Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wii 2 Rumors Explode

Probably not what the Wii 2 will look like.
It's all over the 'net today: Rumors about Nintendo's successor to the Wii. The Wii 2, Wii HD, or more probably, some other name entirely, has suddenly become a major topic on the game sites. The rumors point to some features: HD graphics output (a total no-brainer of a feature to add), and they are calling it more powerful than the Xbox 360 or the PS3. Which will be quite interesting, if true, since Nintendo has not been the horsepower leader in the marketplace since... well, it must be the N64 days back in the '90s. Raw horsepower can get expensive, though; will Nintendo really be willing to hit a high initial price point?

Supposedly the new console will be announced at E3 for a 2012 shipment, and it's being shown to industry leaders now. The new console is supposed to be backwards-compatible with the current Wii, and there will be a pre-announcement from Nintendo coming before E3. When queried, Nintendo gave its stock "We don't respond to rumors" answer. Check out the sources yourself here, here, and here.

This is NOT a coincidence, folks. Clearly Nintendo is finally letting a little rumor-mongering happen. They're floating a trial balloon, in a totally deniable way, to gauge reactions. It must have finally sunk in that Wii sales (and third-party support) are on an irreversible downward trend. Price cuts will definitely help boost sales, but at the expense of profitability. And even with a price cut to $149 (and eventually to $99) for the Wii coming (rumors say a price cut is coming in May) I don't see third-party support recovering. There are too many other places for publishers to invest their development dollars.

I'd say an E3 announcement of a 2012 release date for a Wii 2 might seem early, but it would be good for Nintendo to get some excitement rolling early. Perhaps they felt this was necessary given the less-than-stellar response to the 3DS in the marketplace. I think they were hoping the 3DS would be such a huge hit they could take their time with a Wii successor. Now that it's clear the 3DS will not, by itself, save Nintendo's profits, they are starting to leak out info about a Wii successor to generate some excitement about Nintendo again.

What are the chances for a Wii successor? It's difficult to really say how well a console might sell before you know little details like price, capabilities, and software... but certainly the Wii is way past its prime. The Xbox 360 and the PS3 are starting to look a bit long in the tooth, but both Sony and Microsoft would love to get a few more years of nice profits out of those consoles before they enter the maelstrom of new hardware again (and all the losses that implies for the manufacturers, plus the pain and suffering of developers trying to figure out how to use the half-baked tools for new consoles... I can hear the screams from here).

If Nintendo is really going for sheer graphics horsepower, it represents a change in their approach. Perhaps they couldn't think of an inexpensive add-on that was as powerful as motion-control has been for the Wii, and with that out of the picture they figured horsepower was the best bet. There are problems with choosing horsepower, though; pushing pixels and polygons gets expensive in terms of silicon. And as the number of polygons gets higher, the differences to consumers are less and less compelling. The difference between 1000 polygons and 10,000 polygons onscreen is huge; the difference between 10,000 and 100,000 is not as readily apparent; and the difference between 100,000 and 1,000,000 is something you have to look at carefully to see, and non-gamers would easily not see it.

In the past Sony would talk about things that weren't polygons to say why new, expensive hardware was worth the money... they used terms like Emotion Engine to say that games could now have emotional content because of the horsepower available. Did we ever see those? No, not really; developers found it far easier to build better graphics than to figure out how to make games more emotional. We are getting games that are more engaging, but it's a slow process. Most of the new horsepower in the latest consoles is devoted to better graphics, displayed faster.

So I think the horsepower route is a risky one for Nintendo, but they are in need of a boost right now. Sales are sagging, the 3DS has not set the world on fire, and their stock price is in the dumper. Perhaps some adroit rumor-mongering can bring it back up for them.


  1. If these rumors are true, Nintendo's timing couldn't be better: Sony and Microsoft have just invested a lot of money into Move and Kinect; neither can really afford to abandon those investments to start work on a new platform. Which means that Nintendo could very easily push out a cutting edge console with essentially no competition whatsoever.

    Meanwhile, the original Wii (with a price cut) can continue controlling the market for a low-price, casual console. Leaving Sony and Microsoft stuck uncomfortably in the middle.

    About the only drawback is that Nintendo's production costs for their games will radically increase. (An advantage of the Wii that was often overlooked.)

    But, OTOH, I don't really see what Nintendo's other option would be at this point as far as the console market is soncerned. Unless they think they've got another genie to pull out of their hat equivalent to motion-controllers, it seems like the only viable move it to attempt to reclaim their console games crown.

  2. Justin, I agree. If Nintendo moves fast they can catch Sony and Microsoft flat-footed and get a year or more advantage by having the latest-greatest console.

    There are disadvantages, but Nintendo's in a tight spot. They have to do something to other than just let the Wii fade away. Drop the Wii to $149 now; get a new console out there, and when it ships drop the Wii to $99. Yeah, margins will be a problem, but the margins are even better on software... and they won't sell much software if the hardware's not moving.

    And Nintendo really ought to get serious about digital distribution, but that's a whole 'nother post.