Nintendo Joins Battle of New Game Systems
LOS ANGELES – Let the battle for the digital den begin √≥ again. Nintendo Co. on Tuesday was the last of the three major video game console makers to preview its next-generation system, called Revolution. The Japanese company had a tiny surprise, too.
Revolution will face stiff competition from Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360 and Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 3 as the manufacturers vie to attract a more diverse audience with products that serve as digital entertainment hubs instead of just serving up video games.
After years of promoting their existing consoles with big-budget games, the three companies touted sleek new technology this week on the eve of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, an annual industry meeting that begins Wednesday.
The ability to play older games was addressed by all three makers, with backward compatibility meaning owners of the new systems will be able to play games created for the existing Nintendo GameCube, Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation 2.
Nintendo went a step further, announcing Tuesday to applause and cheers that Revolution’s built-in wireless Internet will provide downloadable access to the thousands of games in company’s 20-year-old library, going back to the original Nintendo Entertainment System.
Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president, did not provide many details on the Revolution but he showed an enthusiastic audience a black prototype box with a blue, front-loading disc drive as well as a picture of several possible color schemes, ranging from silver to bright yellow.
He said the final box will be about the size of a stack of three DVD cases.
Details on Revolution’s high-tech innards were less specific than what is being provided by Microsoft and Sony.
Aside from the included Wi-Fi networking, the Revolution will have wireless controllers, two USB 2.0 ports and slots for DS memory cards. Nintendo did not say anything about the processor or graphics chips that will be used to power the machine, other than that they are being developed by IBM Corp. and ATI Technologies Inc.
“This is the console where the big idea can prevail over big budgets,” Iwata said.
With Xbox 360 and PS3, meanwhile, snazzy technology able to deliver cinema-quality graphics and sound has been the center attraction.
Xbox 360 will have three speedy processors and custom graphics chip from ATI, a removable 20-gigabyte hard drive and wireless capability for cable-free access to the company’s Xbox Live online multiplayer service.
And while Xbox 360 can play movies, music and television, it won’t replace the desktop computer as an ideal nerve center for such content, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said. The company on Tuesday announced an extender for its Media Center operating system that allows users to stream media from the desktop onto their Xbox 360.
“We think the PC is the best hub for that,” he said. He later added, “It’s the most general purpose of the devices.”
PS3 is to boast Cell processors, jointly developed by Sony with IBM and Toshiba Corp., that are purportedly 10 times faster than current generation computer processors.
But beyond all the techno-lingo, important details for consumers √≥ including price and game costs √≥ still haven’t been announced. The Xbox 360 will be the first to market, due around Thanksgiving, followed by the PS3 next spring and the Revolution sometime next year.
“They are all pursing strategies that really play to their own strengths,” said P.J. McNealy, a senior analyst at American Technology Research. “At this point it is primarily marketing and position, that’s the main goal here.”
In 2004, the PlayStation 2 led the U.S. console wars with 43 percent of the market, according to Jupiter Research. The original Xbox was a distant No. 2 with 19 percent, followed by Nintendo’s GameCube at 14 percent. The remainder included handheld game systems.
Jonathan Epstein, a video game agent for United Talent Agency, said the rise of broadband Internet and more processing power has fueled these new consoles’ ability to move beyond games alone. And that could help grow the market for games beyond the traditional young male audience.
Nintendo’s surprise announcement was a tiny redesigned Game Boy Advance called Micro, available this fall for an undisclosed price. The silver device, about the size of an iPod Mini, is a redesign and doesn’t offer any new technology, officials said.
“This is just another kind of edgy element that we’re adding to the mix,” Nintendo of America spokeswoman Perrin Kaplan said.
New types of interactivity were the main thrust of Nintendo’s hopes to broaden the $10 billion U.S. game market.
“Electroplankton” for Nintendo’s DS handheld lets gamers manipulate fish and other sea creatures to create rhythmic sound effects and music. “Nintendogs,” already available in Japan, employs the DS’ microphone as you shout orders to get your digital pup to do tricks like sit and roll over.
Nintendo Joins Battle of New Game Systems