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Nintendo says Wii U isn’t competing with Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4 as industry figure claims Nintendo will go software-only

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata hasn’t shied away from his company’s problems as of late. Since the company’s disappointing E3 2012 press conference in June, Iwata has defended the Nintendo Wii U home game console, the design of the impending Nintendo 3DS XL handheld, and discussed his company’s planned return to profitability with a surprising level of clear-headedness and transparency. His latest comments about the Wii U also demonstrate an impressive confidence from an executive whose salary was slashed just one year ago. According to Iwata it doesn’t matter that the Wii U is only as powerful as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It doesn’t even matter that Wii U will be the first new console to market. What matters is that people will like it.

In an interview with Gamasutra, Iwata continued to answer hard questions about his company’s future in the video game hardware business. Discussing Wii U’s arrival to retail, Iwata indicated that he doesn’t think its head start on Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4 is essential. All that’s important is the Wii U’s price and how it fits into a market dominated by mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad.

“Being first in the next generation race is not important at all. One of the reasons we believe this is the time for Nintendo to launch the Wii U is it’s going to be important for the world,” said Iwata, “The pricing of Wii U is going to be one of the most important elements when it is going to be launched. Wii U is going to be launching in a different environment than when the Wii was launched. Also, the involvement surrounding [mobile and social] businesses is different than several years ago.”

In regards to the console’s horsepower, Iwata is unconcerned about early criticisms. “Even when we were going to launch the Wii, there were a lot of voices saying ‘Nintendo should stop making hardware.’ The reasoning behind that was Nintendo would not have any chance against Microsoft and Sony. The fact of the matter was: I did not think Nintendo should compete against these companies with the same message and same entertainment options for people. We have not changed our strategy. In other words, we just do not care what kind of ‘more beef’ console Microsoft and Sony might produce in 2013. Our focus is on how we can make our new console different than [others].”

Despite Iwata’s self-assurance, many industry figures aren’t convinced of the company’s prospects. Bing Gordon, former EA executive and current board member of Zynga, thinks Nintendo is on its way to becoming a software-only company. Gordon told GamesIndustry International, “I think Nintendo’s already on track to become primarily a software company. It’s got the most robust business model, the best creative talent; Miyamoto’s still the best in the business. Apple’s most directly competitive with Nintendo. So far, when Miyamoto makes a perfect game, in his career he makes games worth $200—it’s worth buying a system for. I think the handheld is going to be under a lot of pressure. I can imagine a day when Nintendo wonders—and maybe it’s generational change—when Nintendo wonders if they ought to take some of their best games and make ’em apps.”

Nintendo has proven doubters wrong in the past. The Wii and Nintendo DS were profoundly successful after initially appearing to be foolhardy products. Time will tell on Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS, but Nintendo has far more to prove in terms of its adaptiveness to a market that no longer thrives on the sale of retail games.