The advent of the next generation of home gaming consoles has officially commenced, with Nintendo announcing Monday the successor to its ubiquitous Wii.
The company said in a press release that the unnamed system will be revealed at the E3 gaming expo in L.A. this June, Kotaku reports, ending months of speculation that the Japanese company is packing up the motion-controlled wonderbox. The new console will go on sale in 2012, a full two years before the rumored release dates of new systems from competitors Microsoft and Sony.
The question is, will anyone care?
After shipping 86 million units (not selling, an important distinction that has been questioned before), Nintendo has fallen on hard times. Despite owning a sales lead of more than 30 million over both Sony and Microsoft, sales are now at their lowest point, and critics argue — rightfully so — that the Wii simply can't compete with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on a library-to-library basis. So Nintendo's answer is to send the Wii off into its twilight years, leaving you, the avid gamer, to figure out what to do with your scads of Wiimotes, peripheral attachments and sub-par games.
There are no other details provided about this system, rumored to be codenamed Project Cafe. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has said the company "would like to propose a new approach to home video game consoles." With a wide-open statement like that, 2012 could see anything from 3D to VR holodecks. Wait, no, scratch the 3D.
"It's difficult to make 3D images a key feature, because 3D televisions haven't obtained wide acceptance yet," Iwata told Bloomberg.
Indeed, 3D is a good metaphor for the coming next-gen of gaming consoles. While television manufacturers are pushing the format high and hard, it's failing to gain an appreciable audience, due largely to its cost and, I theorize, its lack of necessity. Even Nintendo's own 3DS handheld system update, released in the U.S. last month, isn't selling as the company had hoped, despite its nifty features and no-glasses-needed 3D screen.
The 3DS moved about 400,000 units in North America its first week, down from the 500,000 to 750,000 analysts expected, GameZone reports. What's more, the previous iterations, the DSi and DSiXL, sold 460,000 units in the same time period. Selling 3.61 million units globally since being released in February is hardly a disappointment for the 3DS, but it's proof that newer isn't always perceived as better.
A further complication is that the average gamer — who is 35 years old (and also prone to obesity and depression, I must note), according to a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine — may be reaching the age where early adoption of the latest gadget isn't the consumer carrot it used to be. Indeed, while children, teens and young adults with disposable income will always crave the latest and best game gadget, plenty of gamers will look at the next generation of consoles, shrug and think, weren't downloadable console software updates supposed to change all this?
The good news is that the seventh generation we are currently in will mark the end of the longtime industry model of all the major players releasing new systems nearly simultaneously. There have often been a year or so between when manufacturers release options, but by spacing Project Cafe's release as much as two years or more before its potential competition, Nintendo is telegraphing a complete and utter unwillingness (or inability) to compete head-to-head with technocrats Sony and Microsoft.
This is a positive for gaming, partly because it may alter the cycle of packing away old systems while starting from scratch with new libraries, but mostly through the eventual demonstration that simply creating a new system won't work if the Big Three doesn't put just as much time into building quality software support. Who cares how new your razor is if the blades can't cut close enough for the cost to be worth it?
This announcement is far from a magic bullet for Nintendo's business woes, since it's entirely possible gamers may decide the video game king really has lost its mojo. 2001's GameCube was a technologically inferior box that suffered from a lack of third-party support. 2006's Wii may, in hindsight, also be seen as a fad that soon lost its luster once people realized that 85 percent of the titles for it were shovelware.
What does this mean for Project Cafe? Well, you know the old saying: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; and fool me three times, I should have bought an Xbox.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.