The gaming industry is ready yet again for a major change. Every five years or so, gamers are asked to toss away their old hardware and buy the new stuff. The cost, of course, is high, and the effort to actually get a new console is somewhat ridiculous in the beginning, but like good, trusting gamers, we oblige.
The so-called “next generation” is starting now. Nintendo has launched its Wii U, and that device delivers HD graphics and a vastly improved experience compared to the company’s previous console, the Wii. For now, the console is sold out and likely will remain so for the next few months.
Although the Wii U will continue to dominate the console market for the next several months, there’s trouble on the horizon. Microsoft is expected to launch its next console, the Xbox 720, next holiday season. The PlayStation 4 from Sony will likely follow close behind. Both of those consoles are expected to come with better graphics than the Wii U and have more features. In other words, they’ll probably be better all-around consoles than Nintendo’s option.
Realizing that, I don’t think Nintendo has any choice but to launch a new console in 2014. Call it the Wii U 2 or something else, but whatever Nintendo does, the company must deliver a new device in 2014 that’s capable of competing against the actual “next generation” of consoles.
It’s almost laughable that Nintendo would say that the Wii U is a next-generation device. In my own time with the console, I find it to be a nominal upgrade over the Wii. And although HD graphics is a nice addition, we’ve had those for years now from Microsoft and Sony.
Oddly, Nintendo doesn’t appear willing to launch a new console in 2014 that can actually compete against the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720. The company is hiding behind the Wii’s success to prove that it doesn’t need all of the bells and whistles to be successful. After all, Nintendo says, the Wii had fewer features and lacked HD graphics, and dominated the console market.
But let’s not pretend that past success can inform our understanding of future market dynamics. After all, if we assume a console will be successful because its predecessor was, shouldn’t we also assume that a failure like the GameCube would spawn another loser? Obviously that didn’t happen.
Nintendo needs to consider the changing market. Today’s consumers want more-capable products in the living room, and like the idea of having consoles that are meaningfully better than those that came before them. The Wii U isn’t that device. And I’m still not convinced that third-parties will embrace the GamePad the way Nintendo hopes. Add that to the Wii U’s lofty price tag and the impending obsolescence at the hands of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720, and I think there’s a recipe for disaster being cooked up as we speak.
With a new console in 2014, however, Nintendo can change all that and put itself back in a position to control the hardware market. The Wii U should be an iterative step to whatever major upgrade might come in 2014. Without that launch schedule, Nintendo might be in serious trouble.