"It's been a long time coming."
"It," in this case, is the Wii U, the new hardware with which Nintendo kicked off the next console generation today. Speaking to Polygon in an interview conducted an hour before the system's North American release, Bill Trinen, director of product marketing for Nintendo of America, expressed his excitement at the arrival of the launch; explained his view of the "driving concept" behind the Wii U; and acknowledged that the company has still "got a lot to do."
Out of the gate, both retailers and consumers are worried about Nintendo's ability to meet the high demand for Wii U hardware and software. Nintendo said in its latest financial report that it hopes to sell 5.5 million Wii U consoles worldwide between today and the end of its 2012 fiscal year on March 31, which isn't far behind the 6 million units the company forecasted for the same period in the Wii's lifetime.
"The fact that we're trying to match [the Wii] is, I think, a step in the right direction," said Trinen, who added, "Our goal, of course, is to manufacture as many as we can as quickly as we can." Scott Moffitt, Nintendo of America's executive vice president of sales and marketing, said earlier this week that more Wii U systems will be available this week than there were Wii units during that console's first week of release, which should help — at least initially. Yet Moffitt also cautioned, "I can't say that we won't have some shortages out there."
"Our goal, of course, is to manufacture as many as we can as quickly as we can"
As with any gaming device, maintaining the Wii U's sales momentum will largely depend on a continuous flow of quality software. Trinen called the system's day-one slate of 29 games "one of the strongest launch lineups for any console in I-don't-know-how-long," and pointed out highly anticipated first- and third-party titles coming in Nintendo's "launch window," which runs through March 31, such as Pikmin 3 and Platinum Games' The Wonderful 101.
Asked about long-term support from third-party studios and multiplatform games, Trinen affirmed it as vital to the health of the Wii U. "We've got to make sure that we're building Wii U to be a strong platform where people are coming to get that content," he said. Nintendo believes the hardware functionality and varied launch lineup will attract outside developers, according to Trinen. And it's also important for Nintendo to do the "initial legwork" — Trinen said the company's licensing department is in "constant contact" with third-party developers to see "what content they're working on and what content they can bring to our platform."
The idea, said Trinen, is to cultivate an environment in which third-party studios come to "[want] to bring their content to Wii U.
"I think it's gonna be a strong first year," he said, "and I think there'll be more to come after that as well."
Online capabilities are a major factor in facilitating third-party development on Wii U. Nintendo kept relatively quiet on the subject until very recently, and since the company didn't make the console's day-one firmware update — which enables online functionality — available to members of the press until yesterday evening, we weren't able to test out much of those elements before midnight.
"We've got to make sure that we're building Wii U to be a strong platform where people are coming to get multiplatform games"
Trinen was sympathetic to the media's perspective, but said the point was moot for consumers, since the patch was indeed released in time for launch. "If it's live the moment they bring the system home, that's what really matters," he said. (We'll continue to put the Wii U through its paces, and will update our review and score if we deem it necessary.)
He also implied that Nintendo's software engineers were working on the update until it was almost too late. "They're craftsmen," said Trinen. "And as craftsmen, they want to use every last possible moment to continue to make things the best that they can possibly be."
The Wii U's online functionality includes Nintendo TVii, which won't be available until sometime next month, as well as a suite of video-on-demand apps such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Trinen used those features to defend Nintendo's languid pace of revealing information about the console.
According to Trinen, Nintendo wasn't solely concerned about the "proper moment" to discuss any particular Wii U feature. The company had to decide which key features it needed consumers to understand and when, and then put together the appropriate content to explain those elements before actually doing so. He also pointed out that Nintendo followed a similar schedule of releasing information during the run-up to its previous hardware launches.
"We want Wii U to be a device that everyone in the house is interacting with on a daily basis"
Those key features are many in number, but Trinen put forth a twofold "driving concept" behind them.
"We are always looking at, 'How can we bring our ability to create fun experiences and apply that to something [...] in a way that we can make it fun, we can make it more convenient, we can make it more intuitive than perhaps it currently is?'" he said, characterizing that company-wide ethos as "unique to Nintendo."
More importantly, Trinen said that with the Wii U and its "broader offering" of networked services, Nintendo is indeed making a play for the all-encompassing set-top box.
"We want Wii U to be a device that everyone in the house is interacting with on a daily basis," he explained. "I think that's going to be sort of an evolving epiphany for people in the next few years."
Today's launch is the beginning of that journey for Nintendo — the company's first salvo in its nascent campaign for the center of your living room. "On the one hand, it's a relief," said Trinen of finally launching the Wii U. "On the other hand, you know, the work's not going to stop for us on November 19th.
"I'm excited, but we've still got a lot of work to do."