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Oh Nintendo, you wily, wily, tricksy sods. When will we ever be able to work out what you're up to? Just as soon as you think you know where the house of Mario is going, is always pulls the rug out from under you and reveals that it was actually heading in the opposite direction all along, and that in hindsight it was all very obvious and that you're basically a bit of a big silly-head.
The latest in its continued waltz of wrong-footing and subterfuge? The on-going drip-feed of ambiguity regarding its stance on the hardcore and casual gaming markets. A fan-baiting, old-school Nintendo message has been visible between the lines ever since last year's E3, and now with a new, probably fully-powered HD machine set for reveal at this year's show, there's yet another hint from Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime that this one might be for 'us'.
Speaking about the recently-announced Wii price cut, Reggie explained that $149 has previously been the sweet spot for boosting console sales, citing that "the leading system" last-gen (that's the PS2 for those of us not bound by company PR etiquette) sold 50% of its install base when sitting merrily within that price bracket or lower. The really interesting bit? His explanation of how he expects the Wii and Nintendo's new console to compete in terms of their respective audiences.
When asked what the point of boosting Wii sales is, with a new, supposed successor on the horizon, Fils-Aime explained:
"When we launch our new home system sometime in 2012 we think the consumer buying in will look very different than the consumer who's going to be buying a Wii now"
With the new machine strongly rumoured to be more powerful than an Xbox 360, that innocuous little statement suddenly becomes the touch-paper for a whole lot of excitement fireworks. And with Nintendo's E3 2010 conference having all-but ignored the casual market it has courted for the last few years, in favour of giving its core fanbase a big sexy game massage (not to mention the emphasis on core franchises when revealing the 3DS), that touch-paper is tied to a box of fireworks sitting right next door to a nuclear power plant.
But let's throw in a bit more context. Because, you know, context is fun. Nintendo's mantra this generation has been that casual gamers don't care about horsepower. It has also said that it won't release a new machine if it can't provide experiences that the Wii can't. If even half of the rumours about the new machine are true, then we're looking at a beast of an HD console that can provide the sort of experiences the Wii can't, by simple nature of having up-to-date technology. Nintendo knows it has partied with the casuals at the expense of the core fans who have kept it going over the years, and the extended nature of this generation provides it with the opportunity to pull some of that back, by putting out a 'current-gen' machine with lower production costs than in 2005, while still having enough time to make an impact.
So if Nintendo expects the Wii to continue selling (and it clearly does, in big numbers), and it doesn't believe that those buyers care about processing grunt (86 million sales to date proves that they don't), then why release a powerful new home console so soon? And who for? There seems to be only one likely answer. It knows it has a big market to recapture before the next Xbox and PlayStation arrive in a few years' time, and now has an affordable solution with which to do that.
Above: Note the lack of mums and grans in this launch night crowd. Photo via The3DSTribe
Reggie followed up his previous statement by explaining that early adopters think differently to the folk who buy machines later down the line, but that still only feels like half the story. If this new console isn't going to bring about an era of self-cannibalisation given such an overt plan of overlap, it has to be gunning for a different demographic. The PS2 might have lasted a good while into the PS3's life-span, but the two machines' audiences were very different by that point.
Do I think Nintendo's new console will be gimmick-free? No. It has to have something to differentiate itself from the two well-established HD power-bastards it's going up against. A head-on tackle just wouldn't make sense. But will it pander primarily to a casual market still happy with the Wii, a market which Nintendo openly intends to sell a whole lot more waggle-boxes to from this point on? A casual market which is already facing product over-saturation, having recently been courted very successfully by Kinect and Move? No. No that just wouldn't make any sense at all.
The more likely option? This new machine will not be a souped-up Wii. It won't even have the word Wii in its name. It will be branded, designed and marketed as Nintendo's alternative, complimentary home console and the distinct third leg of a new hardware tripod, standing alongside the Wii and 3DS. And while NIntendo certainly won't alienate any casual players who want to pick it up, it will provide a whole lot more for we of a traditional hardcore persuasion with this one.
Fingers crossed for E3, yeah?
Mat 05, 2011