SAN FRANCISCO — Not too long ago, many in Hollywood would never have heard of Nintendo North America Inc. President Reggie Fils-Aime. Now that video games are rivaling movies and other media choices for consumers’ time and money and Nintendo has skyrocketed back to the top of its industry, few could dispute that he leads one of the country’s top entertainment outfits.
Nintendo’s Wii, best known for its user-friendly controller that senses player’s movements, has sold nearly twice as many units as Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3. Nintendo’s DS, meanwhile, is far and away the most popular portable gaming device on the market.
Redmond, Wash.-based Nintendo North America continues to produce bestselling games for those consoles as well, many based on long-running series like the Super Mario Bros.
Other publishers have had difficulty producing hit software for the Wii and DS, however, and in the last year the Xbox 360 and PS3 have both started gaining ground on the Wii.
Fils-Aime spoke to the Los Angeles Times in San Francisco this month during the Game Developers Conference.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that Sony’s newly introduced PlayStation Move motion controller and Microsoft’s planned motion-sensing camera Project Natal are moving onto turf that Nintendo has dominated?
ANSWER: Looking at what PlayStation is doing, it feels very “Wii-too.” In terms of Microsoft, we’ll see when they actually show off their software. I think our competitors will be challenged in a number of ways: bringing fun experiences to life, because in the end that’s what the consumer wants.
Our competitors will be challenged on providing the great value we have always provided. Our consumers have a system that they love. Is that consumer suddenly going to stop and go do something else?
Q: A lot of publishers have made high-profile, well-reviewed games for the Wii and DS that flopped, like “Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars” and “Dead Space: Extraction.” Why is it so tough for other companies to make games that sell on your platforms?
A: I would argue there are also high-quality games that seem to be well marketed (that) aren’t selling well on competitive platforms. Our mission at a conference like this is to message directly with developers and publishers and provide thoughts on creating content that will be effective in the marketplace.
Q: When Wii launched, Nintendo insisted it was just for gaming and not for video or other types of entertainment. But you recently followed your competitors in signing an Internet streaming deal with Netflix. Are you changing strategy?
A: By having the approach we have had with content that is very social in nature, 85 percent of the Wii’s we sell in the U.S. are on the main TV in the household. That has given us a tremendous platform to push the envelope of entertainment. Netflix is a natural application of that.
Having said that, we don’t want to have a gazillion different applications because you get to a point where all you’re doing is making it confusing for the consumer. If there are other compelling entertainment services we can provide through the Wii, then we’re interested.
Q: If the long-term trend in gaming is away from packaged products and toward digital distribution, does that mean Nintendo, which makes a lot of its money selling devices that play discs, won’t be relevant anymore?
A: As more homes are connected and bandwidth increases, the potential for digital goods grows substantially. We want to participate in that and we are, through (digital services) like WiiWare and DSIWare.
Having said that, we do believe that the interface between the screen, the controller and the consumer is something that is integral to the gaming experience. So in our view there will always be a console that enables that experience to come to life.
As for when digital will overtake packaged goods, our view is that is well into the future.
Q: Do producers and executives still knock on the door asking about movie rights to Mario or Zelda or Metroid, and if so, what do you tell them?
A: All the time. The message is, “Thank you for the interest.” There have been certain (people) that we have talked in more detail with. But I think in the end, because we are a content company and are passionate about our franchises, it will be few and far between that actual deals are done to bring our franchises to life in a different way. These are our children.