THE BLOG

Why Nintendo's Wii 2 Is a Bold and Masterful Move

04/29/2011 11:28 am ET | Updated Jun 29, 2011
  • Lawrence Bonk Editor of weekly gaming and tech column, Metro Newspapers

After weeks of speculation, Nintendo formally announced the imminent release of a follow-up to their massively successful Wii video game console. The unnamed console will drop in the first half of 2012. The systems specs and "hook" are locked in a vault somewhere in the Mushroom Kingdom. None of that stuff really matters, though. The new Nintendo system is a brilliant move for the company just because it exists.

Let's flash back to 2005. The latest console generation was just about to start. Kids and disheveled gaming journalists were starting to get excited. Microsoft's Xbox 360 was about to launch, with the Wii and the PlayStation 3 not far behind. The Black Eyed Peas hadn't even thought about performing at a Superbowl. It was a glorious time. Once the 360 launched, however, it became obvious to any developer worth their salt that making games for this new generation was time consuming and expensive.

The solution? Extend the life cycle. Up until this generation, it was assumed that each console would live for about five or six years. That's the way it always has been and the way it ever shall be. Consider it a Logan's Run scenario for perfectly healthy gaming consoles. Gotta make room for the hot, young product, after all. Sony and Microsoft, however, entered into a gentleman's agreement to extend the life cycle to a full 10 years. This would give developers time to learn the systems and it would give consumers a chance to catch their breath after the financial burden of the initial purchases. They have since honored this agreement by each releasing significant add-ons (Move and Kinect) intended to keep those wily consumers sated for the next few years. Nintendo, obviously, did not enter into this agreement.

Another thing that must be noted is Nintendo's profitability. You know why the Wii is underpowered compared to the 360 and the PS3? Because Nintendo demands their consoles be profitable from the get go. That is why you'll have to wait until 2040 to trade insults with a holographic Mario. If the underlying tech isn't available at a mass market price, Nintendo isn't going to go for it. Microsoft and Sony, on the other hand, operate at a loss until the parts become cheaper. This usually takes a few years -- in fact, the PlayStation 3 just became profitable last year.

So what does this have to do with the Wii 2? Well it's been six long years since the release of the Xbox 360. Tech has moved on. Nintendo can put some serious muscle behind the Wii 2 without it hurting their bottom line. The system will be profitable and will be more powerful than either the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3. As such, it will be the only game in town for two or three years. That's a long time in the world of consumer electronics. This flies out the window, of course, once Sony and Microsoft launch their next consoles. Their systems will dwarf the Wii 2 just as their current systems dwarfed the original Wii. By that time, however, Nintendo will have sold a bazillion consoles and made a profit on each and every one. Then guess what happens? They do it all over again at this same juncture in the next console cycle. Then again. And again. They'll do this for as long as they are able, for as long as Microsoft and Sony's 10-year cycle exists. They have managed to step sideways and create three years where the world is their super-powered mushroom.

This move shows Nintendo is on to the market. They can't try to capture the casual gamer like they did with the Wii because those casual gamers are now forever betrothed to their smartphones and tablet devices. There is no getting them back. The magnetic pull of budget titles like Angry Birds is simply too entrancing. So Nintendo is going after the hardcore gamer with this system. With this in mind, they couldn't very well wait until 2015 to release a new console. The Wii has sold 86 million consoles since its launch, but those sales are beginning to slow dramatically. Hardcore gamers are attracted to horsepower and the Wii is barely a pony. The Wii 2 will be a stallion, for a while anyways.