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Friday, March 24, 2006 - Page updated at 03:15 PM

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Nintendo sure of strategy to do own thing

Seattle Times technology reporter

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Nintendo President Satoru Iwata is saving the big news about his company until May. That's when he is expected to reveal concrete details about the Revolution, the company's next-generation video-game console.

Iwata had very little to announce Thursday at his keynote speech at the Game Developers Conference. But he kept the crowd entertained with numerous stories about life at Nintendo, including how a series of brain-teaser games was created after a board member suggested making games for elderly players.

Iwata sat down with The Seattle Times after his speech for a wide-ranging discussion on the video-game industry and Nintendo's rivals.

Q: You mentioned iTunes in your speech. What do you think about Apple?

A: People think of Nintendo and Apple in similar fashion, like we are always trying to think in terms of the customers. Apple tries to think of what's the best way for people to use Apple products. And if those customers are not using Apple products now, what are the barriers and how they can remove those barriers.

Q: How is creating games today different than when you started?

A: Back when I just started making games, there were actually so many resources for us to make people surprised. But now, people in our industry have become so dependent on the advent of new technologies in order to surprise people. The industry has grown so accustomed to the past success formula. The message I really wanted to say today was, "Let's move on and make changes."

Q: The video-game industry didn't have a very good year in 2005. Why is that?

A: Some people say 2005 was regarded as a transitional year in the industry. I just can't agree with them.

I do believe we have to find new ways to entertain people. In the past, we have always tried to entertain people with more beautiful graphics and more gorgeous sound and whatnot.

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The industry still believes that's the only direction we can take in order to surprise people, but unfortunately people are bored already.

Q: Nintendo waited to get into online gaming because it didn't make money. Has that changed?

A: Some people say Nintendo hasn't been actively working on online gaming simply because it did not make the company any money. Nintendo was unable to explain fully our position.

The biggest point was not the money, but rather how many people are going to use Nintendo's online system. The thing we have always tried to tackle is how can we increase the participation rate.

We needed to have the appropriate circumstances for a great many people to play Nintendo games online. We wanted to have sophisticated Internet technologies, we needed to have a larger penetration ratio of broadband, we wanted to see hotspots in towns.

Now that the outside circumstances are ready, we thought it was much more realistic for us to increase the participation ratio of Nintendo online gaming.

Q: How does the Sony PlayStation 3 delay affect Nintendo?

A: Because what we are aiming at with the Revolution is much different from what Sony's aiming at with the PlayStation 3, I really don't think any changes in their schedule will affect Nintendo greatly.

We have never thought in terms of when they will make the PlayStation 3 available, but rather our hope is launching Revolution in 2006. In that sense, we really don't care what Sony is talking about with a launch delay.

When we launched the GameCube, my personal opinion is that we were unable to differentiate the GameCube from the PlayStation 2 enough.

When it comes to the Revolution and the PlayStation 3, because those machines are going to be so different, I don't think consumers will wonder which one they should choose.

With the Xbox 360 and PS3, I think there is a lot of similarity, so the delay of one product may affect the other party's decision and strategy. But that's not the case with the Revolution.

Of course we want people to own the Revolution first. We want people to understand Revolution is the must-have for them.

Q: So does Nintendo still compete with Sony and Microsoft?

A: In a broader sense, yes. After all, people may have some limited amount of money they can spend for entertainment.

We may be competing with any other entertainment company.

But in a narrower sense, no. With the information I have about Sony's keynote speech yesterday, my understanding is that Sony was trying to say it is going to do whatever Xbox Live can do, and that it can do much better than the Xbox 360.

Nintendo is trying to create some completely different value attached to our products.

Q: What are games you like that Nintendo doesn't make?

A: Whichever games [Sims creator] Will Wright makes, I like. His games can't be created by anybody other than Will Wright.

They give the player intellectual stimulation, and his games are always entertaining, but they never depend on excessive violence, killing others and whatnot. He's one of those very rare people who can make his own entertainment.

Q: How has the role of Redmond-based Nintendo of America changed over the years?

A: Nintendo of America itself is changing and evolving very rapidly right now. We are now talking about what to do with the DS, what to do with the Revolution.

The result is going to become more obvious by the end of this year.

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or kpeterson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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