By David Radd
If anything has been consistent over the past year or so, it’s been denials from Nintendo of the so-called “Wii HD.” Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime has said “there is no Wii HD” and later denied that a Wii successor was needed for the 2011 holiday season. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said in March 2011 that the Wii had yet to reach its limit. Yet despite these assertions, there are consistent rumours that the Wii’s price will drop to $150 before E3, setting up a Wii 2 announcement during gaming’s biggest convention.
Maybe Reggie was answering the questions to the best of his knowledge at the time or maybe he was wilfully avoiding the issue of a Wii successor – it’s not like he was under oath or anything. Regardless, it looks like Nintendo will be gearing up for their next home console soon. They’re not doing this because a Sony exec called the system a “babysitting tool” or because analysts are clamoring for it. Nintendo never moves unless they feel they have a good reason, and here are 10 such “good reasons” why Wii 2 is very likely in the pipeline right now.
10. Penetration of HD Televisions
Back in 2006 and the lead up to the release of the Wii, Nintendo revealed that the Wii would not have HD capabilities for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the first wag of the Wii is motion control and Nintendo was pushing that much harder than any graphical improvement over the GameCube. Secondly, HD output was not considered necessary for many of Nintendo’s games. Third, including such an option would have increased the cost to make the Wii, which likely seemed prohibitive back when the penetration of HD televisions was slightly below 20 per cent in U.S. households.
Times however, they are a changing, and as of May 2010 the Consumer Electronics Association estimated that roughly two-thirds of U.S. households have at least one HD television. There’s no precise data on how many gamers own an HD television, but I’d imagine it would be higher than the general population; at least 75 to 80 per cent. Regardless of the exact number, it’s an established technology now and maybe Nintendo thinks it’s time to hop on the bandwagon.
9. Looking at Greater Internal Storage Space
Gamers have gotten used to the prevalence of memory cards to backup data over the past 15 years or so. The Wii, however, takes care of this issue with half a gigabyte internal storage space, which is more than enough to save game progress… but increasingly insufficient for downloads. This limits the size of WiiWare titles and demos, eliminates chances for game installs, severely hampers possibilities for downloads and DLC, and makes fully downloadable Wii disc titles or movies out of the question. I’m sure some people are fine, some may even be happy, that some of those elements aren’t possible, but the fact is that room for extra downloads is quickly becoming part of the gaming ecosystem, and the PS3 and Xbox 360 offer more room for both than the Wii. It could be that Nintendo wants to have an expanded Flash Memory drive on their new system to facilitate more downloads, though that’s potentially expensive… it could be that Nintendo’s next system is their first to come with a hard-drive built in.
8. New Online Offerings
Barring some abortive efforts with the GCN and the Japan only Satellaview for Super Famicom and RandNet for N64DD, the Wii is Nintendo’s first truly online connected console. It can receive firmware updates and various messages sent from other Wii consoles. Users can also interact with various channels uploaded to the system and download new and old games from WiiWare and the Virtual Console. Yet, many gamers aren’t totally satisfied with what the Wii has to offer online, and part of this comes from the fact that there’s no persistent account… but there are friend codes. There’s no tracking of in-game achievements (which has become absolutely a necessity to some) and connecting with others for an online game in a non-anonymous fashion feels a bit cumbersome. Even Iwata himself seemed disappointed by some of the company’s download offerings – maybe their next system will enhance what they’ve already done.
7. They want to get third parties back on board
Third parties have always had challenges standing out compared to Nintendo’s strong first-party offerings on their systems, and the Wii hasn’t been much different. Looking at the top selling Wii games (a list completely dominated by Nintendo) the third-party games to achieve the most success are titles like Just Dance and its sequel, Michael Jackson The Experience, Guitar Hero III, Deca Sports and so on. We’ve heard developers describe the system as a nightmare for third-parties, EA casually called it a “legacy platform” like the PS2, and Sega even acknowledged thatMadWorld probably would have fared better on PS3/Xbox 360. After some abortive attempts to gain a foothold in the Wii market, most third parties are focused primarily on the Xbox 360/PS3 for their core titles – a cursory look at releases for 2011 shows much more support for those platforms than Wii. New hardware might give developers a chance to stand out on a new Nintendo platform and not start trying AFTER it becomes a success.
6. People Really, Really Want Zelda HD
Many of Nintendo’s faithful have been very understanding of the company’s MO this generation. It’s about the Wii Remote, Wii MotionPlus the Wii Balance board – that’s really been Nintendo’s primary focus for the Wii. All of Nintendo’s major titles for the Wii have made some sort of use for the motion controls; even New Super Mario Bros. Wii had you shake the Wii Remote to spin in the air. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword will probably make the most extensive use of the Wii MotionPlus yet, and give players the one-for-one sword control they’d been yearning for sinceTwilight Princess. All of that said… there are surely thousands if not millions who would like to see what Nintendo could do with a multi-core processor and a gig of video and system memory. People have always wanted to see the best technology has to offer, even in movies, from Star Wars to Return of the Jedi to Terminator 2 to Jurassic Park to Spider-Man to Avatar. The results from Nintendo could be truly breathtaking, like what Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was for so many people when they first picked it up in 1998, and fans would certainly clamor for that sort of detail – once they see it in action, they may think there’s no going back.
5. “Next Gen” Technology is Cheaper Now
The Xbox 360 and (especially) the PS3 were expensive pieces of equipment when they first released. Both exceeded the $300 limit (though Microsoft did offer the Core model right at that price) and they were both sold at a loss. Microsoft and Sony were both willing to take financial hits that added up to hundreds of millions of dollars, and Nintendo was simply unwilling to participate in that escalation. So they, instead, made a lateral move with hardware only about 50 per cent faster than the GameCube, but with motion controls as the main selling point and an attractive initial price of $250. The move worked out even better than Nintendo could have hoped, and it also put them squarely on a different track than Sony and Microsoft were on. The advantage of biding their time to launch a console that can go toe-to-toe with the PS3/Xbox 360 means that they’ll probably be able to make something both more powerful and at a very competitive price point and not take a loss on every unit.
4. Pressure from Kinect
Back when the Wii first launched, its motion controls were like nothing that had ever been seen in a mainstream console release. However, as Robert Frost once wrote, “Nothing gold can stay.” The motion controls of the Wii are no longer as unique as they once were, and there’s a new kid on the block in Kinect. Microsoft sold the promise of hands-free gaming as the next advanced step for motion gaming, and people seem to be buying into that. 8 million shipped in two months, with the 10 million mark reached in a half year, and most believe it’s only just getting started. With a shift in sales towards the Xbox 360 and away from the Wii, it might be time for Nintendo to show consumers something new.
3. Sales of the Wii are Slowing
For the first three years after launch, the Wii seemed to be an unstoppable juggernaut. Demand was unprecedented for the console year around, and it seemed nearly impossible to pick one up during the holidays save on eBay. Perhaps it was unreasonable to think that torrid pace would continue unabated forever, but the fact remains that Wii sales have slowed over the past coupleof years outside of the holiday season. While Wii sales have throttled down a bit, they’re still by no means horrible – they’re just no longer outpacing both the Xbox 360 and PS3. This might be the perfect time to launch a new console, before the Wii completely runs out of momentum. They might hit people at the right time for demand as well…
2. Some Consumers Might be Ready to Make the Change
The console cycle has traditionally run in five-year intervals; companies that have ignored this have done so at their own risk. Taking advantage of when consumers are ready to make the switch is a huge part of success in the console cycle. For instance, the Genesis was able to establish itself before Nintendo released the SNES in 1991, the original PlayStation had a head start on the Nintendo 64 before that system released in 1996, the PS2 had a year on both the Xbox and GCN and the Xbox 360 beat both the PS3 and Wii to market. Sony and Microsoft both seem focused on giving the PS3 and Xbox 360 10-year life cycles, and meanwhile that five-year mark has come and gone. The fact of the matter is, some consumers might be looking for something shiny and new; Ubisoft thinks that new consoles would shake the industry out of its doldrums and that the current cycle won’t last 10 years. That sure would favour Nintendo if they release something in the next year or two before Sony and Microsoft.
1. Nintendo Has An Idea Necessitating New Hardware
According to Nintendo, they will only release a successor to the Wii when they have an idea that they can’t execute on the Wii. Whether or not one believes this line of reasoning, Nintendo has shown under Satoru Iwata that new hardware, whether it’s the DS, Wii or the 3DS, has to bring something new to the table. I have difficultly imagining Nintendo releasing a Wii that does nothing better than the current system than improved graphics – there’s going to be some gimmick that either uses that extra power or is best distributed in a brand new system. One such rumour floating around is that the controller will have a built in HD touchscreen and camera that could possibly be used to download entire titles to play on the go. I have no idea if that is true or not, but it’s never really been done before (let’s not talk about attempts to make the Game Boy Advance a controller for some GCN games) and I’m sure something cool like that will define Nintendo’s next console as I asserted late in 2010.