The Waiting Game

by Justin Nation - March 21, 2000, 10:00 pm PST

While the nay-sayers love to try to eat up Nintendo's strategy as providing too little info too late there may be more to their delay than meets the impatient eye…

It seems to me as I read more and more on the Net that there is one major and prevailing opinion used in order to spell doom and gloom for Nintendo. The argument roughly states this, and you can find it everywhere: The longer Nintendo waits to release information, screen shots, and more… the tougher a road they will face. Some have even gone as far as implying that every day/week/month Nintendo holds out they're losing a few extra hundred/thousand/million potential buyers. While at times my own desires to know more can push me to make a similar statement the longer you sit down and really think about it this entire line of reasoning is WRONG. Let me give you some reasons why.

First, let's really sit down and think about this where the timing of releases is concerned. Dreamcast has a full world-wide launch under its belt already. PS2 has safely been launched in Japan and won't be introduced to American shores until sometime late this year in the States. X-Box has had its unveiling but we know it won't be on shelves until Fall 2001. In other words there is nothing pressing on the horizon… Nintendo could easily wait until sometime before this fall and it could do all the damage it wants safely before the PS2 launch in the States. Oh wait, Nintendo seems to have that covered with SpaceWorld. Hrm… so what would Nintendo truly gain in opening the flood gates before then when it would only give their competition more time to use any ideas Nintendo may implement in terms of its system features or controllers. As long as Sony launches sometime after September of this year Nintendo will be able to do all the damage it wants and if it waits until then it loses very little while also giving very little help to anyone looking to poke holes into Dolphin right now.

But surely if Nintendo waits that long the Sony hype juggernaut will have had months to put together its attack and Nintendo will have little chance of changing people's minds if they wait till late August? Yes and no. Think about it truthfully, do you really think that even if Nintendo unveiled the second coming that the hordes of Sony fans out there would be swayed? Hell no they wouldn't. No matter what Nintendo does the PS2 will have the largest launch in US history… it's a given short of some catastrophic problem Sony itself creates. Sony is the current market leader and the video game industry is bigger than ever, of course it will have a tremendous launch… and Nintendo knows this. So what is the use of trying to sway these millions of die-hards that will buy the PS2 the moment it hits the shelf regardless? There is none. If anyone can be swayed in the PS2 camp the convenient thing is that the much more powerful X-Box has already been unveiled, likely causing second thoughts in the less faithful Sony followers anyway… and since X-Box won't be out for a long time that actually benefits Nintendo for the moment since it will launch before X-Box. Weird as it is, Gates has helped Nintendo out by announcing the X-Box… it has shown decisively that the people who fancied the PS2 to be a 'uber-console' to end all consoles were wrong.

Of course an immediate claim to counter any of this would be that right now all anybody talks about in terms of the next generation is the battle between X-Box and PS2… nobody really mentions Dolphin. Ahh, but part of the answer to that problem lies in the statement of the problem itself. Notice, people are already talking about the X-Box and its impact and it's been, what, all of two weeks since everything about X-Box has been set in stone? Oddly enough we live in a world-wide culture now where, because of the press and the internet, we know everything there is to know about any product the moment it is released. Add to that the fact that our cultures are now extremely fickle and prone to sudden changes of heart (look at the presidential nominee free-for-all we had briefly, or the simple emergence of Sony as the market leader on its first try) and you have a formula that doesn't make Nintendo's strategy seem so bad. As long as people already know the PS2 won't be the king of the technology hill Nintendo can bide its time and release it's wares when it believes it can inflict maximum damage… and for Nintendo that means when it has some of its software ready to go.

This seems to be the essence of Nintendo's traditional mantra and more than ever I believe they are following up on it. They have stated that at SpaceWorld they will have playable versions of some of their launch software. If they hold off on revealing anything about what the system's games will look like until they're refined enough that people could sit down and play them, Nintendo could have a very powerful weapon in hand. Look at the basics of the technology we know about, there is no doubt the Dolphin will not only be powerful, but with hardware support for textures and other elements confirmed to be in place there is no question that Nintendo's games should have eye candy oomph to spare. Add the fact that people won't be seeing duckies swimming in a sink, dancing robots, or very gorgeous butterflies but an actual game they could take home and play and you have a powerful thing. What made so many N64s sell early? Seeing Mario in 3D moving around in the environments Nintendo had created for Mario 64. It was fascinating to see how this kiosk could completely dumbfound people of all ages. Mario 64 was simply magic on the screen when it launched and that is what counts in the end. Technical demos can make jaws drop but if you put something out there that looks phenomenal and you can simultaneously be in awe of the gameplay it possesses and you've taken a step beyond. Nintendo's stellar software is what will drive their state-of-the-art hardware, and that is something we know will work.

Granted, all of this waiting and keeping in the dark will influence the third party support the Dolphin will garner but things aren't as dire this time around as last. In the last generation Sony inherited many 'exclusives' by default. The N64 didn't have the space to handle PSX ports and the Saturn was generally underpowered for it. In this next generation Nintendo will have a system as, and likely more, powerful than the PS2 and it will also have the same storage media. This means that once Nintendo gets any momentum at all third parties will likely be eager to port over the games they've already spent the time and money developing to the Dolphin to further profit from them. Sure, ports aren't entirely what people want but remove third party exclusives from Sony's side, add in Nintendo's extensive first and second party titles, and suddenly the PS2 is left with only the exclusives of its own first and second party endeavors… well and probably the likes of Square. All of this means a more competitive race and more of a situation in this generation where Nintendo can gain significant lost ground merely by being compatible with PS2 ports.

In the end you could probably still argue that this is all a gamble on Nintendo's part… and it is. The strategy I've laid out of course only works if Nintendo is capable of wowing the world with what it is bringing to market when it decides the time is right to reveal what it has in store. The thing is, there's nothing right now pointing to that being a difficult proposition. What we do know about the Dolphin hardware points to ample opportunities to make delicious looking games. We know that Nintendo has never released a system without a few elements in mind to try to improve the overall gaming landscape through innovation (the analog/3D movement/camera progress, the Rumble Pak, the failed though promising 64DD writable space). We know that the power of programming talent behind the doors of both Nintendo and Rare is among the most explosive in the world. All Nintendo needs to do now is put these pieces together to create a concentrated and powerful statement that cannot be denied… and since they have a few months to wait without much consequence why not ensure that they get the absolute most bang for their buck?

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