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What's Eating at Nintendo? George Harrison of Nintendo discusses where the GameCube went wrong and what they're doing to lead the next generation.
No console seems to generate as much emotion among the gaming populace as Nintendo's GameCube. You either love it or hate it, and - especially if you're on a message board - you will defend your opinion to the bitter end. That's the way it's always been for a hardware maker that's historically unafraid to blaze its own trail in the marketplace. However, there's also no denying that the little purple system has more pressing issues than Internet flame wars - hardware sales are lagging behind the PS2 and Xbox in the U.S., third parties are giving less support to the system, and even Nintendo's top franchises of the past aren't selling the millions they used to.
George Harrison, senior vice president at Nintendo of America, isn't afraid to admit that his company made mistakes. In this interview with Electronic Gaming Monthly, Harrison notes that Nintendo's concentration on first-party development hurt the GameCube in the early months after launch, putting them at a disadvantage against the PlayStation 2 and Xbox almost at the start. However, he's equally quick to note that Nintendo is not out of the picture yet - read on to see how Harrison sees the next generation of console and handheld systems will play out.
EGM: Our first question: Do you think the GameCube has failed in the United States? George Harrison: No, I don't think it's failed. I think we've had individual successes with things like Zelda: The Wind Waker and Smash Bros. and others. If there's a shortcoming for us on GameCube, it's not delivering enough consistent breadth and variety of software. That really is the key. Consumers, I think, are past the time when they buy a system just to get one game. We used to believe that was the case. But, you know, we're happy with the results of the drop to $99, and we think it's going to get the system into a lot more people's hands. We've found that consumers that own the system are buying a lot of software, though, so our issue is really how to attract enough people.
EGM: At the same time, though, a lot of the software people buy for the GameCube is Nintendo-made software. Has it been a problem keeping third parties happy? George: Well, we started about a year and a half ago to make a real, concerted effort -- not just within Nintendo of America, but a lot of the people at the top of the company -- to say that we really need third-party support. We can't do enough games ourselves to fill up the entire calendar year, but there are also certain types of games we aren't really good at, and where other people have franchises. So that's where you saw the effort with people like Capcom, LucasArts, Namco and others. They've really demonstrated some good results for us. We've tried to do it in unique ways, too; not always just with monetary support. We have provided them with marketing support in some cases. We've also done things like offer Mr. Miyamoto's expertise and cooperation in trying to help make the game better. As you saw in Soul Calibur, we've also offered the use of our characters -- they put the Link character in Soul Calibur, and in the early weeks the GameCube version was actually outselling the PlayStation 2 version, even though the PlayStation 2 has a much larger install base in terms of hardware. It shows us that there's a variety of ways to work, but certainly the importance of the third parties is not underestimated. While it's something we got started on belatedly with the GameCube, it's not something we're going to take our eye off in the future.
EGM: Why did it start so late? The third-party support issue was something that cropped up with the N64 as well. With companies like Microsoft entering the fray, that kind of support is even more important. George: Yeah. I think it's pretty clear. I think we are maybe …