Monday, August 27, 2012

[EDITORIAL] What Nintendo Needs to Do With the Wii U; Part Deux

Here's part two of my mass-editorial I will be publishing, focusing on Nintendo, the Wii U, and just how plausible its success really is, leading up to the conference they're holding on September 13. History has shown that Nintendo loves September announcements for pricing/availability for their upcoming systems, so expect this day to be the day we learn how much of a hit our credit cards are to take.

A powerful system cannot be the only crutch Nintendo can lean on. They need help, and they need to make people know they're still innovating. Sadly, their own innovation may be their own downfall, as others are quick on their heels, even before they get out the door...

Since the GameCube, Nintendo has been showing its age. When the Wii launched, many gave Nintendo hell, referring to it as the "GameCube 1.5", as it didn't have the technical glitz nor glamour as the Xbox 360 or the PS3; it was only slightly more powerful than the Xbox. Yes, the GameCube could do [insert advantage here] and the PS2 could do [insert another one here], but the Xbox was often regarded as the powerhouse of the last generation.

Despite the lack of power, the Wii held its own while completely ignoring HDMI and (at the very least) 720p, two modern entertainment staples. Microsoft even caught itself in a fault, and added HDMI to the Xbox 360 mid-life-cycle, something fans and critics alike had hoped for in a revised Wii HD. Regardless, Nintendo skipped the revision and came full force with the Wii U (much like how they skipped on bringing the Wii Remote to the GameCube and made it less of an afterthought and more of the main attraction), including many missed opportunities the Wii left behind. It has been reported by third parties that the Wii U will be drastically underpowered compared to the Xbox Next and PS4/Orbis; Epic says that Unreal Engine 4-powered games won't find life on the Wii U past the first generation without being severely dumbed down.

Best joke ever!
Image credit: http://www.roboawesome.com/?p=16875
Fortunately, that may not be the case...

A recent report from BGR says that the Xbox Next (or Durango; what have you) will be running an eight-core CPU with 8 GB of RAM. Despite this sounding fairly powerful, this same report puts it at six times more powerful than the 360. If this report is true - which I'm taking it with the largest grain of salt known to man - then that means it's only marginally more powerful than the Wii U, which has been described as "definitely more powerful than Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3" by 5th Cell (the guys behind Scribblenauts). This puts the Wii U at about 2-4 times more powerful than the Xbox 360.

This becomes a contradiction with a recent statement from Sumo Digital's executive producer Steve Lycett (Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed) saying the Wii U "looks as good any of the HD platforms". He quickly brings our hopes back up with this number: "The Wii U has way more memory, so we can take advantage of that with less compression on elements and textures, so [Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed] will look all lovely and shiny."

Now, we all know that we shouldn't be asking "how many more times" is one system more powerful than another, but used as a general rule of thumb; despite the GameCube being regarded as an inferior system, it could still do things better than the PS2 and Xbox, something I'm hoping repeats itself with the Wii U.

* * *

"Here's my last two fucks,
but I'm saving them for
a special occasion!"
Nintendo knows they're already at a disadvantage entering the next-gen before their competition, but in third place in terms of system specs; frankly, they've just run out of fucks to give. Look at it through Nintendo's eyes: a more powerful machine causes for a higher price tag for the system overall (pack-in accessories and games included), which instantly alienates new customers and wards off those upgrading/switching systems (PS3, anyone?). Nintendo's business model is along the lines of "enter cheap; keep it cheap". The Wii received flak when Nintendo announced the $250 price tag, people began undermining them, saying the price was too much for a Nintendo system, and was just slightly short of Microsoft's low-end pricing of the (then named) Xbox 360 Core unit at $300. Regardless, it looks like we'll be finding out come September 13.

Looking back, it was nowhere near the shit-storm they caused when they announced the 3DS with a $250 price tag slapped on it; reasons as to why the system was announced, detailed, and released way too early resulting in the high price is a story all in it's own. Just 5 months after the release, Nintendo drops the price by 80-fucking-dollars when StarFox64 3D launched with a new color, and that caused even more nerd-rage. Those who bought into the system at the original price point was awarded 20 downloadable NES and GBA games. Yes, the dollar value exceeds $80, but a good chunk of those games aren't worth the bandwidth.

If Nintendo did, in fact, release a more powerful system - we'll just put it just as powerful as Durango and Orbis - then we're looking at one of two things: Nintendo would enter the market with a low-priced system, making them little to no money (or even losing money), or they would throw on a high price tag with room for margin. Sadly, neither option bodes well with their business model (see above).

* * *

One aspect that I'm hoping Nintendo really doesn't fuck up on is the Nintendo Network. At first, when it leaked on the Final Fantasy Theatrhythm boxart, we initially took it as a rebranding of the Wi-Fi Connection. Then, when more info came to light, we took it to be Nintendo's own version of Xbox LIVE or the PlayStation Network, with all the bells and whistles we've grown accustomed to.

The Nintendo Network may have roots in EA and Origin, if this IGN forum post is to be believed. If what is stated here is true, then the Nintendo Network owes a debt to EA's IT department for simply being structured, but came drastically close to being, essentially, Origin on Wii U; it would have to run Origin, and only Origin. Being smart, Nintendo gave one of those above fucks to EA to run home with, as they shut them down. This helps to ease the burn that is the gimped version of Madden 13 on the Wii U. This move by Nintendo to shun EA has, apparently, paved the way for major third-party developers to cross Nintendo's thresholds and develop for them; ever wonder why Nintendo and Ubisoft are becoming more and more friendly with each other, especially since Rayman Legends went from multiplatform to Wii U exclusive?

Sadly, Nintendo came out, saying they are still implementing Friend Codes - albeit, in a slightly less dickish way -  with the Wii U and 3DS will share a universal account (finally allowing the Nintendo Points currency to carry over between systems, rather than having two separate wallets), and having a DLC marketplace. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to be the most well implemented infrastructure; hell, this is Nintendo we're talking about.

So far, I'm disappointed in the information we've received, but I hope Nintendo catches wind of just how much more we expect out of these online networks, due to the majority of us being spoiled with Microsoft and Sony's networks. If there's one field I would love to see Nintendo innovate in, it's the online community, something that is in desperate need of renovation; if the online space is being overtaken by the vast amount of fucksticks I've encountered, Odin help those that want something better.

* * *

The biggest issue facing Nintendo as they gear up for Gen 8 is their own, self-created issue: they have no goddamned idea what Sony and Microsoft are doing. Last generation, Nintendo showed off the Wii, but left out one crucial piece of evidence: the controller. This was a false hand played by them, making Sony and Microsoft believe they were just making a regular system. Nintendo held this card very close to their chest, so close, in fact, that they didn't show it off until the Tokyo Game Show in 2005, just two months prior to Microsoft releasing the Xbox 360. Then, in July of the very next year (ten months after the Wii Remote unveilng), Sony filed a patent for what would eventually become the Move controller, released 4 years later.

Earlier that year, Microsoft showed off the Xbox 360 in high-profile fashion at MTV's The Next Generation Xbox Revealed. Microsoft threw a fuck-ton of money at the event, making it known to everyone who was a Killers fan that the Xbox 360 was coming. Sony, on the other hand, revealed everything but the price at E3 2005; the price came at E3 2006 at the Original-iPhone-like levels of $500-600. Sony had the luxury of knowing exactly what Nintendo was doing, which is held up by that controller patent they filed.

"I'd like to take this time to thank Nintendo for letting us
know ahead of time what they were doing with the GamePad,
so we can swoop in and fuck them. Royally."

Nintendo has been playing first dog here in the past 2 years, and it's been working to their (severe) disadvantage; they're letting their biggest competition know what they're doing, giving them ample time to revise their current plans and make something better. At E3 2010, Nintendo officially unveiled - not including a rush, one-page press release thanks to the Japanese press - the 3DS. Around the same time in 2011, Sony unveiled what would eventually be known as the Vita, as a much more powerful system, with the key feature of the DS (touch), with more. In the same year, Nintendo showed off the Wii U with its GamePad controller. Exactly one year later, Microsoft comes out with the SmartGlass platform that essentially does exactly what the GamePad does, but for the Xbox 360, as a free app, and made for any phone or tablet; they even admitted they began work on it "12 months prior" to its unveiling. One advantage the GamePad does have is physical buttons, which, from what I've heard, comes in handy when it comes to playing games.

Sony very well may be the smartest of the three, as they haven't said a goddamned word about the PS4/Orbis. Rather than fucking themselves over and letting Microsoft know what they're doing, they're keeping their secrets a secret until the same time Microsoft is unveiling theirs, making it too late to do any revisions, as they will have to hit the factories shortly after E3 2013.

* * *

The Wii U's success relies on Nintendo's innovation. Despite being that key innovator, Nintendo is giving their secrets away far too early, allowing Sony and Microsoft to do what they're doing, but better. Nintendo needs to make the Nintendo Network something absolutely extravagant, easily accessible, offer services that neither Sony or Microsoft are currently offering, make it cheaper (or free), and do it better. Sadly, the Nintendo Network cannot be their saving grace, as the GamePad already has a hefty investment in it.

Exactly what can the GamePad do for the Wii U, Nintendo, and gaming as a whole? That's exactly what I'm talking about in my next installment.

Next time, we'll focus purely on Nintendo's new controller itself: the GamePad. How has the recent unveil of Microsoft's SmartGlass impacted the controller? What about turning the 3DS (XL or not) itself into a controller, avoiding the inevitable qualms amongst friends when playing multi-player? Regardless, the GamePad brings its own slew of issues and criticisms, which we'll discuss this Friday, the 31, in part 3.