Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Revolution

Ah, Nintendo. The beautiful woman with so many weird habits that you can't stand to date her.

So we know today why Nintendo was pimping the size of their ride, so to speak. Here's an excerpt from GamesIndustry.biz
(link http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?aid=8851):

The console is said to offer two or three times the power of the GameCube - a somewhat humble claim compared to the figures Microsoft and Sony have been quoting. But "It's not all about having 'turbo power'," Nintendo exec Perrin Kaplan is quoted as saying. "It's about what you do with it."

"We've built Revolution around the concept of 'all-access gaming'," Kaplan continues - meaning developers should find it easy to create games for the console, and all types of gamers should find something in it that appeals to them. "We're about sticking to the soul of gaming," Kaplan states.

What is that giant sucking sound?

This is what happened to Nintendo: it's less expensive to become a gaming company than it is to become a technology company. When two of the world's leading technology companies decided to become gaming companies, they were able to do it much faster than Nintendo could become a technology company (if they even wanted to). Over time, the gaming gap has been closed, but the technology gap is now huge. And with the announcement that the Revolution is 2-3 times as powerful as the Gamecube, that's the final proof that Nintendo, on the console hardware level, can no longer be competitive. With that estimated level of performance, I think it's fair to say that Xbox 360 is, at a minimum, four times as powerful as the Revolution, and the PS3 is at least eight times as powerful. Third party developers are going to leave skidmarks in the driveway. Just watch them.

I know that some of you will say "but Nintendo makes absolutely unique games that just can't be made by anyone else." Hooray. I'll play all four of them every year. But Nintendo's third-party support has steeply declined in the last five years. Without Capcom (Resident Evil, Viewtiful Joe), they have almost nothing that isn't already put out on the other consoles. Overall third-party developer support is more than twice as much for the Xbox or Ps2. That's over a hundred extra games a year for those systems.

I do like their statement that they're going to make it "easy" to create games, but that's a very vague statement that means almost nothing. Everybody is freaking out about how expensive development costs will allegedly be for the new consoles, but think about it for a minute--this happens every time a new console gets introduced. Game developers want to tack an extra ten or twenty dollars on the price of a game whenever they can, so they start screaming about how developing games for the new generation of consoles will cost "ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS."

Does it have to? No. Middleware and other tools developers have a greater financial incentive than ever to deliver powerful programs that will make the hardware more transparent to developers. Yes, games are going to be more expensive to develop, but it's not going to be exponentially greater or catastrophic or anything like that. Good companies will still make good games for a reasonable cost and make a profit. Bad companies that have no process control will make bad games and find that their mistakes are more expensive.

All right, back to Nintendo.

I see one strategy Nintendo could use to make this console competitive: price. If Microsoft charges $399 (I'm hoping for $299, but let's skew this in Nintendo's favor) and Sony charges $499 for their new console, then Nintendo has an opening. They could charge $149 for the Revolution (or better, $99), and maybe that would help them get some traction. In essence, give the console away to build a user base, then make money off the games. But the price delta is going to have to be significant, because it's going to be a much weaker console with far less third-party developer support.

At some point, somebody at Nintendo has to have enough courage to say that their innovative past has given way to strangeness that has no purpose. On the portable side, they're still doing well, but they would be far more successful as a company if they stopped making console hardware and just developed software for other consoles.

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