|The new Nintendo DS looks like a mini-laptop and has wireless connectivity and chat that makes it a mobile communications unit as well as a portable game system.
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The DS, which has the look of a mini-laptop computer and two screens that can either connect or show two fields of action, is the first device of its kind and has already generated major excitement in the broad world of handheld gaming enthusiasts. The unit offers wireless connectivity that enables gamers to effortlessly connect to either the Internet or to engage each other in spontaneous multiple-player games across the room or across the world. It supports chat messaging as well as voice recognition.
Nintendo has dominated the field of handheld gaming since gaining wide popularity with a Mario Brothers game. It sold 8 million of its current handheld GameBoy units in 2003 and expects to sell another 8 million in 2004. Sega attempted to compete against it but dropped away unsuccessfully. Now, however, Sony has created its own rival handset gaming device, called the PSP, and is expected to launch it early next year. Part of Nintendo's strategy with its DS pre-holiday promotional blitz is to gain ground against that coming Sony Challenge.
"PSP is essentially replicating the console experience," said George Harrison, senior vice president for marketing and communications at Nintendo of America. "The DS has two screens and the touch screen; the products are just different."
To that end, Nintendo will continue to offer its smaller, less-endowed handheld GameBoy unit as stand-alone line, using price and feature differences to carve out independent audiences. The DS retail price is $149, and the GameBoy Advance SP is $79.
Seeking wider audience
For Nintendo, the DS is a way to attract an even wider audience to the handheld video gaming party. While Nintendo's audience is currently a 60/40 mix of under 18 and over 18, respectively, it also attract a more male audience. With the more advanced and laptop-like capabilities of the DS, Nintendo hopes to attract older and maybe even more female consumers. For example, sports games haven't been popular on the one-screen GameBoy Advance handhelds; however, with the DS, games like EA Sports' "Madden Football" will show the players and action on the top screen with plays worked out and stats displayed on the bottom screen. Other launch titles include "Sims in the City," "Spider-Man 2" and "Ridge Racer." DS starts with seven compatible games; three more will be added before the holidays, and then ramped up to a total of 25 by end of first quarter 2005.
The DS became available for purchase at midnight Saturday, and online, TV and print ads created by Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, launched last week hyping the concept that "Touching is Good."
Nintendo also rolled out an innovative marketing platform for the DS, stressing brand-integrated customized advertising more than ever before. This included tongue-in-cheek "How to Score" advertorials in Dennis Publishing's men's magazines Maxim, Stuff and Blender; a DS day with the Comcast-owned cable channel G4techTV; and an MTV-only ad campaign in which the Wildboyz (of Jackass fame) play DS games on African safari with one in a tree and the other riding an elephant. Filming took an interesting twist, and Nintendo got a PR bump, when one of the lions scaled the tree and jumped on top of Wildboy Steve-O.
Jonathan Hoffman, executive creative director at Leo Burnett USA, also a game player and veteran of the Nintendo account, said, "The ad campaign succeeds on a lot of levels, but it begins with a very cool product. ... The notion of 'touching' the game for the first time [instead of just the device] is a nascent idea, and you can see how this is just the first iteration of that."