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Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Video Games--- At the official unveiling of the Nintendo Revolution video game console earlier today in Los Angeles, Nintendo confirmed what most industry insiders have known for the past five years: Nintendo is not interested in competing on the same level as Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo is simply interested in releasing new systems that appeal to its core demographic (eight-to-thirteen year-old males), and that it can sell cheaply as the "budget brand" while still making the company a tidy profit.

Before I get into what Nintendo did reveal at E3 regarding its next game console, let's get into what the company didn't reveal. There is no release date window other than "2006," which is believed to be Nintendo's way of saying "mid-to-late 2006." There is no price other than "cheaper than the other two systems," which is a given for reasons explained later in this article. There was no controller shown, no technical specs, no games other than tech demos. The Revolution is clearly nowhere near as far along in development as the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, as Nintendo is operating in its own little world. Nintendo spent more time at its press conference talking about yet another re-release of the Game Boy Advance (another new look on the outside, same exact technology on the inside) than it did talking about the Revolution.

Hardware Power
In many ways, it's still the case that Nintendo simply doesn't get it, and never was this more evident than at the company's E3 press conference earlier today. The most glaring example of this fact is how remarkably underpowered the Revolution will be. As I wrote yesterday when comparing the Xbox 360 with the PlayStation 3, if you're going to release a video game console six months or a year after your competitors, you'd better make damn sure that it's significantly more powerful than the previously released systems.

In its own little world, detached from marketplace realities, Nintendo is simply thumbing its nose at this accepted reality of the video game industry. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 will be anywhere from ten to thirty-five times more powerful than their predecessors--- it's hard to pinpoint an exact figure, but it's clear they will both be giant leaps over the original Xbox and PS2.

On the other hand, Nintendo has come right out and said that the Revolution will only be "two or three" times more powerful than the GameCube, which was an underpowered system in its own right With its nose in the air, Nintendo actually said at the press conference, "It's not all about having the turbo power, it's what you do with it." While that statement is true, it also completely misses the common-sense point, which is that your competitors are going to be able to do a heck of a lot more with their systems if they're in a completely different (and higher) technological ballpark.

DVD Movie Playback
So, on the proverbial list of ways in which Nintendo simply doesn't get it, number one is the fact that the Nintendo Revolution will be ridiculously under-powered. Number two is not a huge deal in and of itself, but it serves an example of how out of touch with reality Nintendo is. The Revolution will be able to play DVD movies... if and only if you buy an optional add-on that Nintendo described as "an internal attachment." That's right, the Revolution will be released SIX years after the PlayStation 2 hit the market and offered DVD movie playback right out of the box, but it still won't offer DVD movie playback out of the box. There's no justification for that. In 2006, that's just silly.

Hardware and Controller Design
Another disappointment is the hardware design of the Nintendo Revolution. Again, not a huge deal in and of itself, but it's just another example of how Nintendo simply doesn't get it. The Revolution system (picture available here) is literally the size of three DVD movie cases stacked together, and the person's hand in the picture is almost as big as the system. The Nintendo Revolution looks more like a cable modem or a carrying case than a video game system.

The system's controller was not shown at E3, but it's heavily rumored to use the same kind of touch-screen as the Nintendo DS handheld system. Having a touch-screen is a gimmick that's amusing for about five minutes on a handheld system... it's not something you want on your next-generation video game console.

Third-Party Support
Nintendo was keen to point out at its press conference that it will be easy for developers to make Revolution games, and I would certainly hope so given that it's almost a current-generation system being released in the next-generation marketplace. While Nintendo announced that every first-party franchise you'd expect will eventually be released on the Revolution (Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Super Smash Bros), E3 is also an occasion where you're supposed to show up with a boat-load of third-party support and say, "Look at the huge amount of developers who are making games for our system!" Sony and Microsoft did that yesterday, but there was no specific third-party support for the Revolution mentioned in Nintendo's press conference. That doesn't mean that the Revolution won't have third-party support, but it does likely mean that it won't have as much third-party support as its competition, which was also the case with the GameCube and Nintendo 64.

On the (Sort of) Bright Side
On the bright side, the feature that sounds the coolest on the surface is the ability to download old NES and SNES games to play on the Revolution for an undisclosed fee. That's a great feature, but do you really want your new system's most impressive feature to be the fact that it lets you download games from your company's "glory days," before the company became an industry joke? The Nintendo Revolution will also be backwards-compatible with the Nintendo GameCube software library (such as it is...), and it will finally support online gameplay in some form, though Nintendo has still offered no specifics when it comes to a centralized online gaming service for the Revolution.

Nintendo is even further behind than Sony when it comes to a centralized online gameplay network, and if you want to know what Nintendo's core beliefs are when it comes to online gameplay, you can look at years' worth of quotes just like this one. This quote is from Nintendo head Satoru Iwata at the Japan Economic Foundation just last year: "Connection procedures to the Internet are still not easy... customers do not want online games." Iwata then said he could "prove his point" by comparing the sales of an online golf game for the PlayStation 2 to the sales of an offline golf game.

That kind of thinking serves as yet another example of the fact that Nintendo is years behind both Sony and Microsoft when it comes to understanding the video game industry that it once dominated. So far, there has been no indication that the Nintendo Revolution will be a departure from this trend.