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Sunday, November 13, 2005



"Nintendo's head of European developer business on the Wi-fi Connection Service, weird games and what's to come

As you've probably worked out by now if you're a keen-eyed reader, we were lucky enough to attend Nintendo's Gamers Summit in Frankfurt last week. While we were there, we had the opportunity to mess around with much of the company's diverse Q1 line-up, as well as road test Mario Kart DS against a bunch of US games journalists thanks to Nintendo's new Wi-Fi Connection Service.

The arrival of the service on 14th November in the US and 25th November here in Europe, alongside Mario Kart DS, marks Nintendo's first stomp into online gaming after serveral half-hearted attempts with various peripherals across the GameCube era. Unsurprisingly, it's simple to use and offers a nice sturdy gaming experience, just as Nintendo's repeatedly promised. With other games like Animal Crossing: Wild World, Tony Hawk's American Sk8land and Metroid Prime Hunters on the horizon for DS wi-fi, there's plenty more to look forward to too.

We caught up with Marko Hein, Nintendo's head of European developer business in a dark and noisy canteen somewhere in the depths of Nintendo Europe's Frankfurt headquarters to chat about the Wi-Fi Connection Service, its development and where the company plans to take it in the future.

Would you care to introduce yourself?

Marko Hein: My name's Marko Hein, I'm head of European developer business. I take care of all the developers across Europe, try to support Nintendo of Japan and Nintendo of America on the product acquisitions side and try to manage our relationship with developers to get them on board for Revolution and DS and our other platforms.

What's has been Nintendo's main goals from the outset as far as development of the Wi-Fi Connection Service is concerned?

MH: Nintendo has been criticised quite heavily for not providing online gaming and we always said online gaming is a very interesting concept, but we would like to make it as accessible as possible for gamers - with no subscriptions or other huge costs and no technical hazards for the consumer. Now, after years of investigation, I think we are confident we're at that point where we really can make online gaming accessible for all people, even if they have no technical knowledge at all, particularly without that need for further costs - that's very important for us.

What was the most difficult of those goals to achieve?

MH: First of all, getting the price structure right was difficult, but also investigating what we'd need to do to get everyone online: what type of hotspots we'd require if someone doesn't have wi-fi at home, what we'd need to offer in terms of technical possibilities if that was the case, and doing all the negotiations with all the hotspot providers. I mean, in the UK alone, we have 7,500 hotspots right from launch and we're having to negotiate with European hotspot providers to ensure we have that sort of coverage everywhere - as we've said, our goal is that everyone who owns a copy of Mario Kart should be able to join the online community to play with people all around with the world.

How long has the wi-fi service been in development?

MH: The idea has been there for quite a while now but we were looking for the most appropriate game to support the wi-fi and we discussed it with Mr Konno, the producer for Mario Kart, and he always liked the idea of having Mario Kart online and I think the players have cried for it. I mean, what was the next logical step for Mario Kart? We had it on the Super Nintendo, then in 3D on N64 and with LAN functionality on GameCube, so what is the next step? The next logical step is to play with somebody in Japan, America and so on.

It should be as easy as playing with the people beside you though, that was the idea of wi-fi. It means that local network playing is relatively easy, you switch on the console and select multiplayer then let's go. Wi-fi works in exactly the same way - you open the DS, select wi-fi and start playing with somebody straight away.

When would you say that Nintendo's plans for online gaming properly fell into place?

MH: Online gaming is a huge thing and we knew that it's a huge thing but there were too many hurdles up to that point. As we announced the DS, we were very clear that Nintendo was heavily considering this option, it was just the matter of time before all the infrastructure was set up. I think that we wanted to do our first test with the Nintendo GameCube but it never really kicked off because of the hurdles I was mentioning. We didn't want to do exactly what Xbox Live was doing with subscriptions and so on, we wanted to make it free and easy for consumers. Especially, with a handheld system, we wanted gamers to be out on the street or in Starbucks etc and be able to open their DS and play wi-fi. We thought that would be a stimulating and appealing option for consumers." [more]

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