Nintendo’s Iwata Hopes the Wii U Will Steal Back Couch Time From the iPad (Part 1)

Nintendo’s next console is not just about playing games, but will act as another screen in the living room that will compete against laptops, tablets and phones for a consumer’s spare time spent on the couch.

Here’s the first part of my interview with Nintendo’s Global President Satoru Iwata from E3, where he discusses — through an interpreter —  the successor to the original Wii, called the Wii U.

He not only tells me that the devices have higher-end components, capable of displaying hardcore games, but that the controller’s 6.2-inch display will attract a very wide audience of people looking for a casual way to connect to the Internet.

Stay tuned for the second part of the interview, where Iwata explains why Nintendo will continue charging for its games and not get caught up in the the frenzy to release free-to-play games. (Update: Here is a link to the rest of the interview.)

Let’s get started by talking about the Wii U. What does it accomplish for the company?

We consider the Wii U the next step for the Wii … By that I mean, the mission this time is that we would like to transform the relationships between the family, the video game and the Internet into a new shape. Many things can be changed with the introduction of the Wii U into the household, especially how video games want to be played, how people are going to watch TV, and how the relationship with the Internet and family members will be changed.

The Wii U represents a big shift from casual and family-friendly gaming that Nintendo is known for to hardcore gaming and first-person shooters.

In the case of the original Wii, our intent was to extend the gaming population, but of course we needed to think about how we were going to motivate non-gamers to play with video games, so we came up with Wii Sports and Wii Fit, as well as how the Wii system was designed.

For example, in the case of our products, approximately 50 percent of our users are a female audience, the other platforms are around 30 percent.

So, the Wii has already achieved very impressive things, but there were two things we were not able to realize: We could not keep up with the hardcore gamers and the Wii original was not compatible with HDTVs.

This time around, Wii U is compatible with HDTV, so we now expect the Wii console to be as powerful as any other console and all the necessary buttons are there [Iwata holds the new controller and demonstrates its use].

When we approached the third-party publishers to tell them about the Wii U, all the publishers volunteered to make advancements in the field of shooting games that they are very good at. For example, ordinarily when you are playing a shooter type of game, your main TV screen is the battlefield; however, oftentimes you have to open a new window to select items or weapons or to see the entire map.

But you don’t have to do that anymore with Wii U because you’ll have a screen that will show you that information.

But this is just one of the roles. It will also have another mission, as well. By having another screen, we believe it will pave a new way in the opposite direction to attract the non-gamers today. It’s no denying that we’ve expanded the so-called gaming population, but there’s still a number of people that have yet to be interested in the Wii at all, even after we introduced them to such applications as Wii Sports and Wii Fit.

Even those people, we want them to utilize Wii U one way or another.

For example, there’s video chat or they may want to do Web browsing while watching the screen on the big TV and managing operations with the screen in your hands.

For the past decade or so, many attempts have been made to link the TV and the Internet, but so far, nothing has been popular. So, the PC is still the strongest device to take advantage of the Internet, and now increasingly smartphones and tablets.

The ordinary TV sets in the household are located 10 feet away from yourself, and so it’s not the optimal solution to see the small letters of the Internet. You may also have problems with inputing and browsing.

On the other hand, when you look at this controller, it’s one foot away from your eyes — it has almost the same distance of the PC and other smartphones. In other words, this device is capable of handling such activities for you to input the letters in the palm of your hands.

In the future, if the TV and Internet can be used together, the TV will have a remote with a screen — and it will look very similar to how the Wii U controller is today.

So, the Wii U is the TV remote of the future?

Yes.

While on one hand we are trying to reach out to the hardcore gamers, we are also trying to make something that can be used as the TV remote of the future. The point is we are trying to reach out to both directions at the same time with the Wii U.

So, do you see the audience continuing to be 50 percent women?

A number of the videogame genres will be for male audiences, and the male audiences will increase, but on the other hand, this device is capable of many other things. On this device you can see video streams of Netflix, or you can use in conjunction with the TV. Regardless of the gender, you may want to use it … Our hope is it will be equal number of males and females who will be interested in this device.

After you announced the Wii U, I wrote that you are competing for time spent on the living room couch — whether someone is using their laptop, or using a tablet to Skype, or playing a game on the phone. Is this a response to trying to take couch time back?

I think it’s an accurate and acute insight into the situation.

Our mission is to try to shorten the distance between people and gaming, and in order to do so we tried to remove any possible barriers. If you like to play console games, you have to do so on the TV and you have to change the TV’s input and other things. We wanted to remove even these barriers. One of the ways to take advantage of that is to get access to some game-related information [on the Wii U's tablet]. It’s competition for couch time.

Once again, even though, we used a system that caters to the needs of the most skillful players, we are also trying to reach out to the people who are not interested in video games.

I think that we have been able to reduce a number of issues with this.

Because the Wii U can always be on?

Yes.

Photo Credit: Nintendo.

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