And the Alarm Went "Wii U, Wii U, Wii U…"

There have some been some criticisms surrounding the new Nintendo console, the Wii U. I’ve seen complaints that they focused too much on the new controller, and glossed over the new console itself (seems valid, and something Nintendo has admitted to dropping the ball on). There are also other complaints that seem less valid, and a remarkable amount of press attention to Nintendo’s stock price dropping 10% after the announcement. The reactions to it seem fairly down the middle, with the dividing line basically coming down to those that got a chance to demo a unit in person thinking it’s an interesting device, and those that didn’t get to demo the unit thinking Nintendo has completely dropped the ball.

A New Console, Now?

You can find what specs have been published for the device from Nintendo’s website, so I won’t bother rehashing it here. The quick summary: beefed up processor, beefed up graphics capabilities, full HD support, all around decent specs for a modern console. It’s not a mindblowing leap forward, but that is not, and has not been the point. The point is that the cost of having the higher end graphics is finally low enough that they don’t have to sacrifice their target pricing model in order to compete graphically with the other consoles. So basically, they let their competitors take a significant loss on every console in order to support HD, and then once the technology had matured, caught up while having made a profit the whole time.

It makes sense that they’d put out the Wii U now. Look at their past development cycles:

  • NES – 1983 (Japan), 1985 (US)
  • SNES – 1990 (Japan), 1991 (US)
  • Nintendo 64 – 1996
  • GameCube – 2001
  • Wii – 2006
  • Wii U – 2012

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the trend here: Nintendo puts out a new console every 5-6 years. By contrast, we’ve heard nothing concrete out of Microsoft or Sony for a new console (and if so, it’s unclear what they would be adding), with as recently as a few months ago, Sony claiming the PS3 would have a 10 year product lifespan (it sound like they are no longer saying this, instead claiming somewhere between 8 and 10 years), meaning we can’t really expect a new console from either other major console company until at least 2013, more realistically 2014-2016. This all puts Nintendo in a great position by putting a new console out now.

What about their existing user base?

Wii U is backwards compatible with the Wii, so it becomes a no-brainer for consumers to upgrade. Easy migration plus a HUGE existing install base (86 million units, versus Microsoft’s 55 million and Sony’s 50 million). So, again, why not put out a new console now? Getting out of sync with the other console maker’s schedule is a good thing: less competition for consumer dollars, and games currently in development can ostensibly add support or the new console fairly easily (known architecture, and comparable specs to other consoles).

The Stock Drop is Irrelevant

Full disclosure: I do own some shares in Nintendo (a whopping 4 shares). That said: I don’t care what the stock price is. Nintendo is a dividend-bearing stock, unlike a number of other technology companies. As long as it continues to make a profit, the stock price is largely irrelevant to existing investors, unless they are the sort who feel the constant need to buy and sell shares (to which I say: go play with your IPO stock bubbles and leave long-form investment alone).

So considering the nature of Nintendo’s stock, why the hell is the gaming press making a big deal about their stock drop? It has absolutely NO relation to the quality or nature of the new product. Further, it shows a lack of historical awareness: it’s not uncommon stock prices to dip after a keynote — look at Apple. For years, even when they announced hugely successful products (that were clear to be successful from the start, no less), their stock took a marked dip immediately after.

Disruptive Technology is Called Disruptive for a Reason

It feels like a lot of the people complaining about this announcement are complaining for the sake of complaining. They don’t understand the new technology and its potential effects, or in rarer cases understand but disagree with the direction. A lot of those complaints were also levied against the original Wii as well, which then swept the market for the last 5 years, with a significantly larger install base than either competitor. Iwata’s 2006 GDC keynote discussed expanding markets and to not keep only vying for the same hardcore gaming market — this philosophy worked with the Wii, it worked with the DS, Microsoft adopted a similar stance with the Kinect to great success. Given all this, it increasingly feels like the complaints are coming from a small subset of people who are either resistant to change, or simply have a myopic view of the gaming industry and the shifting landscape of the market.

Here’s something to think about: the gaming news media is comprised of people who love games. Its why they chose that field. Don’t you think that this love of how games are now or have been, might bias their views on what could shift or change the gaming industry?

A Wii Little Bandwagon

There has been a considerable uproar about Nintendo’s choice of name for their new system in the days following its announcement. I’m not going to get too much into the reasoning or opinions about the name, since those topics have already been addressed ad nauseam by most of the web. Instead, let’s look at some of the facts surrounding ‘Wii’. First of all, love it or hate it, everyone is talking about this new system, which is a marketing coup that is hard to ignore or downplay. This buzz is also mere days before the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), where they have scheduled a major press conference to announce further details about the console, meaning additional time in the media spotlight.

What’s particularly interesting, however, is that they also used this buzz to gloss over their announced release date, which is apparently not until Q4 of 2006, which was covered by only one major gaming news outlet. This will be confirmed and properly announced at the E3 press conference, but it’s still interesting. It is also worth noting that even amid all this attention, Nintendo has still remained tightlipped about the technical specifications of the system. They are, in essence, generating an unprecedented media buzz over a system that no one knows much about — we know that it uses an innnovative new controller, and that they’ve opted not to pursue High Definition with this console generation. That’s about it. There’s been no gameplay footage to speak of, though there have been several high profile companies signing on to develop for the Wii, and they even had a prototype mockup in a locked display case at their booth at the Game Developer’s Conference this past March. There has been a not insignificant amount of speculation about the specifications of the machine, but Nintendo themselves have been quite tightlipped about it.

I must say, I’m rather impressed by this little gambit. Satoru Iwata gave a keynote at the Game Developer’s Conference about disrupting the industry, and from the looks of things, that’s exactly what they’re aiming to do. My vote is more power to them: we need to shake things up a bit, and show that there is more breadth and depth to games and what games are than is commonly accepted today. There’s more to that than simply deconstructing what came before, just as there must be more than just a new marketing campaign. To borrow a trendy slogan, it is not enough to Think Different. We must also Do Different. Nintendo is certainly showing signs of putting deeds to their words, and I only hope that it proves to be true.

Nintendo Keynote

This has proven to be a delightful keynote. Iwata has a very dry sense of humor that works very well with his thick japanese accent. The topic is about disrupting the market, much in the same way that Pepsi did when it diversified into snacks and alternative drinks (sports drinks, water, et cetera).

Some of the comparisons are interesting… the PS2 sold 6 million worldwide units in 21 months. The GBA sold 6 million in 20 months. The DS did it in 14 months. Nintendogs sold 6 million units in a year. Brain Training has already sold over 5 million units collectively, and hasn’t even reached a global release yet. (It’s worth noting that the Nintendo booth at the expo has DS lites running Brain Age, which has proven to be great fun.)

He discussed the process of developing Brain Training, which was a small team personally produced by Iwata, working with developers new to game development. I think this is awesome, and encouraging both for working with Nintendo in some role.

Iwata then brought on one of the developers of the localized version (Brain Age), who is demonstrating the game. It’s fucking fantastic — I’m REALLY looking forward to it now. I also think Mom would love this game, though it would mean she would need to get a Nintendo DS (not a bad option). They brought up some people who hadn’t played it before (including Will Wright), and had a brain age competition, which was fantastic fun. The neat trick is that it actually does help you train your brain into functioning better.

Really, the main point of his keynote is that it’s not enough to just do what others are doing… take a chance and do something new, and you might be surprised. He’s also giving everyone who attended the keynote a free copy of the game!!!

From there, he’s begun talking about other parts of Nintendo’s plans. Notably, their networking service. Keeping it as seamless and simple as possible, to encourage the social dynamic of being able to focus on playing and chatting.

Then they showcased Metroid Prime Hunters… I’m impressed. The gameplay is slick. D-pad is movement, L button is shooting, and stylus is aiming (double tap to jump, use stylus to select weapon). I’m pretty impressed. The gameplay is arguably the best console adaptation of a keyboard and mouse control.

After that, he showcased a NEW ZELDA GAME FOR THE DS. It’s cell shaded like Wind Waker, looked damn fun. That’s coming out sometime later this year. While he was at it, he announced the inclusion of support for virtual consoles of the Sega Genesis and the TurboGrafx 16, operating like an “iTunes Music Store for Games”. All in all, it was a really excellent keynote, and I’m glad I went (and for more reasons than just the free game).