September 1, 2009

Stab in the Dark: Three Predictions for Gaming Hardware

Andy Goergen Says (remember folks, these are predictions...)
1. The next systems from Microsoft and Sony will be more geared toward the mass market, and feature less bleeding edge technology.

One doesn’t need to look far for an example of this strategy, it’s exactly the strategy Nintendo employed for their Wii, and it was wildly successful. The Wii was successful not only because it had the most unique controller, but also because it was cheap, easy to set up, and directly marketed not at gamers, but at everyone.

Sony and Microsoft are almost certainly paying attention to the way their systems have sold this generation in comparison to the Wii, and while they won’t stray too far away from their roots as core gamer centric, their next systems will be a modest improvement, and major refinement of what they already have on the market. The duct tape market is set to see all time highs as the current HD console producers ready themselves to launch systems that are stable, affordable, and appealing to the current Wii gamer. We’ve already seen how they are trying to attack that market with Project Natal and the Playstation 3 motion controller. That effort will continue into the next generation.

2. The next console system from Nintendo will be on par with the Xbox 360, but will not be as feature rich as current HD consoles. Virtual Console purchases will carry forward, but not Wii disc or WiiWare software except with specific, software coded exceptions.

On the flip side of the coin, Nintendo has the most to lose going into the next
generation of hardware. They’ve firmly established themselves the leader of the “gaming is for everyone” movement, and thus they will not launch a new system with beefier specifications until “everyone” is ready for it. Once HDTVs are far more standardized in homes than they are currently, Nintendo will unleash their next console, which will roughly have the same power as the Xbox 360, leaving themselves open to “last gen ports” of popular 360 and PS3 titles. By the time Nintendo launches the console, they will be able to solve the heating and size issues that the 360 has faced, and thus the console will be aesthetically similar to the Wii.

Nintendo will once again launch their system without massive storage, but will opt for an internal 16 GB solid state drive giving most users enough space for downloadable titles and content and game saves across the board. Game installs won’t be allowed or necessary to maximize this storage space. Like the Wii, the system will have an SD card slot allowing an additional 32 GB of storage space.

Nintendo will eat the cost of porting over the Virtual Console emulators so that users can play their VC games on the new system, however, games that rely heavily on the Wii hardware (such as WiiWare titles and Wii disc titles) will only be available on a case-by-case basis through software backwards compatibility. The controller will be similar to the Wii Remote, but with MotionPlus built in, and accuracy improved across the board. Finally, Nintendo will not launch this system until they can do it comfortably for $250.

3. The next handheld from Nintendo will take many cues from the iPhone, including multi-touch, finger-touch, and an emphasis on digital distribution.

Nintendo’s DS and Apple’s iPhone share many traits, such as an emphasis on get-in-and-get-out software that hooks you, as opposed to the PSP’s emphasis on mobile versions of existing console gameplay styles. Nintendo will continue their poaching of Apple’s style with their next handheld, which will seemingly take a major chunk from the iPhone playbook. Aesthetically, it will resemble the current DS, but with much larger screens and no indentation on the screens, similar to the iPhone’s current aesthetic. The bottom screen will have multi-touch, no style control, and both screens will be able to simultaneously deliver low-end Gamecube caliber graphics.

One of the biggest departures from Nintendo’s current DS will be a much stronger emphasis on digital distribution via WiFi. At launch, all titles will appear simultaneously on game cards as well as on the WiFi store; going forward, Nintendo will debut games earlier in the digital format, and even release occasional exclusives as WiFi-only titles. Third parties will more or less follow the same model. Only the most mass market games will be released in stores. Retail stores will sell download vouchers and are encouraged to run sales on these vouchers to keep consumers from staying out of the stores entirely. The system will have 8 GB of internal memory to store games, which will be expandable via micro SD to an additional 32 GB of storage.
As with their next generation console, Nintendo will not launch this product until they can do so comfortably for under $200.