going to launch them. And we're making sure our licensees enjoy success on their titles and that the spacing makes sense."
If there's been a knock on Nintendo's game production, it is that promises of a steady flow of Nintendo-made games following the launch of the Wii have seemed to ring hollow. Nintendo released two Wii games in November, none in December, one in January, one in February ("Wii Play," a game so slight Nintendo packed a controller in with it) and has none slated for March. Last fall, Fils-Aime gave Newsweek reporter N'Gai Croal a read-my-lips pledge that there wouldn't be a drought. Did he feel the need to take that back? "N'Gai and I need to have a little conversation here," he said, laughing. He thinks the flow of content is still strong.
(A few days after DICE, a new Wii title formerly slotted for GameCube, "Super Paper Mario," was confirmed for an April release)
Fils-Aime had told Croal that "Metroid Prime 3" would release for the Wii in "early 2007" and had told MTV News that the game would precede another anticipated Wii heavyweight, "Super Mario Galaxy" (see "Nintendo Exec Predicts Wii Future, Chances Of 'GoldenEye' On Console"). At DICE he was less committal.
"What I will tell you about 'Metroid' is that 'Metroid' will be fabulous," he said. "I think it's fair to say that all of us were disappointed with the sales of 'Metroid Prime 2,' [the game's developer] Retro included. The focus on 'Prime 3' is to make that the stellar game for a first-person experience on the platform. ... What that means is we're going to make sure it's perfect when we launch it. I think this is one where your readers — the fans of Nintendo, the core gamer — need to recognize that when we release it, it will be perfect. And if that's a little later than folks would have liked, I'm hoping they're going to be happy. They certainly seem to be happy that we took our time with '[The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.' " With that kind of talk, the obvious follow-up question was: "If it's perfect, does that mean it's going to be online?" In response, Fils-Aime said: "That's perfect for you."
From the most hyped games to the somewhat more obscure, Fils-Aime will discuss any possible title for Nintendo systems. So what of "Mother 3," a 2006 Game Boy Advance game released to cult acclaim in Japan but never so much as whispered for a U.S. release (see "Where Does A Game Called 'Mother' Outsell 'Halo'? Check Out Tokyo's Coolest Street")? The game has such a strong online following that a group of committed fans have vowed to produce their own translated version of the game if Nintendo won't. Fils-Aime has never played the game, but he knows about the translation project. He said the "Mother" series (known as "Earthbound" when "Mother 2" was released in the U.S.) is important to Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's president, who worked on the series years ago as a developer. "It certainly is a franchise near and dear to his heart, and it's something I'm trying to get smart on to understand whether or not there is an opportunity here. But certainly I've seen the success in Japan. That hasn't gone unnoticed. And it's certainly something we're looking at."
An innovative company can't just worry about what fans want but also anticipate what fans don't even know they want. So when the discussion turned to the Wii's 24/7 online service, Fils-Aime threw a curve. Yes, the system will continue to receive new channels and downloadable games. There are other downloadable-content ideas floating around too. "We have a tremendous amount of old Nintendo Power [magazine] content, for example, that we could present to consumers as a way to get smart about Virtual Console."
Fils-Aime's overall message was to sit tight and wait. Good stuff is coming, he said, even if it's not all in stores — or online — just yet.