PLAY'S THE THING: NINTENDO CHAIRMAN

CHICAGO -- The quality, content and experience of great video games will drive the interactive market into its "golden age," not new technologies, according to Howard Lincoln, chairman of Nintendo of America, Redmond, Wash. "The vast majority of consumers don't give a hoot about all the bells and whistles we put into these boxes. But they do care about the entertainment that comes out of them," said

CHICAGO -- The quality, content and experience of great video games will drive the interactive market into its "golden age," not new technologies, according to Howard Lincoln, chairman of Nintendo of America, Redmond, Wash. "The vast majority of consumers don't give a hoot about all the bells and whistles we put into these boxes. But they do care about the entertainment that comes out of them," said Lincoln during his keynote address to the Summer Consumer Electronics Show. The show, held here June 23 to 25, was marked by a dramatic decrease in electronics hardware exhibitors and strong interest in the interactive software products showing in McCormick Place's North Hall.

Many of the big players in the video game business exhibited. The notable exception was Sega, which entertained customers and the press away from the show floor. The major movie companies returned to CES with large exhibits staged by their new interactive divisions. Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony, Time Warner and Turner had a significant presence at the show. Because of the changing emphasis of the show, this was the last Summer CES. Next year it will become CES Interactive and be held May 11 to 13 in Philadelphia, about a week before the Video Software Dealers Association's convention in Dallas. VSDA also has been putting an increased focus on interactive products. During his speech, Lincoln departed from the negative rhetoric that has often characterized his company's rivalry with Sega and praised Sega for the gains it has made in the video game business. "Sega's Genesis is a solid competitor, not because of its 16-bit technology alone, but because of hit games like 'Sonic the Hedgehog,' " said Lincoln. "If you want to find the secret to Sega's increasing market share last year in this country, this is it: In 1993, they produced some great video games, and they did an excellent job of marketing them," he said. "I'm truly proud of the part Nintendo has played in building this business, and Sega also deserves a large share of credit for our industry's success," said Lincoln. But in the months leading up to the fourth quarter selling season, retailers and consumers will see a much more aggressive company, he said. "You will see the strength of Nintendo . . . You will see a new Nintendo," he said. "You will also find us more flexible, quicker to respond, perhaps a little bit humbled and certainly a lot wiser, but still a company which understands what is special about our medium," said Lincoln. The games business is headed into a "golden age," said Lincoln, because of rapid industry developments. He cited the ever-intensifying market-share battle with Sega, a new advanced-generation games system due soon from Sony, participation on the software side by many large companies like the movie studios and the growing popularity of computer products. He compared this to the golden age Hollywood experienced in the 1920s. "But unlike the movies, in our world, the audience doesn't just watch, it participates," he said. "The player acts the lead and writes the closing scene."

"It's not easy to create a great video game, and certainly no easier than creating a great movie. That's why there is only one 'Super Mario' and only one 'Sonic the Hedgehog.' "But when you get it right, the result is magic -- magic for the player and magic for the bottom line," said Lincoln. "Therefore, maybe the golden age of video games will surpass the golden age of Hollywood. Who knows?" he said. All the new companies entering the game business will help broaden the market, he added. "Their presence is a testament to the ongoing expansion of demographics of the game business to include larger and larger numbers of adults. This means an even larger market for video games in the years to come," said Lincoln. "So when I say that this may be the start of the golden age of video games, what I really mean is an age where our entertainment products are enjoyed by all audiences, young and old alike," he said.