Nintendo of America's Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Affairs discusses the past, present, and future of the company.
During a Nintendo press event in Seattle in early November 2004, Planet GameCube had the opportunity to sit down with Perrin Kaplan, a veteran executive at Nintendo of America. The following transcription of our interview was made from an audio recording, so please excuse the incomplete sentences and other quirks we all use in conversation.
Planet GameCube: The GameCube has been out for three years, and in May we’re going to start talking about Revolution at E3, right?
Perrin Kaplan: Mmm-hmm.
PGC: So what would you say…how’s it gone? What’s gone right, what’s gone wrong? How would you assess the way it’s gone up until now?
PK: Well, the GameCube launch was not as ideal as we would have liked, in that we…the launch itself was great, but then we unfortunately had kind of a lag period when we weren’t able to fill the pipeline with as many different products as we wanted to. But I think consumers were very excited and they got worn down waiting. And then we started working on getting a big, big library for GameCube, and there’s a lot to pick fro now. And the games are quite incredible. Resident Evil (4) coming out in January, still initially on our system. Metroid, I think is a really great game. And for every one of our products, life cycles don’t end overnight. There are millions of people still left to buy GameCube. So, we still have quite a bit of life left in it. And what we’re looking at now is not so much the hardcore gamers. We’re looking at a wider audience, the value purchaser, because the price of it vs. the power in the box and what kind of games you can get for it, it’s a pretty powerful deal, dollar-wise. And a pretty large library of software. So, we feel like things are pretty healthy still, and we’ve got a lot of bundles and promotions for the holiday that we’re going to be coming out with. So I think all these things bundled together will make a healthy holiday season and it will continue to be good. But it will follow the normal life cycle for a product.
PGC: Nintendo has from time to time focused on different features like GameCube-Game Boy Advance connectivity…a couple years ago at E3, the big thing was LAN, with Mario Kart and 1080 Snowboarding. Is Nintendo pretty much done with these features, is it moving on to other things, like the microphone?
PK: No, we’re not done with those features. Nintendo has actually settled into something that we’re quite comfortable with, we’re actually very excited about, and that is really what goes into DS, all the features it has. We are big, big proponents of wireless play, having people spend time in community that way. We are not big on charging people a monthly fee for it. But I thin DS is a great example of a lot of ways to play, and you don’t have to have more than one cartridge for some of the games. Nobody has to pay anything, and you can enjoy that kind of community. So we’re excited about that. So we’re excited about that. And then there are two kinds of wireless that come with the system. Microphone and voice activation is something that we’re very excited about too. So I think actually the DS encompasses a lot of the things you talked about, but I think, to answer your question, these things are here to stay.
PGC: Do you think these kinds of out-of-the-normal-box features, are they moving to DS now, and is Nintendo more interested in doing sort of normal gaming with GameCube?
PK: You mean will we see these features in GameCube?
PK: It’s hard to say. It really depends on what each of the developers wants to do with the game. That’s just Nintendo. There are so many things that can be done with GameCube, whether the complexity and creativity of Pikmin, to the absolute beauty of Resident Evil, where you’ve got smarter zombies and a whole host of other things. These other kinds of ways to play, we’re going to see Nintendo continue in that kind of innovation.
PGC: What is Nintendo’s reaction to the announcement of the PSP price in Japan?
PK: I guess Nintendo’s position is that we came out with a very aggressive price, $149. We’re very proud of that, we will be not losing any money by doing that, which I think isn’t the same situation with the other company. But really our focus is more on ourselves, the lineup that we have. We’ve got games in every genre, a pretty large library in the first thirty-five days of launch. The price is just astounding, the features are great. A whole lot of our energy is focused on doing what we are doing, and we believe we’re doing it right.
PGC: Do you think…
PK: I just want to know what you think.
PGC: What I think? Well, I think a lot of us Nintendo fans think that Sony’s being extremely aggressive with their price, and we’re wondering if Nintendo is planning to react to it with a different strategy, especially by the time PSP is released in America.
PK: You know, Nintendo owns 98% of this market, Sony’s not here yet. So there’s really nothing to react to. People are always saying, “What are you going to do about Sony?” I think you need to ask Sony what they plan to do regarding Nintendo. We’re just keeping faithful and staying focused and excited about this product. And then the GBA SP is doing really great with the price at $79, is quite good, and we’re selling a lot. Sales have increased up to 70%, so things are looking very healthy for us.
PGC: Are you happy with the current image of Nintendo in the American mindset?
PK: Well, I can’t read the minds of all the individuals. I do think…matter of fact, I though the election would go differently than it did, that shows you how I can’t read them. I do think there are a lot of different opinions of Nintendo, and some of those are based on people’s personal experiences with the company and not the actual product. I do think that there’s a definite perception that we build games that are only for younger (players), and that’s part of it, but 30% or so of our players are over 18, so we have a fair percentage. That is almost equal to our competitors. So I think some more of it is perception vs. the actual reality. That said, we are making sure that our marketing efforts are speaking to all the audience that is appropriate for each product. And focusing on today’s charts, we’re doing stupendously well, profitable business. We’re making sure that with the launch of the DS, that we’re speaking to some of the older players and remind them there are a lot of games that are for them, and a lot of them already know that, but we’re just trying to spread that out to the general population so they can understand it.
PGC: Is Nintendo still pushing the “three pillars” strategy?
PK: Yeah, it is. DS is unique enough to stand on its own. It is going to appeal to a different kind of player at the beginning. It’s got a different kind of price point. And the SP and Game Boy arena is huge and really strong. And then of course there’s console players. So yeah, we’re going to continue three ways. And portability has become a part of everyday life here, that’s why this whole third way of playing is being innovated. We expect portability in almost everything we do, where our laptops have extra battery life and what have you. So, these are two different price points, they have a variety of different games, even though they’re backwards-compatible, and they have slightly different appeal, so yeah, we think three pillars is good.
PGC: How is Nintendo dealing with the issue of some third-party publishers trailing off their support of GameCube as the system goes on, and then others that seem to support GameCube very well with exclusive games and then…
PK: Like with Resident Evil.
PGC: Of course.
PK: You know, working very carefully with them, communicating a lot with them, making sure they know that Nintendo is strong and very profitable, and that our plans for supporting GameCube are solid, and encouraging them in a variety of ways, whether it’s supporting them with their marketing efforts on the product…there are a variety of things that we can do and are doing. So, I think the perception of some departing is greater than the reality. We still work with the majority of the great licensees.
PGC: Okay. Thank you very much.