June 16, 2011, 7:56 AM —
Photo credit: Nintento
Last week at E3 Nintendo debuted its new console, dubbed the Wii U. Unfortunately the company played a bit too coy during its press conference and a lot of people seemed to come away confused. Some thought the Wii U was just an add-on controller for the Wii. Some thought the unusual remote was a stand alone tablet device that gamers could take with them when they were out and about.
Most of those misconceptions were cleared up fairly quickly, (Wii U is a whole new system, and the controller is essentially a dumb terminal that needs to be in proximity to the console in order to function; content is wirelessly streamed from console to controller) but in the aftermath more questions cropped up. One by one people are teasing answers out of Nintendo or unofficial sources.
[Also see: 6 premature predictions of tech failure]
One of the big concerns gamers had was about the cost of extra controllers. After all, they look expensive, right? A 6.2" touch screen device (even if its a single touch, resistive screen) with gyroscopes and accelerometers, plus all the buttons of a traditional controller, isn't going to be cheap! Well, it sounds like Nintendo is being sensitive to the cost of extra controllers. Shigeru Miyamoto at one point implied that the Wii U only supports a single controller, but it sounds as if that was perhaps a miscommunication. The official word seems to be that Nintendo considers a WIi U and a single controller a 'complete set' and they're encouraging developers to create games that only use a single touch controller (remember, the Wii U also works with current gen Wii controllers). Nintendo World Report has more details; they suggest the Wii U could power four remotes (with SD video streams) but that seems to be speculation on their part based on the capabilities of the Radeon video processor that's on-board. Nintendo is only talking about possibly using two.
Next up was an analyst reporting that he'd been told by developers that the Wii U would be 50% more powerful than a PS3. That seemed to surprise a lot of people, for reasons that I can't fathom. The PS3 is 5 or 6 years old at this point; a new console better be more powerful! The only really lucid discussion on this point came from Jon Stokes at Ars Technica who rightly says The only sane response to this claim is, "for God's sake, I should hope so!". You tell 'em, Jon.
Yesterday word got out that the Wii U would not have DVD or Blu-ray disk playback capabilities. There was much hair-pulling and gnashing of teeth in the gamer nerd community from, presumably, people who're just looking for things to be critical of. Really, is this a big deal? Do you really not yet own a device that'll playback your physical media? Nintendo's Satoru Iwata thinks you probably do, saying:
The reason for that is that we feel that enough people already have devices that are capable of playing DVDs and Blu-ray, such that it didn't warrant the cost involved to build that functionality into the Wii U console because of the patents related to those technologies.
I think gamers forget there's a per-unit licensing fee that goes along with providing DVD or Blu-ray playback capability. I didn't expect the Wii U to play these disks and I'm glad I'm not going to have to pay for an ability I'd never use.
(When Microsoft first launched the Xbox
360 the console wouldn't play DVDs unless you bought a DVD Remote Control Kit for it. I'm not sure if that is still the case today, but The reasoning was that Microsoft paid the DVD licensing fee on sales of the Remote. That way gamers who wanted that ability could get it, but the rest of us weren't buying a license to something we'd didn't need. [Updated to fix my having my mental wires crossed between original Xbox and Xbox 360.])
Last up was the shocking rumor that the Wii U might cost more than $250. Now think about this. The Nintendo 3DS costs $250. Doesn't it make sense that a newly designed console capable of 1080P output and powering both a television screen and a secondary video screen might cost more than a handheld? To me, it'd be a very happy surprise indeed if Nintendo could keep the price at $250, but I have to imagine they'd take a loss with every unit sold (something Nintendo generally doesn't do). I'm expecting $300 and slightly worried it might go as high as $350.
Nintendo seems to finally be starting to talk facts with the press and hopefully we'll have fewer of these bubble-bursting reveals in the weeks and months ahead. We've more than likely got a year or more to get our questions answered; I'm expecting a Holiday 2012 launch date, but Nintendo might surprise us with a late spring launch. Either way, there's time to get this all sorted out, but I think if Nintendo had been more straight-forward in their press conference they could've prevented a lot of confusion.