Page last updated at 09:13 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 10:13 UK

Taking the Wii to the next level

By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website, Los Angeles


Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata on the Wii's future

With 28 million Nintendo Wii consoles sold around the world it is no longer possible to declare its success a fad. But can Nintendo sustain its phenomenal momentum?

Nintendo's global president Satoru Iwata is humble enough to admit that even he had been surprised by the epidemic-like success of the Wii console.

He told BBC News: "It was so fast. We knew the Wii was the right direction for the company. But the question was always how many years it would take to find success."

The answer was two years. In that brief time Nintendo has dramatically altered its fortunes in the home console business, while at the same time maintaining, and even improving, its dominance in the handheld gaming space with the DS.

Play time

The change of fortunes began when Mr Iwata took over as president of Nintendo in 2002, only the fourth man to hold the position since the company was founded 109 years ago.

Speaking to BBC News at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) In Los Angeles, he said: "Five years ago when I was appointed I thought that if we didn't do anything but took the same route there would be no bright future for the entire industry.

"So we decided we needed to increase the number of people gaming.

We really want to keep surprising people
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata

"We started thinking about people who weren't playing games and asked ourselves why they were not interested. And why had some people stopped playing despite playing in their youth?"

The solution was not a rush towards a high definition games platform targeted at the hard core gamer but remembering the simple pleasures of playing with family and friends.

The Wii console introduced a mass market of gamers to motion-sensitive play, replacing the button-laden controller with a wand that could direct action with the flick of a wrist.

Within weeks of the Wii's launch people were taking their new console around to the homes of friends and family, and word of mouth quickly spread.

"It was so fast because those who appreciated the new attractions of Wii must have been those who used to play video games. And these people were telling friends and family about the console.

"People who first started playing with the Wii were so excited that they had to spread the news."

History lesson

The success came after the perceived disappointment of the GameCube, which finished its lifespan behind the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in terms of global sales, selling 22 million units over seven years.

Nintendo had tried to compete directly with Microsoft and Sony and failed.

GameCube controller, Nintendo
Nintendo's GameCube came a distant third in the console rankings
Its resulting and ultimately successful move was to realise that the market of people who could play games but were not was much bigger than the market of those already playing games on a regular basis.

"It was somewhat out of the boundaries of common sense for the time," said Mr Iwata.

"From the perspective of people from outside the industry it might have looked like a gamble. But I do not think it was a gamble at all."

One of the original criticisms of the Wii at launch was that the underpowered machine would increasingly suffer in comparison to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as the machines went through their lifecycle.

But Mr Iwata dismissed talk of a console lifespan as nonsense and somewhat irrelevant.

"After all, the primary concern is not to let consumers purchase hardware but to enjoy software," he said.

Future fun

But that did not mean Nintendo was not already thinking about life beyond the Wii.

"However hard our software developers try to create new and unprecedented titles with great ideas eventually there will be a day when devs will say they have no more means with that hardware.

"That's exactly the time we need to introduce people to new hardware. We do want to be flexible about this," he said.

Snowboarder Shaun White demonstrates Wii game
Wii sports games will get a boost from the new add-on

"We just don't want to decide upon a fixed lifecycle of any platform."

Addressing another criticism of the Wii, Mr Iwata said it was a "misunderstanding and misconception" to say that the console was struggling to attract support from developers outside of Nintendo.

"The number of third-party titles for Wii is actually more than what is available for other platforms.

"And in the initial launch platform period for any platform, the third-party software titles for Wii are outselling any of the third-party titles for other platforms."

Nintendo remains the home for some of gaming's most enduring franchises and icons, from Mario to Zelda and the success of the Wii has ensured they will remain part of the landscape for some time to come.

But there were no details of any new Mario or Zelda titles given at the recent press conference held by Nintendo to highlight its plans for the months ahead.

"At this E3 we had to focus on software for the mass audience and software that will be sold in this year or next.

"This one of the rare opportunities to reach out to mass audiences around the world.

"In order for us to create a new Super Mario game or Legend of Zelda game that can cater to the strong demands of core gamers around the world it takes two to three years."

While its competitors battle to become the multimedia hub for the digital living room Nintendo is determined to continue on its course of "putting smiles on people's faces".

He said: "All we have got to do is carry on. People are going to get tired of new proposals. We have to offer them new proposals before they do.

"We really want to keep surprising people," he said, then added: "It's not easy at all."

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