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Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime on Wii U ‘stumbles’ and balancing nostalgia with reinvention – TechCrunch

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Nintendo is nearing its 130th birthday, and the company is once again in the midst of major changes as it embraces mobile platforms and online services. But Nintendo of America’s president Reggie Fils-Aime says that should come as no surprise: “We reinvent ourselves every five or 10 years. We have to. It’s in our DNA.”

In an interview at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle, Fils-Aime talked, in his immaculately Nintendo-promotional manner, about the company’s ups and downs over the last decade and what it took to get the Switch out the door.

“We focus on giving consumers experiences that they haven’t even thought of,” he explained. Anyone who has followed Nintendo for a few years certainly wouldn’t disagree — remember the vitality sensor? “By going down this path you create doubters. And we’ll be the first to admit that there will always be stumbles along the way.”

“The Wii had sold a hundred million units globally; the Wii U did not have that same level of success,” he admitted. That’s something of an understatement; the Wii U is widely considered something of a boondoggle, interesting but confusing and hugely outgunned by the competition when it came to what was valued by the rapidly growing mainstream gaming world.

“But in the words of one of our presidents — this is [Hiroshi] Yamauchi — when you’re doing well, don’t be excited by that high-flying performance, and when you’re doing poorly, don’t be sad. Always have an even keel,” he said. Not exactly catchy, but it is good business advice. The focus should be on the horizon.

And that’s where it was, despite the painfully low sales numbers and lack of third-party support. As he tells it, they just plowed ahead with new lessons under their belt.

“If we had not had the Wii U, we would not have the Switch,” he said seriously. “What we heard from customers was that the proposition of a tablet on which they could experience gameplay, coupled with the ability to play games on the TV, is really compelling. Users were telling us, ‘I want to play with this tablet, but when I get 30 feet away from the TV, it disconnects.’ The one point gamers all hate is the point where they have to put the controller down. So it was an important step for us to be able to deliver on this proposition.”

“When I first saw the embodiment of that system,” he recalled, “the hairs on the back of my neck raised up.” It was the same feeling, he said, that he had with the Wii Remote and the DS — both featuring technologies that people were highly skeptical of at first but proved versatile and compelling.

Touchscreens weren’t common when the DS came out, and motion controls weren’t common when the Wii came out, he noted. Both have since become mainstream — not entirely due to Nintendo’s success with them, of course, but it would be disingenuous to say that had nothing to do with it.

But while the company can rightly be said to be taking risks in some ways, in other ways it is uniquely stuck in the past. Its most successful franchises are well past a quarter of a century old.

As Fils-Aime sees it, however, this is exactly how it should be. Mario and Link are characters the way Mickey Mouse or even someone like Robin Hood are characters. New franchises like Splatoon can be established and cared for, but the traditional ones (though no one mentioned Metroid, predictably and unfortunately) should be recycled and brought to new platforms and generations.

Nowadays that includes mobile games, where Nintendo has been taking tentative steps in recent years.

Nintendo’s latest has been criticized for its unvarnished quest for players’ money.

“We see our mobile initiatives as a way to bring our intellectual properties and our gameplay experiences to a larger population than the tens or hundred million consumers that own a dedicated gaming system,” he said. “With Super Mario Run, we literally have hundreds of millions of consumers experiencing Mario, consumers in places where we don’t even distribute our gaming systems. Then maybe they buy that Super Mario t-shirt, they may eat that Super Mario cereal, they may buy a Nintendo Switch.” (Presumably imported.)

Here Fils-Aime’s comments rang a bit hollow, however. Nintendo’s mobile strategy has leaned hard on the “gacha” style game that massively incentivizes in-app purchases of virtual currencies and grinding levels to unlock new characters randomly in loot box style. This seems so far from Nintendo’s core mission of entertainment and so close to the current industry method of cash extraction that it’s hard to believe it’s what the company really wanted to create.

It does, as Fils-Aime said was the goal, allow them to be “effective” on platforms and marketplaces they don’t themselves own, and it does drive their “overall business agenda.” But it seems as though the company is still trying to figure out how to truly bring its games to mobile. Perhaps the upcoming Mario Kart game will be a better option, but it could very easily go the other way, as well.

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Apple details new iPhone features like door detection, live captions

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Global Accessibility Awareness Day is Thursday, so Apple took to its newsroom blog this week to announce several major new accessibility features headed to the iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac.

One of the most widely used will likely be Live Captions, which is coming to iPhone, Mac, and iPad. The feature shows AI-driven, live-updating subtitles for speech coming from any audio source on the phone, whether the user is “on a phone or FaceTime call, using a video conferencing or social media app, streaming media content, or having a conversation with someone next to them.”

The text (which users can resize at will) appears at the top of the screen and ticks along as the subject speaks. Additionally, Mac users will be able to type responses and have them read aloud to others on the call. Live Captions will enter public beta on supported devices (“iPhone 11 and later, iPad models with A12 Bionic and later, and Macs with Apple silicon”) later this year.

There’s also door detection. It unfortunately will only work on iPhones and iPads with a lidar sensor (so the iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro, or recent iPad Pro models), but it sounds useful for those who are blind or have low vision. It uses the iPhone’s camera and AR sensors, in tandem with machine learning, to identify doors and audibly tell users where the door is located, whether it’s open or closed, how it can be opened, and what writing or labeling it might have.

Door detection will join people detection and image descriptions in a new “detection mode” intended for blind or low-vision users in iOS and iPadOS. Apple’s blog post didn’t say when that feature would launch, however.

Other accessibility additions that Apple says are just around the corner include 20 new Voice Over languages, new hand gestures on Apple Watch, and a feature that allows game players to receive help from a “buddy” with another game controller without disconnecting their own. Additionally, there are new Siri and Apple Books customizations meant to expand accessibility for people with disabilities, sound recognition customizations, and Apple Watch screen mirroring on the iPhone—which gives Watch users access to many accessibility features available on the iPhone but not the Watch.

Tech enthusiasts often lament that smartphones (and personal tech in general) have become stagnant, without many exciting new developments. But that couldn’t be further from the truth for many people with disabilities. Google, Apple, and numerous researchers and startups have been making significant advancements, bringing powerful new accessibility features to mobile devices.

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Google Russia forced to declare bankruptcy after bank account seizure

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Enlarge / The Google doodle for Russia National Day 2016.

Google’s going… out of business?! That’s apparently the case in Russia. As Reuters reports, Google’s Russia subsidiary plans to file for bankruptcy after “the authorities seized its bank account, making it impossible to carry on operations.” Reuters has a statement from Google:

The Russian authorities’ seizure of Google Russia’s bank account has made it untenable for our Russia office to function, including employing and paying Russia-based employees, paying suppliers and vendors, and meeting other financial obligations. Google Russia has published a notice of its intention to file for bankruptcy.

A regulatory filing showed Google Russia has been expecting to file for bankruptcy since March 22. The division did $2 billion in revenue last year, but that doesn’t matter much when authorities take your entire bank account.

Unlike many tech companies that have abandoned Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, Google has tried to keep doing business in the country. Heavy hitters like Google Search, YouTube, Maps, Gmail, and Google Play are all still running in Russia. Google’s most important product, the ad platform, was shut down on March 3 in Russia after the Russian government started demanding it censor ads about the war. Over the next few days in March, the big four credit card companies all pulled out of Russia, making normal business transactions very difficult. Google cited this “payment system disruption” as the reason for shutting down Google Play paid apps.

It’s not clear how much of a presence Google will have in Russia going forward. Google has been accused of having a cozy relationship with Russia, and its behavior is an outlier over competitors like Microsoft and Apple, which both voluntarily stopped paid services in the country before the credit card companies pulled out. While Google enjoys a ~90 percent search market share in many countries, Russia is one of the few places it faces a viable search competitor; Google splits the search market nearly 50/50 with local tech company Yandex. That market share might explain why Google doesn’t take a tough stance against Russia—if it gets blocked even temporarily, there might not be a market to come back to.

The Russian government still wants to rely on Google for some services, though. The government said Tuesday it wants to keep YouTube running in the country, saying that a shutdown would harm Russian citizens. Like the rest of the world, there are no video sites on the same scale as YouTube in Russia.

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Microsoft previews a new, totally redesigned Outlook for Windows app

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Enlarge / The new Outlook client for Windows will unify the web and offline clients—when it’s done, anyway.

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For years now, Microsoft has been planning behind the scenes to unify its disparate Outlook clients across the web, Windows, and macOS. Today, that goal moved one step closer to completion with the introduction of a new Outlook client for Windows users that closely mirrors the interface and functionality of the Outlook web client.

The new app is available to Office Insiders in the Beta channel who have work or school Microsoft 365 accounts. Regular Microsoft accounts aren’t currently supported. This appears to be the same version of the Outlook client that leaked to the public a couple of weeks ago.

A unified Outlook client, also known as “One Outlook” or “Project Monarch,” will be an especially welcome change for Mac users. The Mac version of Outlook has always looked different from and been less fully featured than the Windows client, though the current situation is much better than the bad old days of Microsoft Entourage.

The new Outlook app will reportedly replace not just the current Outlook app but also Windows’ built-in Mail and Calendar apps. Those apps received minor updates for Windows 11 to bring them in line with its redesigned user interface but otherwise haven’t seen many functional improvements in recent years. The new Outlook app will run on Windows 10 and 11, but we don’t know whether it will replace the Mail and Calendar apps in both OSes.

The new Outlook app is still in early development, and as such, there is a long list of common mail client features that it doesn’t support. In-development and planned features that aren’t yet supported include support for IMAP mail accounts, @outlook.com accounts, offline use, use with multiple accounts, and support for working with .pst Outlook data files.

We may get more information on the One Outlook project at Microsoft’s Build developer conference, which runs next week from May 24–26.

Listing image by Microsoft

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