Nintendo kicked off its big E3 event with America CEO Reggie Fils-Aime singing the praises of the Wii and the DS.
But the keynote comes amid multiple threats to the Nintendo juggernaut, from the likes of Microsoft and Apple . And how Nintendo responds, and how quickly, will determine whether its best days are behind it, or still ahead.
Why the seriousness?
Nintendo has owned casual gaming, and its Wii console opened the gaming business to a whole new slice of consumers who watched the ever-increasing complexity of console games pass them by. Nintendo's revolutionary controller for the Wii turned the traditional gaming concept upside down. And its portable DS crushed Sony's much more complex Playstation Portable.
But with yesterday's news from Microsoft, unveiling the rebranded Project Natal as "Kinect," Nintendo's cool game-play platform seems almost quaint by comparison. The new Xbox motion and camera controlled interface will work just as well with Halo and Gears of War eventually, as it does with games for kids like Kinectamals and Yoga and a growing library of sports titles. Don't underestimate the importance of being able to dispense with a handheld controller, or being able to interact naturally with your games just by speaking or gesturing. That's what makes Xbox and Kinect a leapfrog technology today the way Nintendo and Wii leapfrogged the industry yesterday.
Kinect is a full, frontal assault on Nintendo, plain and simple, and comes from an unlikely source: Nintendo had always been focused on rival Sony as it's biggest potential threat, and for good reason: Sony's "Move" controller system is kind of like the Wii controller hopped up on Red Bull. But it's Microsoft that seems to be mounting what could be Nintendo's biggest console concern.
It gets worse for Nintendo: Apple's iPad/iPhone/iPod platform is quickly becoming a worthy challenger to Nintendo. Only recently has Nintendo declared itself the victor in its war with Sony, and now is focusing on Apple as its new enemy. That's where the slick Nintendo DS-3D comes in.
3D play on Nintendo DS is in the way, says Fils-Aime. And best of all, the handheld device will not need glasses. The company formally unveils 3DS, and this is the kind of thing that can certainly answer the oncoming Apple threat.
Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's president, held the device up triumphantly. Two screens, the upper at 3.5 inches, shows full 3D graphics without the need for glasses. What's cool is that you can maximize or minimize the 3D effect using a nifty slider on the device itself.
The device also features two camera lenses, allowing users to take their own 3D photos. Super cool.
3DS will ship with a 3D version of Kid Icarus Uprising, the result of Nintendo's secret Project Sora initiative. This announcement received loud applause!
The new 3DS is also capable of displaying new 3D Hollywood films, though the company isn't ready to announce any specific partnerships for content just yet.
No one is counting out Nintendo just yet. Despite a plunge in console, portable and software sales last month, per NPD, the changes in hardware on DS, Playstation, Xbox are spawning what the industry says should be a mini-console upgrade cycle. Fils-Aime says market research shows the Wii console is still by far the industry's most popular; that more shoppers plan to buy a Wii in the next 6 months than Sony and Microsoft combined.
Microsoft's Don Mattrick tells me he fully expects 2010 to be the best year yet for Xbox, and Kinect will be a big part of that story. It is cool technology.
Sony's Jack Tretton tells me Sony has seen competitors before, from PC makers to Hollywood, to smart phone makers. With Blu-ray, 3D, power under the hood, and the verticle integration of Sony hardware and entertainment properties, he's never felt more optimistic about Sony's prospects, no matter what's coming from Microsoft and Apple. (I don't recall seeing an Apple-produced film, or Apple-produced hit music, or TV programming, he laughs.)
It's the same kind of message you'll hear from Nintendo's Fils-Aime when it comes to the mobile threat from Apple: it comes down to technology AND entertainment properties. Don't underestimate Wii Sports, Lego, Star Wars, Zelda, Donkey Kong, that little fella called Mario. And for adults, the new, multi-player Goldeneye, from Activision, coming in November, will be huge. And the preview of this one looks awesome. Same goes for Metroid Other-M. Sweet.
Nintendo also is seizing on Disney's popularity. The exclusive Disney Epic Mickey Was also unveiled for Wii that will be available for the holiday shopping season. Cool game since it cuts across 80 years of Disney history. Adventure gaming meets the Mouse House. Neat.
Sony's Tretton says this might be the most exciting time yet in the video games business. And that might seem counter-intuitive given last month's NPD numbers. We'll see if his excitement, and the rest of the industry's optimism can stretch into holiday shopping later this year.
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