Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nintendo's next console

David Radd wrote an article titled Why 'Wii HD' Just Won't Happen, which argues that

At the end of the day, I think there will be a successor to the Wii console, and yes it will have HD capabilities, but it probably won't come for at least a couple more years, and it will add far more than a simple bump in processing power and resolution.
I couldn't agree more. While it's far too early to make any solid guesses about what Nintendo will imagine for a Wii successor (the very ambitious 3DS will command their limited attention for the next year or so), we can speculate about it's incremental and sustaining improvements.

Judging from the 3DS rollout, the next Nintendo console will:

  1. Drop hardware GameCube compatibility
  2. Retain Wii compatibility
  3. Retain Virtual Console and WiiWare compatibility
  4. Support HD output
  5. Incrementally improve online functionality
  6. Incrementally improve anit-piracy measures
  7. Do something completely unexpected
Given those postulates, we can infer the new system will:
  1. Support the Wiimote and have a sensor bar
  2. Include a disk drive
  3. Support transfer of Virtual Console and WiiWare titles from the Wii
  4. Include HDMI and adequate processing power for HD graphics
  5. Continue to include built-in WiFi support
  6. Be a shock when first announced

What strikes me about the above conclusions is that the physical proximity between the system and the TV will be more important than the proximity between the system and the player. In fact, if there were no need for a disk drive and a sensor bar, the console could be completely hidden from the user. I could easily imagine digital distribution could allow Nintendo to eliminate the disk drive as Sony attempted with the PSP Go, though properly managing game transfers would be a challenge. With care, such a system could dramatically reduce piracy while also eliminating the annoyance of changing physical media.

Another clue about how the company operates comes from an interview with Miyamoto:

Miyamoto: If you think for yourself about what's wrong with your idea, and you understand the reasons why it's no good and get a handle on the problem, then you're sure to be able to use that idea sometime.

Itoi: That's right. It's a waste if you just say, "Oh, that idea's no good," and forget about it.

Miyamoto: That doesn't lead to anything. That's why, while I used to tell people to store up ideas in a drawer, I recently suggest putting ideas that were no good into a draw[sic] with the reason why they were no good affixed to them. Like writing the reason on a label.


Itoi: So you can toss an idea in storage, but it stays alive.

Miyamoto: Yes, while I stay hung up on the reason it won't work. Then one day I realize I can take off the label. When there's momentum to take off that label, I suddenly get so excited that I can take off other labels too. Things that used to appear little negative were offset and showed no real bad effect.

Among the ideas that Nintendo has resurrected are the Power Glove (the Wiimote captures the basic premise of the controller), the Power Pad (neatly replaced by the Wii Balance Board), and the Virtual Boy (the 3DS promises to correct most problems with stereoscopic 3D). But there are dozens of ideas that have either failed in the marketplace or could be updated for the modern gaming environment. For your consideration, I propose the next console will include an update to R.O.B.. I know it's crazy. We don't need another piece of plastic cluttering up our living rooms. On the other hand, it's just the sort of out-of-left-field idea that Nintendo has made to work over the last few years.