Nintendo President Saturo Iwata spoke yesterday at a Japanese marketing event (Japanese source), revealing information about "virtual console" pricing and the Wii’s relationship with the DS. Iwata revealed that games for Nintendo’s "virtual console" that will allow Wii owners to play old titles on their consoles will be priced at ¥500 and ¥1,000, roughly US$4.50 to US$8.99. For reference, classic retro games for the Nintendo GameBoy sold for upwards of US$35 for some titles, US$19.99 for others. Uptake was understandably low, as gamers were reticent to pay that much for old content.
Retro gaming may prove to be a big boon for Nintendo. Microsoft’s Xbox Live Marketplace has already captured the attention of many gamers with games costing 400 to 1,200 Microsoft "points," which translates to US$5 to US$12.50. Nintendo’s pricing is roughly competitive with Microsoft’s, but the ability to launch with a massive library of retro games could easily overshadow Microsoft’s service, which has been anemic in terms of new titles since launch (though we wait in anticipation for Paperboy, Contra, and others). Are gamers more likely to buy Zuma for US$10, or Majora’s Mask?
Iwata also talked about ramping up production of the DS Lite from 1.6 million units a month to 2 million. Demand for the system in Japan has been near insatiable, and with a June 11 launch in the United States, the added production will hopefully keep the system on store shelves so it can take advantage of the success of the New Mario Bros. and Brain Age. The system has been a license to print money for Nintendo, with ten games in Japan that have already sold over a million copies.
Iwata talked up the Wii’s capabilities in terms of DS connectivity, including the ability to share demos and the fact that the DS could also be used as a touch screen controller for Wii games. He also hinted that future DS games will be able to be played on the Wii, with added or expanded content as a teaser.
Downloading DS demos via the Wii is a nice touch, but not that surprising. Being able to use the DS as a touch screen for the Wii, however, offers up the possibility of being able to use the Wii to play DS games on your television. The GameBoy Player was a successful product for the GameCube, allowing gamers to play their GBA games on their televisions, and if the Wii features such an ability, Nintendo has a better chance of converting DS gamers into Wii owners.
From the picture Iwata is painting, it’s clear that the Wii is designed to profit not only from new games sales but also by working closely with the DS, and placing an emphasis on inexpensive classic games purchased online. It’s hard to underestimate the worth of Nintendo’s back catalogue, and the addition of classic Sega and Turbografx titles adds considerable appeal for gamers who cut their teeth on Nintendo’s early consoles.
Unfortunately, we still don’t know when the Wii will launch or how much it will cost. Iwata said the launch date and final pricing for the Wii will not be announced until September.
Update: other sources are claiming that Iwata only spoke about about "new" games, and that by this he meant games not yet in existence. We understood his comments to be about games "new" to the virtual console service, including classics.