"In the spirit of collaboration and openness that defines the DICE Summit, one of the most developer-dense conferences in North America, Nintendo VIP Reggie Fils-Aime invited a small group of videogame writers to lunch at the Red Valley Ranch Casino's Il Fornaio restaurant. It was a chance to ask him questions in an informal, roundtable format, but he actually started off by interrogating us.
"Why do you come to DICE?" he said, before the water glasses were even served. "What do you like about it?"
According to the responses, there's a lot to like. More one-on-one time with developers and publishers; less crowd, less noise, and no games, because the focus is really on vision and concepts in game development, not on products. Reggie listened to us all carefully, assessing our responses, until he was asked what Nintendo's plans for E3 were.
"It's a challenge," he admitted. The booths are laid out and designed now, although he didn't give specifics. But they are prepared to give playable demos of Nintendo's next-generation console, the Revolution. The innovative controllers will be secrued against theft, and the monitor-mounted technology that lets gamers point at images onscreen will be shielded so that attendees won't accidentally set off events on their neighbors' screens. I think it's safe to say that they've also thought of how to control the enormous lines of eager gamers, too.
The whole lunch, which lasted nearly two hours, seemed to be a sign of a new current of openness in Nintendo. It felt like a dormant dragon was finally waking up, stretching and getting ready to join battle. Reggie coolly assessed his opponents, Sony and Microsoft, frankly admitting their strengths, and probing their weaknesses. Of Microsoft, he acknowledged the superb marketing they had pulled off on drumming up the demand for the Xbox 360, but hinted that perhaps it had backfired because of lack of units. Game developers would want to wait to release games, he said, until there were more consoles out there in the hands of gamers. The discussion then turned to Sony's PSP, since the DS -- and especially the new model, the DSLite -- was still on Reggie's mind. Reggie pointed out that whenever he saw people playing PSPs he asked them what they were playing -- more often then not, Reggie said the response was that they were watching a UMD movie. Nintendo's vision, of course, is that gamers want first and foremost a great game machine; everything else is secondary.
That is definiely a key component of Nintendo's party line, and although Reggie was open to discussion, he stayed "on message," as they say, about Nintendo's philosophy. "What's more important, gameplay or graphics?" he demanded of us. Everyone in the room agreed that gameplay was important; however, there are many examples of mediocre games that sell on the basis of looking "cool." That brought Reggie to another question. "If you're in marketing, how do you sell the next Super Mario World to a jaded, 14-year-old raised on GTA?"
That question is the crux of Nintendo's next marketing message, which no doubt will come more clear in the weeks leading up to E3. Nintendo has proved, with games like Brain Age and Nintendogs, that they are actively seeking out new gamers, new consumers to convert into fans of their products; Nintendo is also tirelessly promoting the ways that their new hardware can enhance and expand the boundaries of what we think of as games. But they also realize, deep down, that in order to truly succeed they have to capture the core gamer, that archetypical 14-year-old for whom Mario is ancient history.
Will they? "
Well in my opinion, Nintendo needs to get their commercials right this time. Right away they need to show that they mean buisness with the Revolution, and that means NO guys dressed up in Mario outfits dancing around like they are on Barney. I think you would agree.