Nintendo’s President Expecting a Strong Holiday and Says What He Really Thinks of Zynga

Nintendo is seeing some of its biggest consumer demand this year in the weeks leading up to the holiday, resulting in record sales of its Wii, the 3DS and games, too.

That’s in spite of Zynga, the rising star of social gaming, garnering much of the media’s attention last week, when it raised $1 billion in its initial public offering.

In November, Nintendo’s portable handheld, the 3DS, had its biggest single month of sales, representing an increase of more than 215 percent over the previous month; it has now sold nearly 2.5 million units since launch.

The Wii had its biggest Black Friday ever, with more than 520,000 units sold — six years into the console’s life.

The Japanese company also set a software record. Super Mario 3D Land, which was released Nov. 11, is now the fastest-selling portable Super Mario title in U.S. history, and Mario Kart 7 was the fastest-selling Mario Kart game.

In an interview with AllThingsD at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Redmond, Wash., Nintendo’s North America President Reggie Fils-Aime explained what’s driving strong holiday U.S. sales this year, and what’s on the horizon for the maker of games and hardware.

He also left the door wide open for Nintendo to experiment with new business models, including free-to-play or subscription, although he questioned the long-term prospects of social gaming companies, like Zynga.

Here’s an abbreviated version of our chat:

AllThingsD: It seems videogame sales this holiday kicked off with a bang.

Reggie Fils-Aime: We had a strong Black Friday for both our Wii and 3DS business.

The time frame from mid-November until the end of the year is critically important to us, and is driven by a number of software and hardware initiatives.

For the 3DS, we launched Super Mario 3D Land in November. It had the fastest sell-through for a handheld Super Mario game. That gave us a lot of momentum going into Black Friday, and right after Black Friday, we launched Mario Kart 7, which ended up being the fastest-selling Mario Kart, as well.

Together, that propelled our 3DS business. We’ve sold through more 3DS’s in eight months time than the original DS sold in the first 12 months. Our handheld business has a lot of momentum right now.

But it took awhile to get there?

What’s interesting is that we had a very good launch. The first week sales [of the 3DS] were fantastic. The initial rush of sales was really strong. But what happened after that in the spring and early summer time frame is — that’s when sales slowed down a little bit.

It was driven by not having great first-party software, and we were late in bringing some of the online functionality to the 3DS, and that’s when sales began to fall.

That’s when we took drastic action to reduce the price, right after the launch of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. Our bet was to regain momentum and make the holidays strong. We are having a strong holiday.

A lot of retailers were concerned that we would see a Black Friday rush and then things would trail off after that. Is that what you are seeing?

We haven’t seen that. We have seen things accelerate as we’ve gotten closer to Christmas Day itself. We are anticipating this week, across all of our businesses, will be the strongest sell-through week of the year.

What about the Wii?

The Wii had a strong Black Friday, too, driven by strong retailer promotions. This was our sixth Black Friday, and it was the best Black Friday week we’ve seen to date, so we’ve had very positive results.

It’s driven by software, and in this case, a new Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It’s a game that’s been recognized by the gaming press to be one of the best games of the year.

The momentum continues for our Wii business, and sales are right on objective.

How does it continue to break records six years in? That’s baffling.

It’s because, even today, the Wii provides a family experience that you can’t get anywhere else. I love the stories I hear of grandparents playing with parents and with the grandkids.

Those are experiences that you can’t get elsewhere. That’s why we continue to break records. Plus, this holiday is the first holiday that it’s available for $149 or below. It’s reaching a whole new demographic that’s wanted to buy in, but couldn’t do it before.

And for consumers, there’s over 1,000 games that have been published, so the breadth of the gaming experience is extremely wide. The Wii continues to be the fastest-selling home console ever in the history of the gaming industry in the U.S.

Does that change as we get closer to the next-generation console, the Wii U?

The market is going to continue to differentiate based on the types of experiences that consumers want. As an example, if I’m the head of a household of a family of four, and my disposable income is $50,000 to $60,000, I’m going to continue to look at the Wii because of the software, and it’s a great entertainment device. For consumers who want to have the latest gadgets and have a higher disposable income, that’s for the Wii U.

We haven’t announced pricing or availability or any other details, but given the current pricing of the Wii, it’s not going to be there.

We’ve been very clear, the market is going to decide how long these products will coexist side by side. Our goal is to launch the Wii U and drive it into the marketplace, but it will speak to a different consumer than the one that is buying the Wii today during the holidays.

What about the other consoles? Both Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox are about the same age.

All of the competitors haven’t talked about what’s next for them, and given the investments they’ve made in their technologies, for them to move to new systems — at least on the same timing we want to move at — would probably be pretty challenging. But in terms of what they are going to do, when they are going to do it, you’ll have to talk to them.

What do you think of Microsoft’s move to make the Xbox the entertainment hub of the living room?

In the end, the consumer decides what equipment to have in the living room. The interesting thing we’ve found — because of the family entertainment we provide, and the inclusion of Netflix — the vast majority of Wiis are set up on the main TV in the living room.

Are you considering adding more content like live TV or movies?

If the consumer wants live TV, they can get it through the options they have today. We always ask the question, ‘What can we do that’s new and provocative?’ And we will continue to think of new and provocative experiences for the user.

I’ve spent the past week covering Zynga’s IPO. What’s your perspective on social gaming?

What’s the share price? It will be interesting when it breaks below $9 … I have a couple of thoughts on social gaming.

Consumers want to be entertained in a variety of ways, like watching TV or reading a book. The thing about entertainment — as consumers have a range of experiences — their desires for what’s new continues to be pushed out. So delivering the same experience all the time … consumers will move on.

So when I look at gaming experiences on social networks, there’s a variety of entertainment value. Some are strong, some are not. But in the end, how will they evolve? Doing the same thing over and over again is no longer fine.

Is that really fair when you have Mario Kart 7 coming out?

We continue to evolve the experience by providing a level of customization that’s new, or different ways to race with a sail and a propeller that allows you to drift under water. What we’ve done with Mario Kart 7, for some of the tracks, you can actually win when you go off the track, which never existed before. We’ve continued to make it more fun and add more enjoyment for the consumer.

You don’t see that innovation happening in social gaming?

The companies that will win in the social gaming space need to show an ability to provide the new and different experiences, and a way to monetize it. In the end, these are businesses that need to make money.

Is that your comment on the free-to-play model? Will you experiment with free-to-play?

I have two comments on that.

First, we make games for Nintendo devices, and that is a competitive advantage for us. You can only play Mario on a Nintendo device, so from that standpoint, I wouldn’t expect to see our franchises on other platforms, and I would argue Facebook is a platform.

My second point, on whether we will experiment with other forms of monetization?


How that comes about, or which ones we do first, that’s all experimentation that’s going on right now in our various studios.

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