E3 2008: Nintendo Press Conference

July 17, 2008

This year’s Nintendo E3 briefing confirmed a few things that I was hoping were on the horizon as well a few things that I really wasn’t expecting. The briefing started with Executive VP Cammie Dunaway telling an anecdote about a recent snowboarding trip that resulted in a broken wrist. She used this story to introduce the forthcoming Shaun White Snowboarding for the Wii. Shaun White Snowboarding takes full advantage of the Wii Balance Board and was developed with extensive input from Shaun. Shaun White Snowboarding is being developed by Ubisoft and will be released as a Wii exclusive by the end of the year.

Nintendo President, Saturo Iwata, then came on stage to talk a little bit about the paradigm shift that we are seeing in the gaming industry. Instead of short term sales for software, we are seeing some titles that are selling very well year after year. Games like Brain Age, New Super Mario Bros, and Mario Kart DS are doing immensely well even well after their initial release. Iwata also said that long gone are the stereotypes that it takes a big budget title to captivate an audience. We are seeing a change by where small budget games with truly great ideas are beginning to make a splash and grab a big chunk of gamers attention. These are both due in large part to the change in traditional user base of these systems. Families, seniors, and even the female demographic are really beginning to increase their share of the overall user base in the industry. This shift will only continue as video games become another form of social interaction that helps to bridge the psychological barrier between gamers and non-gamers.

Imitation, while the most sincere form of flattery, can dillute the market as more and more products attempt to replicate the success of a ground-breaking product like the Wii and the DS. Iwata closed by saying that the goal is to find more ways to Engage the gamers, Enrich them, and use that to lead to an overall experience with more Enthusiasm.

The presentation shifted gears as we got a first look at the upcoming Animal Crossing: City Folk. AC: CF is the first Wii native title in the franchise that debuted on the GameCube so many years ago. City Folk changes the game with a persistent world that seems to carry on without you and expands the environment by including a city you can visit in addition to your own town. The city has all the amenties you’d expect to find including an auction house, beauty salon, and a host of stores. For the first time, your character can even wear a mask that makes them look like your Mii.

City Folk is also getting a major upgrade in the communications department with the announcement of WiiSpeak. Wii Speak is a community microphone peripheral that allows you to directly communicate with friends and family as you play City Folk. This simple add on drastically increases the social aspect of the game. Animal Crossing: City Folk will be available before year’s end.

NOA President, Reggie Fils-Aime, came on stage to discuss the sales figures that the Wii and DS are delivering and what Nintendo’s plans are to keep both of those devices on the forefront of innovation. With sales of both hardware and software sales way ahead of last year’s figures, I don’t think this is going to be a problem.

Next we got to see previews of 3 upcoming third party titles: Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Rayman Raving Rabbids: TV Party, and Call of Duty: World at War. All 3 titles are headed to the Wii with respective release dates of Holiday 2008, Fall 2008, and “Coming Soon”.

Shifting gears to the DS software revealed one major surprise in the form of the announcement of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for DS. Another game announcement is a sequel to the newly released Guitar Hero: On Tour called On Tour Decades. With the success that music games are seeing and the massive installed base of the DS, this wasn’t all that unexpected.

Cammie Dunaway returned to tell us a little bit about some of the other uses that are currently in development for the DS like checking flight or baggage information at the airport, looking up recipes in the kitchen, and one use that is currently up and running at Seattle’s Safeco field is the ability to order food directly from your seat. The DS is truly morphing from a portable gaming system into a true companion device.

As the presentation began to wind down, there were a few more suprises revelead as Nintendo released the Wii MotionPlus, Wii Sports Resort, and Wii Music. The Wii MotionPlus is a small device that plugs into the bottom of your existing Wii Remote to make it more precise. The Wii Remote will become so sensitive that it will be able to detect slight shifts of your wrist. One MotionPlus will be included with each copy of Wii Sports Resort, which was designed to make use of the new add-on. Additional units will be available for purchase for your additional Remotes.

Wii Sports Resort is a sequel to the Wii’s pack-in title that changes the game’s setting to a day at the beach. Included games include sword dueling, jet ski racing, and even a frisbee throw. Wii Sports Resort will be available in May 2009, which is when we also expect the MotionPlus to be released to retail.

The legendary Shigeru Miyamoto came out to introduce Wii Music. Wii Music is a first party title that capitalizes on the success of rhythm and music titles, but goes a different direction in that less emphasis is put on timing and execution. Instead, gamers mimick the movement of the instruments they choose and the game automatically selects the proper note. This allows gamers to pretend to play instruments without worrying about the timing and note selection of games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band. The drums were by far the most fun looking insturment available, but there will be over 50 available instruments to choose from.

Things concluded by revisiting the new marketing line: Engaged, Enriched, Enthused.

In all, it was a pretty good showing and we actually got to spend time with Wii Music on the show floor so I’ll have a Hands-On impression of that online very soon. Below are some pictures we took during the presentation.