Now then, like me I am sure you will be eagerly awaiting Nintendo’s E3 keynote presentation in June. This is when Project Café will be announced and its innards specified to the general public. Apart from “reliable” internet sources and website mock ups, we haven’t really had any concrete information on what it can do or whether it will again shake up the gaming industry as Wii has managed to do. I am not here to speculate on what it can do (well, maybe a little) but to share my feelings on the build up to this console. Not just the last couple weeks’ build up either; I mean from the reign of the GameCube.
Let’s face it, Nintendo was fighting a losing battle with GameCube from the beginning. They played the market their way as usual, only this time it failed. Finishing third in the console wars with just 22 million units sold, Nintendo came a distant third behind Xbox’s 24 million and way behind the legacy of the PS2, which currently stands at 144 million. Cast your mind back to the feverish excitement that surrounded the PS2 launch, and the air of intrigue which helped Xbox do so well. The GameCube was almost submerged by this torrent of hype surrounding its rivals and the system suffered because of this.
Bear in mind that the casual market Nintendo has successfully courted today did not exist in the same capacity back then. Nintendo was after the same gamers as the Xbox and PS2. You know; red blooded, eat a live horse, HARDCORE (hate that phrase) gamers. The little lunch box, with its quaint, half sized disks spinning happily inside its purple exterior, did not sit comfortably with a lot of people from an aesthetic point of view, before the games even had a chance to be played.
It was immediately passed up as a ‘kiddie’ console by the majority of gamers. This resulted in the console receivng less attention, which in turn made it difficult to sell, meaning it had less retail space and so the cycle of despair continued for its whole lifespan. Resident Evil 4 and Killer 7 tried to give the poor GameCube the sharp edge it needed, only it was too late. Yes, even one of the best games of the last 10 years could not help pull GameCube and Nintendo out of the mire. By that time it was far too little, far too late.
What Nintendo did after the GameCube was to revolutionize the way we play games, and now Project Café has been announced, it all makes sense to me. You see Nintendo (being the clever people they are) decided to opt out of the tech battle of the times that being completely dominated by both Sony and Microsoft. People seem to forget that Nintendo was always a pioneer in hi-end tech, with the SNES, (mode 7, Donkey Kong Country) and Nintendo 64 (3D worlds and better graphics). This philosophy was lost when selling the GameCube, as gamers who were convinced it was a child’s system instantly dismissed its specs as greatly inferior to the PS2, which was both harsh and untrue.
Nintendo must have been influenced by this perception of itself at this point in the console wars. If they had released another console in line with the tech of the PS3 and Xbox 360, who’s to say it wouldn’t have flopped the same way as GameCube only this time with an even bigger loss.
So in 2005 a revolution began, not a graphical revolution but a social one. Nintendo slightly upgraded the hardware of the GameCube, added a funny looking wand controller and then, to top it off, named it Wii. This was classic Nintendo, left field out of nowhere. And it quickly became apparent that Nintendo was to leave Sony and Microsoft to squabble for the hi-end gamer, whilst they were taking money from your Mum and Dad, your grandparents and siblings too.
In hindsight we were all so taken aback by the control method that the graphics took a back seat, anyway. This new way of controlling games was all that mattered and the possibilities seemed wide and varied. Mario Kart with a steering wheel, Metroid with the remote as a gun; this is what got people excited while the graphics became secondary. Bowling and Tennis catered for the rest of the family and so the legend of Wii was set in stone. It sold by the bucket load, becoming an overnight success, making Nintendo insane amounts of cash.
Nintendo’s strategy of rebranding outdated hardware in an Apple-esque finish enabled them to make huge profit margins from the very start. The fact that Wii was a GameCube 1.5 with motion controls strapped on allowed the company to sell their latest console for such a low price meant that they would have a huge install base, drawing in gamers and families alike with its casual brand of accessibility.
The GameCube was a sales flop for Nintendo. They needed to recoup their losses and the Wii was the perfect way to do it, whilst recycling the GameCube’s under-appreciated architecture.
I had always seen the Wii as a proper console for this generation but now Café has been announced, I see it as something else. I see Wii as a stepping stone between generations; it is the helping hand to bring them back onto the beaten track of old. I see Wii as a modern (wildly successful) take on the add-on culture of the ’90s that Nintendo always flirted with but dared not take out to dinner, an example being Sega’s 32X or Nintendo’s never-released joint venture with Sony (which became the PlayStation).
The 32X was Sega’s way of biding time between Genesis biting the dust and Saturn being released. It plugged into Genesis, and gave you improved graphics that were in-between the 16 and 32bit generations of the time. However, it sold horribly and was an utter flop. But where Sega failed, Nintendo excelled by enticing people into believing Wii was something new by playing on our infatuation with specs and then broadsiding us with the revolution in how we play. Looking at it now, I see Wii as an add-on for GameCube, a way of prolonging the life of the technology that was not ready to be cast aside. Adding new play mechanics made it easy for us to accept that this was the future.
The announcement and confirmation of Café has convinced me otherwise. I believe that Nintendo will show off a powerhouse of a console in June. I do not believe for one moment that Nintendo will continue the philosophy of Wii with their new console; that section is complete and Wii will continue to sell alongside Café as its own IP.
Think about it. Nintendo has been selling, what is essentially the same hardware since 2001. They must have made at least nine years of pure profits from the infrastructure of GameCube, including the absolutely ridiculous amounts of cash from Wii. I believe a large chunk of that money is going towards their latest announcement. Nintendo has been able to take a step back, look at what gamers (particularly western gamers) want, and will implement it all in Project Café.
I believe Project Café will be powerful enough to compete, even when Sony and Microsoft unveil their next gen systems, which must already be in the works right now. The massive amounts of cash raised from the Wii stepping stone will be utilized in raw horse power to court the ‘hardcore’ gamer back to Nintendo, and I for one will definitely be there to experience what they offer.
Nintendo has a history of doing things different from the rest, and I honestly believe Wii was an add-on that was just that, done differently. I bear no malice towards Wii as it opened up revenue streams the industry has never seen before. Whilst Sony and Microsoft fight for the casual gamers Nintendo created, the Big N will strike first and take back the crowd they left behind in the SNES days.