Interview: Nintendo UK GM David Yarnton

By Patrick Garratt, Wednesday, 19 January 2011 22:33 GMT

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Following today’s confirmation of dates, “launch period” line-ups and pricing for the European and US versions of 3DS, Keza MacDonald went toe-to-toe with Nintendo UK chief David Yarnton on all aspects of the announcements, including a refusal to set a European price, the vagueness of the software schedule and how Britain will get a “fair allocation” of launch stock.

VG247: How do you think it went today?

David Yarnton: I think the guy from Capcom commented that it’s the middle of nowhere, it’s cold and it’s a shed in an industrial wasteland. You arrive and you go, “Oh my God.” But once people got in and presented and people got the product, you could see the excitement. We’re pretty happy with it. The product, I think, does its own talking.

How do you feel about communicating the 3D to people? Obviously, there’s a problem with adverts on TV, and such, that you’re just not going to be able to show that wow factor. How are you planning to get around it?

It’s a difficult concept. Really, it’s hands-on. As much as you can paint a picture and describe it, people then have a perceived notion in their minds whether or not it is as you say. But I’ve seen people when they’re playing Metal Gear Solid there, walking through the jungle, and Snake swings down from a tree and they jump back. People can’t believe that a handheld can do that. But we’ve got huge sampling campaigns planned for the UK. Our estimates, and we’re always pretty accurate with our estimates, is that we’ll probably have 500,000 sample 3DS by April.

It that going to be mainly point of sale?

No. It’s a combination of in-store, we’re doing consumer events, and we’re also doing some sneak previews for gamers as well, so we’re looking to give them an opportunity to get in early and try it out right round the whole country, in shopping centres as well, in malls and various other events where there’s lots of people. To get that number of people in the time, we’re got to be everywhere, pretty well. In retail we’re going to have a lot of sampling too.

Is this going to be your biggest launch?

I think by the nature of it being 3D, it’s got to be big in terms of getting to people, to show them, to get them to pick it up. That does take a lot of work. DS was a big launch for us; Wii was a big launch for us; we see this as being our biggest launch yet.

Why didn’t you announce a price today?

We don’t set the price.

But for other launches you’ve at least announced an RRP?

We think that the retailers will set it. Retailers are already putting prices up.

Yeah. It only took a couple of hours.

Yeah, it’s £220, £229, something like that. It’ll vary. We don’t really have any control over it. There’s not much point putting a number up that we can’t control.

The US announced a price, though?

Yeah. Different rules for different countries.

It must be difficult being pan-European as well.

Yeah. That’s the other thing. What price do we drop? Sterling? Euro? But on top of that, we can’t set a price. So we don’t.

Why did you have simultaneous events for Europe and America?

I think it’s recognition that it’s such an important product. We wanted to make an impact on both sides of the Atlantic. It was just the opportunity to do it, to be able to stream it; it creates a lot more hype.

Buzz?

Yeah, buzz. Much better word.

How was it decided which developers came to present their games today?

As the guy from Capcom said, it was the toss of a coin who came or not [laughs]. No, we wanted to be able to feature some of the products that are going to be on offer, so we wanted the guys that give their blood, sweat and tears along to talk about their creations. Obviously, with Ubisoft we’ve got a lot of support there, so that makes sense as it’s closer to home as well. We wanted to have a broad spectrum of products. I think we were pretty lucky.

The launch line-up still seems quite vague. Do we have a definite list?

We will have as we get closer. The big thing is that we’re launching globally, all within a month. I don’t think there’s any format holder that’s ever done that, to launch within one month all around the world. Obviously, logistically, everything’s being pumped out, and it’s a matter, even for the developers, as to what’s going to be ready at launch, what they’re going to do, and the timing of it, so we’re a little bit in their hands.

As we get closer we’re going to have a better idea of what’s there. But all the titles, 25-30 titles in the launch period, is the biggest support we’ve had for any hardware launch. It’s not that far away that we’ll be able to confirm dates and things.

What percentage of that’s first-party?

About 10-20 percent?

PR: I don’t know exactly.

Yarnton: We’ll get the details. When we get to E3 I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of other stuff that’s announced as well.

Do you think that 3DS is going to have the same spread of ages that the DS did, or will it have a more niche appeal?

We’ve got a very broad audience. With 3DS, it’s now not just a games machine. Because of the other capabilities, there are a lot of other people that may not have been interested in gaming, but may like technical type products, saying, “Hey, this is the best value 3D entertainment product you can get in the market.” So there’s a whole new audience we see there.

Then there’s the whole audience that already has a DS coming into the market as well, so it’s a stepping stone. Also, if you invested in a DSi, you’re going to be able to use your games on the 3DS. People will be able to trade up as well. We see them as sitting together, as they offer different things to different people.

So you don’t see 3DS as taking over the market DSi and DS Lite has built up?

Over time, who knows? I mean, I think we’ve got our hands full this year launching it. This year, we’re still running DSi and XL.

This is quite a new thing that Nintendo’s done, running quite similar, concurrent, non-exclusive consoles, like the DS, DSi, and DS Lite and XL, none of them excluding the others.

Well, if you look at them, they offer different things to different people. You’ve got people that maybe never, ever though that they’d want to play a videogame coming in with DSi, and now we’ve got 3DS which can leapfrog and offer developers and publishers opportunities to push boundaries. People are looking for something much more immersive, something much more challenging. There’s two spectrums, almost.

It’s still rumour, but we might be getting another big handheld in the next few months with PSP2. Will you see 3DS as being a direct competitor?

We have developed a product with content that will offer great value. If you go back to 2004, we launched DS with a touch screen, and people looked at it and were like, “Oh, that’s different,” and then Wii with Motion Plus. We feel we are innovating with 3D, so I think people will look at the product and find that it offers something completely different.

So you think it’s definitely different from [Sony’s?]

I don’t know. It’s about the opposition, so I can’t really make any comment about what they’re doing.

How you do feel about the developer making the joke about 3DS being Virtual Boy 2?

I think one of things with Nintendo is we try to be honest, and we’ve been lucky with some of our products as they’ve done really well. Some products haven’t done as well as we probably would have liked in the past, and sometimes it’s part of an evolution, where you’ve got to try things and you’ve got to experiment. With [Virtual Boy], it was the early development phase of 3D gaming and we were doing it so many years ago, and the technology probably wasn’t quite there as it is now. Now, we can offer more. I think we’ve got to be able to laugh at ourselves.

Why was it so important for Nintendo to launch 3DS within a one month period worldwide?

I think recognition of the market being so global. Also the fact we don’t want people to feel left out. I think it makes sense to try not to have it spread out so much.

I ask specifically because Nintendo of old was notorious for neglecting certain markets at launch. What precipitated this change over the last five years?

It’s a constantly changing world, and things are always going to change and develop over time. Our company has grown and developed. I think our capabilities have improved from the past. We’re not a huge company, so to try and do something like this is an improvement. I think hats-off to our company on being able to do this sort of thing within a window of four weeks. Time will tell whether we can cope with it or not, but I think the numbers we’ve been talking about coming from Mr Iwata will be some very solid numbers, at least 4 million for launch week. That’s a good number to start with.

How many units are you planning to ship in the UK?

We’ll get a fair allocation of stock. Early indications, talking of retail, I think we have a pretty good number. They always want more, but we’re looking very much at pre-sale being important so that we can monitor demand early, because you just can’t just turn the tap on. If you launch a product on day one, and don’t have pre-sale set, and it goes really well, you can’t just react quickly and turn the tap on and produce. You have to have a reasonable lead time for production, so, when people get in early and pre-order, that’s gives us a good indication for what we need to come to market.

Can you give me a ballpark figure for pre-sales?

No, haven’t disclosed those. We deliver on a regional retail basis, and retail is reasonably happy, and as pre-sales come we’ll be doing more restock and allocation. But more importantly, we want to be sure we’ve covered those who’ve put their deposit down.

You mentioned earlier about the idea of getting it out there so people can start testing it out. You said you were going to have some kind of road trip. I think you said February and it’s out only a month after that.

That kicks of February 5, but we’ve a number of different sort of road shows planned. At the end of this month we’re going to be looking at sending some out to our retail partners to get all their staff up to speed with it – get them some hand-on experience. We’re looking at specialist game events which is something we haven’t done in the past, so we’re looking at events there. So, we’re looking at about 500,000 people by Easter being able to sample it. To do that, we’ve got to do all sorts of things, shopping centers, and malls. We’re looking at some really specific areas and interactive kiosks in stores as well. So, even though it’s March, we’ll have lots of activity going on behind the scenes.

This has been building up for some time now.

I’m really surprised. We’ve just come off peak season, and this event has taken a lot of time organizing, but we’ve got a couple of hardware launches under our belt now, especially Wii. I mean, people were able to get their hands on it, and it was so important because people didn’t understand the concept. But once they picked it up and started playing, you saw people smiling and having fun. They sort of got it. So, we have a lot of experience doing that and being out there. We’ve already got a lot of programs in place we can roll out and escalate.

What do think is the key launch title?

There’s many different titles, and each is a personal thing, so I think there’s going to be different titles that appeal to people in different respects. Personally, I was a big fan of Nintendogs early on. I’ve always been a big fan of that. I remember once, on my way back from Japan after having seen it for the first time, I was mentioning to the guys in the office about Nintendogs and they were all like, “What?” and, “You’ve got to be joking.” I said, “It’s a really cute concept, and you’ve got this dog you can pet.”

And later on, we got samples of it in the office and you would hear all these people whistling and calling, “Here boy, come on,” and you’d go, “Hey, what’s going on?’ and they’d be like, “Oh, oh, nothing.”

And I think it’s sort of the same thing with Nitendogs now, is that even though you’ve got a plethora of fighting titles and all these other ones, I think Nintendogs still appeals to even the hardcore gamers because of the graphics. I’m not too sure about petting cats. I mean, there are cat people out there but I’m more of a dog person. But that’s going to be very good. And obviously Pro Evo. There just such a broad offering out there. I think Resident Evil: The Mercenaries will be interesting, too because I can see some of those Resident Evil people playing it and getting scared [laughs].

There’s been a lot of talk about region-locking. Obviously, region-locking is only relevant to a tiny portion of people who are going to buy 3DS, but could you tell us why it has to be region-locked from Nintendo’s point of view?

If you look at different territories, there’s sometimes different content as well, and on top of that we’ve got, say in Europe, PEGI as a ratings system. The system in Japan is a different one as well, so maybe some of the games are more relevant to different areas than some. I can’t tell you exactly, but some of the downloadable content may be available in some regions but not another. If you look at DVDs, they’re region-locked as well. A lot of it is to do with the downloading side of things as well.

So a lot of it has to do with content partners as well?

Yeah. Just look at BBC archives. You can’t get it some places. It is going to be launched globally, but having to get all those different hurdles. Plus with 3DS becoming much more online and with SpotPass and StreetPass – all these sorts of aspects that are being offered, you can’t offer the same for a different territory.

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