Nintendo's Reggie Finds Natal 'Ironic,' Talks Facebook, Virtual ConsoleS

In an interview with Kotaku, the president of Nintendo of America discussed the Wii's new motion-control competition, and an array of topics that included some E3 rumors that didn't come true: Wii Netflix and DSi Virtual Console.

Reggie Fils-Aime was his usual confident self during Kotaku's interview with him in a Nintendo meeting room this past E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Fils-Aime was proud this time of, in his words, "a holiday with content that speaks directly to the core Nintendo fan."

He was one E3 removed from many Nintendo fans' least-favorite Nintendo moment of the Wii era, the 2008 E3 media briefing that focused on more casual gaming experiences and was capped with the non-hardcore Wii Music. No regrets from Nintendo, of course: "Last year we focused on Wii Music, and that is a title that's very important to [Nintendo's head of game development, Shigeru] Miyamoto," Fils-Aime said. "And for all of the criticism, it's still a title that on a global basis has sold over two million copies."

This year Fils-Aime could talk about Wii Fit Plus. But he could also talk about New Super Mario Bros Wii, the surprisingly deep gameplay of Wii Sports Resort and even a new Metroid game, Other M. ("As fans will see, 'Other M' has a number of meanings, which we'll reveal in the coming months.")

But this being E3 2009, even with Reggie Fils-Aime, our most urgent topic of conversation had to be the buzz-building Microsoft Project Natal.

"We have been very familiar with that technology," Fils-Aime said of the hands-free camera-and-sensor tech Microsoft debuted for the Xbox 360. "I have personally seen a lot of iterations of similar technology. Our first reaction is that it is ironic that, three or four years ago, the prevailing industry opinion was that prettier pictures or more horsepower were the waves of the future. And now it's clear from both of our competitors that physical activity in gaming is the wave of the future. It's also ironic that, for Nintendo, the future is here. The future is now."

Fils-Aime said that it is too early to judge whether Natal — or Sony's new motion control technology — will be a success. Such a question can only be answered when the projects' launch software and prices are announced, he said.

And could he see Nintendo doing a Natal-type technology of its own? "We have pioneered many interface options that people take for granted today," he replied. "We've looked at similar technology and will continue to look at other technology for the future. What's different, I think, for us, is that the experience is what drives us down a particular path, not simply how nifty the technology is… When we looked at this technology and other technology, we decided that the best way to drive immersion and precision as well as creating an environment for publishers to flourish was the Wii remote coupled with the nunchuck."

Fils-Aime and I kept most of our talk on business and broader topics, as Mr. Miyamoto and a pair of Metroid developers engaged most of our gaming questions during other appointments. For Reggie, I wanted to know about some platform initiatives.

One of the new initiatives to launch since my previous interview with Fils-Aime was DSiWare, the downloadable gaming services for the DSi. Nintendo posted a list of 15 upcoming DSiWare games and applications (read animated sketchpads and clocks) during E3, which follow the first month's worth of games and, well, clocks, released for DSiWare. Fils-Aime said that Nintendo is "very pleased with the DSi connection rate to the DSi shop," but he declined to offer any download stats yet. "Our expectation is that it will quickly grow to be robust just like WiiWare," he offered. "WiiWare today has almost 90 titles. Including greatly acclaimed titles like World of Goo and Lost Winds. We think our model of highly-polished, immersive, innovative experiences is the right model to have."

Leading into E3, it was widely discussed by the gaming media that Nintendo might announce a Virtual Console service for the DSi, which could include games from old consoles as well as old Nintendo portables. "I know there has been a lot of speculation, but we have no plans for that," he said.

Nintendo is moving ahead, however, with Facebook integration into the DSi. As announced at E3, the connection will enable DSi users to upload photos taken with the system's cameras to Facebook. It's not a service that connects to Nintendo's home console, a point of contrast from the Microsoft-announced integration of Facebook into the Xbox 360's Xbox Live. "We think it makes a lot more sense for the DSi [than the Wii] from two different standpoints," Fils-Aime said. "One: the portable nature of the device and that instant satisfaction that you get from something like Facebook. More importantly, because of the two cameras and the 10 different camera lenses [in the DSi], we think that's where the appeal is. For me to take your picture, blow up your head, blow up your nose, post it on my page, [and say] 'Ha ha ha, look what I did to Stephen,' we think that's just a lot more fun and that's the direction we'll go."

Another partner that has been discussed as a possible collaborator with Nintendo is Netflix, which enhanced its streaming arrangement with the 360 at this E3 with an improved integration of movie-watching and Xbox Live. The Wii had been pegged as another potential console partner for Netflix. "We have nothing to announce [as] a partnership from an online streaming standpoint," Fils-Aime said. "Should we go down that path we will do something different than our competitors."

The NOA president and I also discussed the Wii Vitality Sensor and game sales for the Wii and DS. More on those topics in future posts.