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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Signs Nintendo Might Be Losing It

Microsoft showed off Project Natal to the press at E3 and the opinions seem to run from the positive to the wildly optimistic. Camera-based, Microsoft's motion solution doesn't require waving any hardware around. While products for the device (as well as the device itself) aren't expected until around 2010, it is reported to be quite functional and user friendly already.

Rumors abound that Sony has a motion trick up its sleeve as well, either an adaption of the Sixaxis (a more Wii like solution), or camera based like Natal. However, it looks like it might be a no show for E3.

Nintendo, on the other hand, has announced Wii Vitality. This is a heart rate monitor that hooks into your wiimote.

Let me say that again: it is a heart rate monitor. For your wiimote.

Microsoft has a potential Wii-killer (or at least a Wii-beater-upper) and Nintendo has a heart rate monitor. For your wiimote. OK, so technically they also have Wii Motion Plus with exactly zero titles I can think of that would really make me want to buy it.

Gamers are begging Nintendo for a better software library. While some gems, like Boom Blox (review pending), might be going unnoticed - the amount of shovelware on the Wii is rather embarrasing. Aside from Nintendo's own first party titles, which often ship with some new hardware gimmick, the Wii has some pretty slim pickings. While titles like Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party make excellent use of the Wii Fit Board, there are precious few developers looking to go outside the nunchuk as an accessory.

So why does Nintendo insist on making more of them? And then... even more?

They're still making money hand over fist, but Wii Fit can only sell for so long - and I don't think a heart rate monitor (for your wiimote) will help that. If Microsoft delivers a decent Wii Play clone in early 2010, Nintendo might be picking some Wii Teeth off the floor.

Update: Sony just showed their motion solution - a wand combined with EyeToy to deliver "1:1" sensing.


sterno said...

Also I expect to hear announced at E3 that there will be a shark jumping game in the upcoming Wii Sports Resort.

I think Nintendo's going into full bore panic mode. Microsoft and Sony lose money on hardware to make money on software licensing. Nintendo has been about selling the hardware, and with iffy licensing revenue coming in, they're left with making more hardware. That's my guess anyway.

The other possibility, I suppose, is that Nintendo has become too enamored with the Wiimote's success in saving their hides. So now they are just throwing anything out there that hints at playing off that success. Release an enhanced Wiimote, a Wiimote with a heart monitor and next, presumably, a Wiimote with mind reading capabilities.

It seems to me that Sony and Microsoft can last for a few more years off of their current consoles. I expect though that Nintendo, needing the revenue stream and being behind the curve on hardware, will come out with a new system ahead of the others.

Josh said...

Some of this is pure conjecture based on industry rumor - but the impression I get is that Nintendo is strangling themselves with their licensing program.

Sony and Microsoft have to be smart about their software licenses because they're losing hardware cash. So they're in this massive competition to cultivate good relationships, help out developers, promote good titles, wrangle exclusives, etc. Which, except for Sony kinda sucking on the exclusive side, seems to be working pretty well for this generation. Since the PS3 hit, both consoles have had just awesome library build ups.

Nintendo, on the other hand, seems to be content with just saying "We have the Wii, give us your money." And that money seems to be largely in the form of some kind of franchise tie-in willing to pay the fee. Without a strong second/third party pool, Nintendo's left to their own first party tricks.

And I think we've seen the sum of those tricks. It is either:

a) Revive/Re-release a Nintendo icon / release.

b) Create a new piece of hardware, find a clever use for it.

c) both.

Wiiware looks like a bit of an exception, except for being slaughtered by both XBLA and PSN. Aside from that, these tricks are feeling pretty old from halcyon days of seeing Wii Play demoed.