The Next N: What We Can Expect from the "Wii 2"

A Nintendo Wii in it's natural setting
The rumor gates are wide open this weekend as the general public is finally starting to catch up to industry rumors and reports of closed doors presentations of Nintendo's next-generation home console system prior to what we expect will be an "E3 reveal." Along with the general public's attention of course comes a wide variety of hearsay,  friend-of-a-friend, and just outrightly biased predictions, rants and "facts" the majority of which are anything but. It happens every time a new console comes out (some of the "facts" circulating about the Wii were hilarious) but the thing is if you have a decent grip on the industry it's not hard to paint a reasonable picture of what we all can expect from Nintendo's next foray into the console market. So lets gear up for an in-depth look at:

The Next N...

First of all, lets get on thing straight. Nintendo's next console is hitting first. Ignore all that fanboy inspired rant-age online about the release dates of the next few consoles, the facts are that console releases take time, engineering, and a substantial amount of money. Say what you will, but no company throws a few engineers in a room and has a new console ready to ship in a few months. Modified versions of an existing console, like the PS3Slim, or the 360S are also exempt because they are not new consoles, simply redesigns of existing material. Especially in a market where developing a new console can now spiral into the billions, console development is set in a firm timeline with little room to move. As a result, the current release dates for upcoming consoles are expected as follows.

Nintendo: Based on Nintendo's prior consoles (from official unveiling to shelf space) I would expect to see their new console hit around Thanksgiving 2012. Nintendo likes to benefit from the holiday rush, especially Black Friday, and they tend to show off their new console's more then a year in advance to give the public time to shift their mindset over to the new console.

Microsoft: The relative newcomer of the console scene is quite successful, but don't expect to toss your 360 anytime soon. From the sound of things coming out of Redmond, we've got several years to wait on the successor to the X-box 360. Expect it in 2015, maybe 2014 if things get lucky.

Sony: The once giant of the industry is playing the long shot with their dedication to a ten year console lifetime cycle. Given the difficulties the PS3 has had with making a net profit, a ten year development cycle may be the best Sony can hope for. 2017 at the earliest.

Now, on to Nintendo's next console!

The Name:
So what's in a name? Actually,  quite a bit. Believe it or not, Microsoft spent massive amounts of money on the name for the X-box 360, most of it test marketing that showed ordinary people would choose a Playstation 2 over an X-box 2, as well as believing that the PS2 would be more powerful graphically (because it had come out first and had the name, it must be better was the general thought). So Microsoft went to the 360, and the same tests came back positive for the 360, coming in ahead of even the PS3.

Currently a lot of news agencies are simply calling Nintendo's next console the Wii2 or the WiiHD. Personally, I don't think either of those are likely. While their new consoles name will likely retain a semblance of the Wii monicker to encourage their current console base to pick one up, I'd expect Nintendo to have a largely different name. The Wii 2 is a little 2 classic in today's market, and won't grab enough of a mindset against the PS4 and whatever Microsoft is bringing to bear. Likewise the WiiHD simply sounds like a small modification, too similar to their current console. No, Nintendo's next console will carry a new name that still says Nintendo, but isn't a retread of what the Wii is.

The Big Change:
Right here I'm going to move into the realm of pure speculation, because nothing has been said on this topic, but Nintendo would have to be stupid at this point to not make the change. And Nintendo normally isn't stupid. Normally. The big change that Nintendo needs to make is launching with an Online system.

HD graphics are a given. I don't know why you though that would be the big change.

Wouldn't a multiplayer Zelda be neat? Image courtesy Nintendo, linked VIA IGN
No, Nintendo's grabbed a massive market now, but they've been largely left out of the biggest console development of the last few years: the online scene. Downloading games, online friends, and of course online play are all arguably the largest focus of new consoles. 360 users have X-Box Live, PS3 users have PSN...and Wii users got friend codes, the least effective (if you could even call it effective) method of playing online. Their online store exist, but its a joke with no demos and the Wii's skimped internal memory. Even worse, most games carry individual friendlists, forcing you to manually enter in long digits of numbers every time you get a new game. Nintendo's current online service is terrible, and they'd be fools to ignore the influence that is online gaming at this stage.

So what will it be like? I can't say. I'm predicting something a lot like X-box Live or the PSN, with demos, easy to manage friendlists and of course, vastly streamlined systems. It's Nintendo, so it'll hopefully be clever a full of little touches, but at this point, if they don't overhaul their online system they're planning to shoot themselves in the foot.

Graphical Power and Price:
Comments and predictions on the new N have been raging fast and fierce over the last few days, but when all the bluster and posturing is strained out, there's little room for Nintendo to move. Nintendo has earned a reputation with its current market as having an affordable console, something they're willing to stretch, but not break. Just look at the 3DS and it's pricing. It's a stretch, but not so much that they've alienated their support base.

So anyway, the next N. I see it going down only one way. It'll probably be at lowest only slightly more powerful hardware wise then the X-box 360, putting it somewhere in the realm of the PS3. Affordable hardware prices will be able to keep the system costs low, perhaps lower then $250 which will put another nail in the competing market systems (which are still high in order to recoup production costs). If the system decides to go the high powered route, expect something with a substantial leg over the PS3, but not enough of a boost to break the $350 price point. Nintendo could make a $400 console sure, but they know they'd be alienating a large portion of their current user base.
Remember Me? People believed!

Look, everyone knows Motion Controls are in to stay for a while.  But Nintendo knows when to call it safe. Just like the weeks before the Wii's official unvieling (see right), rumors are flying thick and fast, such as this rumor claiming that the new systems controllers are an "...iPad with buttons."

I say no. Nintendo's smart. I'd be astounded if that rumor holds to be true, and it sounds far to similar to rumors surrounding the Wii controller back in the day.

I was "the real thing" reported at one point
The fact is that Nintendo's got this one in the bag. I expect the new controller, whatever it is, to actually look more like a standard controller merged with a Wiimote. A Wiimote 2.0 if you will. Nintendo can't risk looking too different then it's current market holder without driving it away. I would expect their next controller to look similar to what they've already made with some minor tweaks and improvements. Forget the crazy stuff until Miyamoto himself is on stage playing with one. Until then, it's rumor like rumor that's come before.

The Bottom Line:
Nintendo can't change too much about the core parts of their console (the style, the controller, the costs) without alienating a solid portion of their current user base. At the same time, I'd expect what they can change (namely online play and the internal components of the machine) to make a rapid shift in order to move people over from casual to hardcore. Nintendo has grabbed a massive new user base of players with the Wii, but it's a user base they can't keep unless they ever so slowly move that base over to being more like the normal gaming market. At the same time, the Wii is criticized for not catering to that same market that put them in the position to make the Wii in the first place, and I would expect the Next N to work at remedying that problem. Hopefully it works. If it does, Nintendo's next new console could end up being it's biggest, pulling together those new to the industry alongside those who have been longtime fans for years.

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