Is Nintendo going to buck the status quo and release a souped up console before Microsoft and Sony can get their hypothetical Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4 out the door in 2012?
Analyst Colin Sebastian seems to think so, as he claimed Monday that "at this point, we believe the consensus opinion among industry professionals is that the next significant hardware refresh is unlikely to occur before 2011, and more likely in 2012.
"One possible exception to console timing may be Nintendo, which could opt to upgrade the Wii with faster processing power, DVD capability and/or greater storage," he said.
The trouble is, nothing Nintendo has said or done since the launch of the Wii in 2006 backs any of this analysis up.
In May 2007, former Nintendo senior vice president of marketing and corporate communications George Harrison dismissed the idea of console lifecycles out of hand.
"I'm not sure it's going to be a typical lifecycle." Harrison told Wired. "In the past, we've always had five- to six-year lifecycles which were sort of forced by someone jumping ahead and using a new piece of technology."
More recently, Iwata also weighed in on the lifecycle debate, and with similar rhetoric. In November 2007, the soft-spoken Nintendo executive said he doubted the traditional lifecycle model could ever be applied to the video game industry ever again.
"I'm quite doubtful that such a notion of platform cycles can be applied in the future. As we continue our research and study for new hardware, when we will be able to launch a new kind of hardware will actually depend on when we can change entertainment completely, and so have a strong impact on people around the world. Or, there will certainly be a time when we have to say that we have done everything possible with the current machine, that we can never propose anything new, he said.
The trouble is, Nintendo could care less about new technology, as public comments have shown since 2007. According to any number of Nintendo executives, from Harrison all the way up to Satoru Iwata, the message has been clear: Consumers believe graphics are "good enough," and don't see a point in paying a premium for next-gen hardware.
Also detrimental to Sebastian's case is the fact that Nintendo only just released its latest money-making add-on, MotionPlus, last month. According to Nintendo prez Iwata, there are no new Wii peripherals planned at the moment, leading many to believe 2009 will be the year Nintendo (and third parties, they hope), start to develop serious 1:1 motion control games--led undeniably by Wii Sports Resort in the spring.
Sebastian also alludes to Nintendo's current storage issue as a possible catalyst for a new system. Again, whether it's a sound strategy or not, Nintendo has been less than friendly to cries for a Wii storage solution. In the lead up to July's E3 conference Nintendo Europe's Laurent Fisher summed up his company's attitude on storage thusly: Only "geeks and otaku" care about Wii storage. The remarks quickly circled the globe and were later "clarified."
An additional storage rumor regarding the highly experimental holographic storage market only further muddied the Nintendo storage issue. As most patent stories are wont to do, this one faded quickly from the video game industry conversation. Nintendo appears content letting the issue continue on indefinitely. If they aren't in a rush to produce a hard drive, you can bet a new console is completely out of the question.
That leaves a DVD drive as the remaining reason supporting Sebastian's claim a "new Nintendo console" is due out before 2012. Last we heard from Nintendo, there was a Wii DVD console planned for Japan, and Japan only, but that was in late 2006. Only hacked homebrew DVD-playing Wii's are available today, and with Nintendo's holiday plans pretty much buttoned up at E3, there is little factual evidence available that would indicate a risky hardware re-launch with DVD is forthcoming from Kyoto.
Lastly, there's Nintendo's most recent financials to consider. As of July 2008, the NPD group had Nintendo outselling and out-playing both Microsoft and Sony combined. as the old cliche goes, if it ain't broken, don't fix it.