Reader Request Week 2006 #4: The Nintendo Revolution
Mmmm… let’s talk video games! Greg Lescoe asks:
Having been a videogame journalist for some time, I would assume you’re keeping tabs to at least some degree on the industry itself. That said, what do you think about Nintendo’s potentially risky gamble to eschew better visuals (at this point not as significant an upgrade as in previous generations) in favor of other, non-graphics-related upgrades? And do you think that their refusal to do the "let’s put everything imaginable into a silver box and charge half a grand for it even though nobody will use it for anything but videogames and maybe movies early on" thing will help or hurt them in the end?
I think Nintendo is going to come out of it just fine, as long as they can manage to get the Revolution in at the $200 price point.
I think it’s important to note that Nintendo is not actually playing the same long-term game as Sony and Microsoft. Sony and Microsoft are in a battle to the death for control of your widescreen HDTV in the living room, not just for the purposes of game playing but for the rather more nebulous purpose of being your front-line "media center." There are rather more levels to it, of course (I just wrote an OPM column about this so I won’t get into it here, but if you think Sony’s dropping Blu-Ray into PS3 just to have a more convenient game storage medium for its games, you are wrong wrong wrong wrong), but essentially those two are in a war for your living room.
Nintendo, I think, doesn’t want to be in your living room; it wants to be in your ten-year-old’s bedroom, hooked up to the little TV in there. Or if it is in your living room, it doesn’t necessarily want to be there first, it just wants to be there too.
And I think that’s wise, actually. Speaking for myself as a parent, I know that the video games Athena likes are the video games Nintendo excels at (and excels marketing itself as a platform for), the silly and mildly-but-not-too-challenging sidescrollers and jumpers. These games need not be super-intensive graphically, they just need to be fun. When Athena goes over to her grandparents, they haul out their Super NES and Athena goes to town on the Mario Brothers games for that. Does she care that the graphics are from four console generations ago? Not a bit. Heck, right now one of her favorite games is Demon Attack, which was was originally for the Atari 2600, and which she has emulated on her PC (also, in case anyone asks, why yes, I do own in on cartridge, as well as owning an Atari 2600). If she can groove on Demon Attack, she’s not going to give a crap whether the Revolution is going to have the same level vertex shading as the PS3. She just wants a fun game. As, I suspect, would most folks.
Again, the key here is price point. $200 is key. At $200 — and especially compared to the Xbox 360 and the PS3 — the Revolution comes in looking like a nicely affordable toy, something that you can get for the kids or that you can get for yourself without busting the bank (in fact $200 is not trivial. It just looks good in comparison). If Nintendo can hit $200 with the Revolution, they’re going to be golden. I mean, I would buy one just to give to Athena. If they come in higher than $200, well, now you’re talking real money, aren’t you? And it becomes less attractive.
You ask: What value is there in being the second game console in a house? Well, think about it: How many second TVs do Americans have? How many second computers? How many second cars? How many second everythings do we have? Americans (and I suspect others) like having second things, which typically are of lesser capabilities (or at least lesser dimension). You have the big screen TV in the living room and the 19-incher in the bedroom. You have the desktop and the laptop. You have the new car and the auxiliary car. You have the big dog and the little dog you got to keep it company. And so on and so on.
The folks making those 19-inch TVs are not laboring under the impression that TV is going to be the primary TV in the house; they just know you want another TV. Similarly, it’s not really a stretch to conceive of a console marketing itself as the second console, especially when so many gamers already own some combination of PS2, Xbox or GameCube, all of which will die a death when the next-gen consoles are all out. Gamers are already tuned into the idea of having two consoles, and having a $400 and a $200 one is a heck of a lot cheaper than having two $400 ones.
If Nintendo can manage to pull off the "second console" thing, they’re going to end up looking really smart, and their success will be in addition to, rather than at the expense of, the PS3 and the XBox 360.
(Have a question for Reader Request Week? Submit it here)