Will Nintendo Release a Wii Successor in June?
While the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were born with 10-year life cycles in mind, the Wii hit the market with a much shorter projected lifespan.
With no support for high-definition graphics and shaky online multiplayer functionality, everyone including Nintendo knew the Wii would show its age first and would probably be the first console in need of an update.
Now there's growing talk that the company could announce its successor as early as June.
Industry insiders say Nintendo plans to pull back the curtain on a new console at E3 (the video game industry's annual trade show, held in June). Details are still scant, but the system — whose name is still unknown — is expected to support high definition graphics and will advance the motion control user interface that made the Wii such a hit with the mass market.
The system is already being shown to publisher and developer partners, some of whom are expecting a software development kit imminently. While it is expected to be unveiled this year, the new console is not expected on store shelves until late 2012.
Nintendo declined the opportunity to address the talk, citing its usual policy of not commenting on rumor and speculation.
Though no one will talk about the system on the record, the circumstantial case for a system refresh is building fast. Nintendo hasn't released any notable new Wii game since last year's "Donkey Kong Country Returns".
The second quarter calendar of first-party games made by Nintendo was rather paltry as well, with only a sequel to "Wii Play" being of note. The company has not announced any major titles in the works for the system either. Amidst all this, whispers of a $50 price cut in May are growing.
Some analysts, though, worry Nintendo might have missed the optimal window for launching a Wii successor.
"Nintendo waited too long," says Wedbush Securities Michael Pachter. "The drop dead date they should have done this by is last Christmas. I think, essentially, they're simply coming up to speed with this generation … Remember, there's already 8 million (PlayStation) Move (controllers) out there and 10 million Kinects … Nintendo has already lost the opportunity to sell 'Wii 2' to 6 or 7 million households, who have upgraded."
While there's debate in the gaming world about whether the new console will be an upgrade for the Wii or a fully-fledged next generation system, Pachter says he's expecting a hybrid between the two.
While Sony and Microsoft have enjoyed substantial support from third-party publishers, like Activision and Electronic Arts, those companies are backing off from supporting Nintendo's home console as sales falter.
Should Nintendo launch a system that is radically different from today's machines, that would likely put limits on publishers and could discourage them from strongly supporting it.
"If you get all the publishers to say 'Oh my God, I can make a 'Wii 2' game for an extra $3 million!' then they're going to jump at it," says Pachter. "If it's an extra $20 mil, they're not."
Another theory, though, sees Nintendo actually vaulting past a placeholder system with a lifespan of just four or five years and launching something that has legs for the next decade.
It's a risky move, but one that would allow Nintendo to venture deeper into its Blue Ocean strategy — an attempt to create a market where there initially was none.
In essence, kicking off its next generation while the Xbox and PlayStation are at the mid-stage of theirs would start a new launch cycle for the industry; one that removes Nintendo from the same launch zone as its two console competitors and in some ways, further removes the company from the so-called "console wars."