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Iwata Talks 3DS, Future Consoles and Surprises

Nintendo's CEO in the Q&A spotlight at the latest investors briefing.

 
Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata.

Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata shared a few bits on Nintendo's plans for the 3DS during the Q&A session of an investors briefing last week. Nintendo has since posted a full transcript of the briefing, allowing us to see Iwata's commentary on 3DS and other issues in full.

Currently, the Q&A is in Japanese only. Nintendo will presumably provide an English translation later in the week, but to hold you over, here's a summary.

I'm updating this through the day in between my top secret government spy work, so check back for more.

[update: 13:48 -- I've stopped updating, so you can stop refreshing if you were.]

On Wii's Successor

Iwata was asked for his stance on the release of a Wii successor. He gave his usual response -- that Nintendo is always developing new game hardware. "As soon as a new system is complete -- from the very moment it is complete -- we're thinking about the plan for the next game machine," he said. "We believe there's still more we can do with the Wii," he added, stating that as a result he has nothing to show for the next console.

On Social Gaming

Have some of Nintendo's casual users moved to social games? And under the consideration that making these people use a specific console or handheld in the cloud computing era is behind the times, has Nintendo considered releasing firmware or OS for other platforms?

Iwata responded that while Nintendo doesn't necessarily feel that the current game machine model will last forever, they also feel that for the time being, the notion of game hardware will not become antiquated and go away. "If you ask why we make game consoles, it's because we believe that 'offering experiences that cannot be done on other devices' is our life line. With that meaning, offering software for a multi purpose multimedia device is, for us, an area of work that we have least interest in." And driving the point across further, he said, "If we were to stop and do nothing, the current game system framework would probably become antiquated, but because we continue to offer new things, we don't feel at all that this will happen. We've not once thought things like 'we'll be behind the times, so we should enter social games.'"

On Taking the 3D out of 3DS

Some mainstream papers reported on this (even my local Mercury News!). In response to a question about the 3DS having an effect on kids, Iwata revealed that the 3D feature of the 3DS can be turned off.

Said Iwata, "This isn't limited to just kids, but we're aware one in some tens of people, including adults, have difficulty with three dimensional visuals. So, while the 3D image is a special feature of the 3DS, we won't force the player to use the 3D functionality. By making it so that the player can at all times play with [the 3D feature] off, we believe we can comply with those who have difficulty with the 3D view or those who are worried about their childs' eyes.

On the 3DS Target Audience

Someone suggested that the 3DS appears to target core gamers, going at odds with Nintendo's aim to expand the game population. "I see no foundation for that statement," responded Iwata. "We definitely do not feel that 3D targets heavy users. However, we have a feeling that, until you've seen something that makes you say 'Of course, when used like that, it's clearly a 3D game that anyone can play,' you can't be convinced, so we hope that you'll make the decision in the future when you've seen something solid."

On 3DS Development Costs

Will there be a jump in game development costs in moving from 2D to 3D? Also, will chips (for software storage) and software costs rise?

On the first issue, Iwata responded, "If a game is originally made as a true 3D space, you make the 3D image by drawing two lines, one matching the left eye and one matching the right eye, so converting a game that already takes place in a 3D world into 3D is not all that difficult.

"If you try to make something that's not in a 3D world into 3D, you'll probably have some cost. However, I don't really feel that there's any substance to that. Naturally, you won't make a game interesting by just making the visuals 3D. It's when you offer an interactive experience in the 3D visuals as part of a set with something that is interesting that you first have value as entertainment. Regarding this, there's still no foundation, and it's an area that requires trial and error. It is that trial and error alone that could see an increase in development cost. However, the trial and error is there for any development where you try to make new entertainment experiences, and not just 3D."

He also added that the costs for this trial and error phase can be kept in check by good management -- keeping teams small during this period, for instance, and increasing team size only when you have a foundation in place.

Regarding software prices and software space, Iwata said that he had no information to offer. Software prices are something that the third party makers decide for themselves, he added. This is an area that cannot be given specifics until some time has passed, he said.

On Surprises

Someone asked Iwata if Nintendo will have any other E3 surprises aside from 3DS. Responded Iwata, "I can't say if there will or will not be surprises. If, for example, I said, 'there will be a surprise,' there wouldn't be any meaning, as everyone would be disappointed because of anticipation being exceedingly high."

On Rumors

The same person who asked the question about surprises asked if Iwata had heard all the talk about 3DS requiring high end hardware in order to produce proper 3D visuals with high-enough resolution and no drop in framerate.

Iwata said that he wouldn't respond to rumors. However, he added, "When we made the 3DS, we wanted to make it into a platform that would attract a wide variety of things, from high end games to extremely casual games."

[Note: To clarify, by "high end" here, I meant "high level productions," as opposed to simple casual games.]

On Falling Wii Sales

Someone pointed out to Iwata that Nintendo's plans for the current fiscal year call for lower Wii hardware sales.

Responded Iwata, "The target of 18 million units that we gave for this term is itself a high target when you consider that four years have passed since the system's release." He also noted that Nintendo will have to now appeal to a tougher audience -- people who did not react immediately after being showed the types of play that the Wii offers.

The 18 million target represents a relatively safe forecast. Explained Iwata, "If, in the games that we release this year, one were to make it big -- explode like we hadn't expected, it is, of course, possible that we'd exceed last year. However, making announcements of earnings forecasts on the basis of the assumption of such an explosion would be irresponsible for the management of a public company."

In response to a separate question about Nintendo possibly limiting its resources on Wii and instead placing focus on the system's successor, Iwata said "We are in no way thinking 'the Wii is near the end of its platform cycle so we will limit our investments." He noted that, although it's not common, it's not totally unheard of for a system to become active after having reached its apparent peak. He pointed to the Game Boy, which was said to be "finished," until Pokemon came around and lead to the system's true peak.

On the 3DS Name

Someone asked if "Nintendo 3DS" will remain the final name. Iwata responded, "We've said that it will be released during this term, so the announcement of the formal name will not be too far off."

On the 3DS Announcement

I believe Nintendo's odd choice of timing for the 3DS announcement was previously discussed in the mainstream media, but someone brought it up during the Q&A session. Iwata gave some background into the decision behind the announcement's timing.

Nintendo wanted to show the 3DS at E3. However, they wanted to make it so that software from companies other than Nintendo could be shown at the event. This, of course, meant that they'd have to speak about the primary features of the system to people outside of Nintendo. In Nintendo's experience, when they expand the circle of knowledge, the information begins to spread out in ways that they cannot control. For the DSi and DSi LL, there was no need to expand that circle of information because the basics of the packaged software was unchanged. However, for the 3DS, new software has to be made, thus requiring information to be shared in advance.

On the possibility of people holding back on a DS purchase due to the 3DS announcement, Iwata admitted that this was a possibility, particularly in America as the DSi LL (XL in Japan) was still due out for release at the time of the announcement. However, he doesn't feel that there will be a big effect, as the people who are now buying the DS are people who would more leisurely go about buying new product rather than the kind of people who will rush out and buy the 3DS at launch.

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