While the announcement of the Wii U‘s third-party lineup is still fresh in our minds, Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata is taking some shots at the company’s two major competitors. Having to convince the world that the company’s products truly are groundbreaking is something Iwata is used to, but that isn’t preventing him from voicing his doubt that a new generation of consoles is even what gamers really want, or something developers are asking for.
In an interview with Telegraph, Iwata gave his impressions of the Wii U‘s reception, as well as the new tablet and cross-platform features shown with the Xbox 360 and PS3/Vita. After the introduction of the Wii’s motion gaming, followed by the Kinect and PlayStation Move, Iwata again sees the competition following in their footsteps.
Characterizing his company as the true innovators watching the other consoles attempt to keep up, Iwata didn’t pull any punches:
“It’s quicker than before… After our showing of motion control, it took three years for other companies to follow suit… But this time it’s just one year after our proposal, even before we’ve released the actual product… However, I have to point out that there are essential differences between what we are doing and what other companies are doing. The main difference is that anyone who has a Wii U will be able to enjoy the two screen experience, while the other companies are saying its optional, but only if you have this device or that device.”
It’s hard to argue that Microsoft and Sony weren’t spurred into action by the Wii U’s announcement of of dual screen console gaming at last year’s E3. However, some of Iwata’s claims come across as somewhat misleading. After all, the Xbox SmartGlass uses existing smart phones and tablets, meaning those who own an iPhone and Xbox 360 (that covers millions alone) face no additional costs for those features. That’s a much smaller barrier to entry than the need to purchase a Wii U for a still-undisclosed price.
Still Iwata believes that the retro-fitting of these new features onto existing consoles – regardless of how strongly they’re adopted – simply can’t compare to the Wii U’s ability to design experiences from the ground up:
“They can never realise the same gaming experience on a tablet. They don’t have the same devices that are requisite to play the rich gaming experiences we are talking about. Just imagine that you are playing with the traditional game controller and they are saying that you need an additional screen as well. Most of us just have two arms, so how are we meant to hold this additional device?”
Those who have kept up with our coverage of E3 2012 will know that we’re still waiting to find a “rich gaming experience” offered exclusively by the Wii U. Nintendo might end up winning the fight for innovative gameplay, but at this point, attacking the competition without acknowledging their greater install base and cross-media inter-connectivity seems a bit hollow. Especially without any games capable of supporting two Wii U GamePads at launch.
Iwata wasn’t all bravado, admitting that the decisions made in launching the Wii as opposed to a high definition home console left plenty of fans behind. The new direction into the casual, motion control market didn’t just lead Nintendo to the release of the most popular and profitable console of the big three, but added a new dimension to every console from this point forward.
Unfortunately, it also meant that third-party developers had no choice but to skip the Wii when developing multiplatform titles. The team won’t be making the same mistake again, releasing a console that is capable of running the same games as the Xbox 360 and PS3.
While critics could point to the likely announcements of the PS4 or Xbox 720 a year from now as a sign that Nintendo will be repeating the same mistakes, Iwata’s optimism is…admirable:
“Even though the other machines are six years old, they have the advantage now because developers are capable of maximising the graphic capabilities, while with the new machine they will have to start from scratch to create the most capable graphics. So the Wii U has that room for improvement.”
Explaining that a longer amount of time required for developers to push the Wii U’s hardware to its limit is actually a positive is a particularly hard sell. Especially with developers already voicing frustration at this generation’s limited capacity as compared to the PC. But Iwata didn’t stop there.
At present, he isn’t convinced that new generation of consoles is something that customers are really demanding, or something that developers would be willing to develop for:
“My impression is that the things that happened with Wii v 360 or Wii v PS3 won’t happen again… If they decide to increase the spec numbers, will the consumers be able to realise the difference enough so that they can understand it’s much superior to today’s machine? And also, if they beef up the processing power, that simply means much more work for software developers to take advantage of those spec numbers. So I have to ask the question if that type of differentiation really makes sense. But I think further arguments must wait until probably next year, when they have finalised and disclosed whatever they are thinking about for the next generation of consoles.”
There’s no reason in doubting the Wii U’s potential this early on – a lesson learned from the success of the Wii – but claims like these seem a bit too manufactured to offer anything to a debate on the future of home consoles. While Iwata claims that developers will be willing to spend years unlocking a new Nintendo console’s true abilities, he doubts that they’d be willing to do the same for a console that truly possesses greater hardware.
Nintendo clearly isn’t interested in waging a war of graphics – or online functionality – with Microsoft or Sony, but to claim that developers aren’t interested in pushing their storytelling abilities and fidelity forward is a little foolish, and potentially worrisome. With Epic pushing Unreal Engine 4 for next-gen consoles, successful developers failing to see promising software for the Wii U, and Crytek claiming that the PC is leaving consoles in the dust, the jury is no longer out on the need for better consoles.
The company might come up with some blockbuster, must-play gameplay experiences before the Wii U launches, but at this point doubting the need or desire for a new generation of consoles isn’t going to work in Nintendo’s favor. Coming across as the company that’s resisting advancement of technical performance and groundbreaking game engines is risky, especially without a killer app or even official price.
At this point every console is living in somewhat of a glass house, and rather than throwing stones, it’s better for everyone if they just focus on making their lofty visions for the future of gameplay a reality.
What do you think of Iwata’s comments on the competition, development, and the potential for the Wii U? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.
The Nintendo Wii U is expected to release before Holiday 2012.
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