Nintendo redefined what was traditionally thought to be the video game console life cycle with the Wii. They focused on getting a fun and affordable system into people’s houses, with the concept of “play, not graphics” being the primary driving force. In doing so, they were able to jump forward into the console life cycle at the point in which mass market acceptance becomes high and barriers to entry are low. Everyone became an early adopter of the Wii; hardcore gamers, families, young professionals, middle aged couples, and everyone in between.
One side effect of this swift change has been the reduction in quantity of game releases aimed squarely at the hardcore gamer. While Nintendo initially did an excellent job releasing their stable of beloved franchises (Mario, Zelda, Smash Bros, Mart Kart), since then we’ve seen a considerable decline in the amount of notable core game releases from Nintendo. E3 was a prime example of this, as Nintendo failed to deliver the excitement and promise of new games to get the hardcore excited. They did, however, acknowledge that these titles were being worked on. Recently, there was an article in Edge magazine about how Nintendo would have these core titles ready in approximately 2 to 3 years. But if the Wii software cycle started off toward the middle of what we’ve come to know of the conventional product cycle, does this mean we should expect these games on the next Nintendo console instead?
The rumors and speculation about an major upcoming Wii redesign are actually very plausible. Nintendo could still draw upon the incredibly popular Wii branding, perhaps naming the next console “Nintendo Wii Plus” or “Wii HD”, to keep the strong mainstream mind share alive. And just like the jump from Gamecube to Wii wasn’t a monumental jump forward in graphics, this redesign could continue this tradition, using multicore technology and the Bluray format, at a point when such hardware is much cheaper. It could easily include hardware-based backwards compatibility with all the existing Wii software and maybe even support the current controllers and peripherals as well.
Much like Apple redesigns everything every 18 months, Nintendo could attempt to shift the “paradigm” of what we consider to be the console life cycle, with most consumers being none the wiser. After all, why try to “win” the console war between Sony and Microsoft, when you can start a new one every 4 years and laugh yourselves all the way to the bank every step of the way. Let the competition get side tracked with their escalating arms race, while you become more mainstream than either of those two companies ever imagined.
Nintendo didn’t redefine the concept of a console life cycle, they just started off by jumping forward toward the end. Although Sony’s Playstation and Playstaion 2 set somewhat unique precedents in establishing the “10 year life cycle”, this hasn’t been the case for either Nintendo or Microsoft, who both transitioned quickly to the next system with minimal overlap. Even Microsoft recently admitted that lower priced consoles sell better, so why deal with those initial few years of diminished profitability when you can cash in early?
The problems facing this strategy are that consumers have little reason to buy a new product unless it’s offering something new; whether it be a new type of experience (motion control, online gaming), more advanced technology (Bluray, HD visuals), or perhaps some new gimmick we have yet to even see. Perhaps the solution is in only pushing graphics forward every other generation. Whatever the case may be, the incredible gameplay experiences are why we play games. I say, let the game developers worry about designing great games that build upon the established graphics engines they’re already familiar with. Hopefully, we can one day get the medium to a point where the content and canvas are separate.Tags: microsoft, nintendo, sony, wii