What's With Those Specs?

by the NWR Staff - December 14, 2005, 6:24 pm PST

The PGC staff discusses the rumored Revolution specs floating around.

Last week IGN reported an unofficial sketch of the Revolution's hardware based on third party sources. The report has created much commotion--naturally we have our own thoughts on the matter. Let the rambling begin!

Mike C.: Rumored Revolution Specs: powerfully daring, powerfully disappointing or powerful BS?

David: First of all, I believe the information is relatively accurate. As with most things, there are a number of positives and negatives to be considered here. The obvious negative is under-powered graphics, although this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Revolution games will not have to run in HD (which is itself a manifestation of under-powered graphics of course). The other negatives are essentially marketing problems related to having the least powerful console.

The positives are low manufacturing cost and also higher manufacturing volume. As long as the controller doesn't cost too much, this will translate into a very low launch price combined with very high launch quantities. Together this should result in a very significant number of Revolutions sold at launch starting the console out with a healthy install base. As the price decreases, the number of games increases and the PS3 launch magic wears off, Nintendo will have the easiest time selling new consoles to 360 and PS3 owners because the lower price and unique interface will easily justify the purchase. The low price is integral to bringing in non-gamers as well. All in all, I think the positives clearly outweigh the negatives for Nintendo. The ones who lose the most are die-hard Nintendo fans with deep pockets who really wanted to see Nintendo enter the HD era in style.

In short, as long as Nintendo can convince third parties to release games that justify the controller, I think they'll do very well. The lack of hardware power won't hurt them as long as there is a solid install base. Developers don't rule the industry, but Nintendo will certainly have a number of developers on their side who are just itching to develop for the new interface.

Jonathan L.: Nintendo has bowed out of the console graphics "arms race", and I

don't think that's necessarily a bad idea. Look at the Nintendo DS.

It's a suped-up GBA that isn't even on the same technological

continent as Sony's PSP, but it has hardware features that no other

handheld offers along with some of the best games out there. Despite

its supposed shortcomings, it's moving solid numbers in both North

America and Japan. With Revolution, Nintendo is attempting to

recreate this model in the console space. It will be

cheap, less powerful, have some great games, have free (at least to

connect) wireless online capability, and have wholly unique hardware features. Nintendo isn't trying to

out-muscle the XBox360 and PS3; it's simply trying to make an

obvious improvement on GameCube's graphic power while providing a steady

stream of innovative games exclusive to their console.

Content is king in the videogame industry, and Nintendo will certainly

have great content. Within the context of Nintendo's strategy, the

"underpowered" specs of the Revolution shouldn't come as a surprise to


Stan: While I don't have any conclusive data to back up this statement, I can still state pretty confidently that the DS didn't expand the handheld market like Nintendo is expecting to do with the Revolution. How are they going to market this so that Mrs. Soccer Mom is going to buy this just as much for herself as for her kids? I'm interested in seeing how they pull this off.

They've certainly limited themselves to pushing the controller, since the "guts" of the machine (based on the pretty credible hearsay) isn't anything to call home about. 104 MB of RAM is pretty weak. I can hope IGN is dead wrong, though they seem to be very confident in their sources.

256MB of RAM was the least I was expecting from this console, primarily because I was thinking, "Okay, this bad-boy's got to last 5 years. And with no HD, that leaves plenty of breathing room"

I guess I'm disappointed, but I love the controller so much that I'm most definitely intrigued. With next fall being the expected launch date, Nintendo better turn on the faucet if they plan on creating an ocean.

Mike C.: Let's not forget that developers tweak details of the specs all of the time. Sony increased the amount of RAM in the

PSP fairly late in its development, and Nintendo tweaked clock rates for the GameCube GPU and CPU after its E3 showing.

I'm not saying Nintendo is going to all of a sudden go HD, but if their internal development team decides they need more

RAM, they'll add at least a little more.

Rick: Nintendo is caught in a difficult situation. Revolution will be a hard

sell at retail, because much like the Nintendo DS, until you get it in

your hands and see what all the fuss is about, it's far too easy to

dismiss. Without "sexy" hardware specs and features, the very market

Nintendo is going after will need to play with Revolution before making

a decision, and I'm just not sure that the intriguing controller is

going to get the job done.

However, Nintendo is most definitely going to have some innovative

software, and it's possible that they may be able to generate the same

sort of buzz that Mario 64 created going into the Nintendo 64 era, which

would certainly offset the lack of the expected "next-generation"

feature set.

What Nintendo needs to do is avoid making the same mistakes Microsoft

has made with the Xbox 360 launch. Focus on one territory at a time,

launch with at least one killer app (Mario would surely do it), and make

sure that the initial run of software shows the potential of the new

controller mechanism.

Steven: After the initial announcement that Nintendo wouldn't be supporting HD

resolutions on the Revolution, I was furious. It took a few days for me

to cool off after that. Now that I've seen some potential specs for it,

I just stopped caring about the whole technical aspect of it. While I

do admit I was expecting a little more, I realize that what the

Revolution is going to be should be more than enough for anyone to enjoy

a game.

I was worried for a time that if I saw some Xbox 360 games, Zelda

Twilight Princess wouldn't look at as good. After seeing Project Gotham

Racing 3, Kameo, Call of Duty 2 and others on a nice, big HDTV, I can

say with confidence that Zelda still looks great and I still look

forward to playing it.

Nintendo needs to sell Revolution and hook everyone at E3. They're only

going to get one chance at it, and if they can't steal the show against

the 360's second wave of games or the PS3 juggernaut, they may be dead

before the system launches.

David: I agree that non-gamers will be a hard sell and will ultimately prove

insignficant in the final tally. I think the Revolution's strength will be

as a secondary console for people who own 360's and PS3's. And if Microsoft

and Sony end up with equal marketshare and Nintendo gets strong enough

penetration as a secondary console, the numbers could potentially add up in

such a way that puts them on top. As unlikely as this is, I think at the

least the Revolution will be a strong contender in the next generation race.

Stan: Then what do you think about all this talk about Blue Ocean marketing

and increasing the video game market?

Steven: Blue Ocean, yeah, I totally agree with it. The modern videogame

industry is over 20 years old now, and if the general audience for games

was ever going to expand significantly, it would have done so with every

new system introduced. Instead, it's only expanded as the population

has increased, as Reggie pointed out during his Gamers Summit presentation.

This is a big risk by Nintendo, but greater risk yields greater rewards.

If Nintendo can really expand the market, even by a little bit, that

new market will exclusively belong to Nintendo. Add in the current

market, and Nintendo has a good chance of coming out on top.

Rick: That's assuming that coming out on top is even all that important.

Nintendo has always been numero uno when it comes to generating a

profit, and that's really all that matters. Being a darling of fans and

media is nice, but if you're doing it at the expense of the bottom line,

it's a bad decision.

This is where I have to criticize Microsoft for continuing to spend

money promoting Xbox 360 when you can't even go out and purchase it.

They're coming out strong, but without product to back it up, all

they're doing is cutting into any potential profit. (Of course,

Microsoft will be able to absorb those losses much as they did with Xbox.)

Jonathan M.: For Revolution to be a success in spite of its technical limitations,

Nintendo has to figure out a way to sell the system to my parents. It's

tough but not impossible. Reaching people like that, people who currently

have zero interest in video games other than Solitaire and Bejeweled, is

going to take a truly mass market price point ($99), a non-threatening

interface (CHECK), and absolutely remarkable marketing. I think Nintendo's

technical direction is going to place the system at or near the mass market

price point. Marketing is the real issue here. Nintendo will have to

completely change the type, quantity, and placement of their advertisements,

and in more subversive ways, they'll have to significantly alter their brand

image for non-gamers, which has been dramatically diluted since the late


The final big piece of this success puzzle is the Revolution's software

support. I have little doubt that Nintendo will provide some excellent uses

for the new controller, but I don't see the system gaining major third-party

support in time for launch. With the GameCube, Nintendo has asked

publishers to port their titles to the third-place system, which entails

nominal development costs that may or may not be recovered by the GameCube

version's inevitably weak sales. But with carefully negotiated money hats

and promising success stories of a select few titles, most publishers were

willing to give at least some multiplatform support to the system. With

Revolution, Nintendo is asking publishers to significantly retool their

multiplatform games to work on the Revolution, or else develop innovative

new software which will take advantage of the Revolution's features but will

simply not work at all on any other platform. So while overall development

costs for an original title may be lower on Revolution than PS3 or Xbox 360,

you can be sure that developing any sort of original software costs more

time and money than simply porting one over from the traditional consoles,

and even the "normal" multiplatform ports will require more work to

translate to Nintendo's system than publishers are used to.

I cannot stress enough how major this issue is for Revolution. It is the

key to whether the system succeeds or fails. GameCube's third-party support

was slightly improved over the N64's but still inferior to that of the Xbox,

which started this current generation with zero dedicated fanbase and zero

brand recognition. Nintendo simply cannot afford to maintain their current

level of support from third-party publishers, and the Revolution's

uniqueness is going to make the battle to improve that characteristic even

more difficult. Even at face value, it's easy for us to see how Revolution

appeals to developers, the creative force in this industry. But what we

currently cannot see, and what Nintendo MUST establish early on, is

Revolution's appeal to publishers, who control the money in this industry

and ultimately decide which games are released on which systems. So what's

it going to be...lower royalties? cheaper disc pressing? free advertising?

free dev kits? all-profit game downloads? Nintendo has to find the

Revolution's advantages in this arena and ram them down publishers' throats

until the software companies feel that they can't afford NOT to support the

system with both original titles and multiplatform games. I wish I had more

confidence that Nintendo will succeed in this task, but their track record

so far is less than spectacular.

Mike C.: What Jonny said about appealing to non-gamers like our parents is absolutely correct. Nintendo needs to present a new

image to adults with games and marketing TRULY targeted to that segment. The company talks as though it understands

this, but Nintendo's thrift has a long history.

I've said it before, but Nintendo should team up with brands moms and dads recognize, especially when they can tie that

brand to a game. They need to ditch the half-assed celebrity "endorsements" from Nintendo-sponsored parties and get

household names truly behind them. I want to hear John Stewart mention Revolution when video games come up in his

interviews. Earning the favor of worldwide-trusted information sources such as The Wall Street Journal's could be a

huge boon. People will hate me for this, but Nintendo should put more resources behind high-quality edutainment titles

aimed at adults.

Stan: Hahaha, while trying to drum up some ideas for unusual product

placement, I was just imagining a Desperate Housewives episode which

incorporates the Revolutions.

Jonathan M.: What if the castaways on Lost discover a time portal, out of which pops a

Revolution, a TV set, and a hand-crank generator with which to power both of


David: I think you left one thing out Jonny. To really attract non-gamers,

Nintendo needs a very low price point for the console and a concerted

marketing effort, but they need something else too. They need low priced

software that will not intimidate that very same market. And the console

must ship with some simple games that appeal to non-gamers and help justify

the price tag. Even if the console is $99 at launch, you can forget it

attracting non-gamers if the console has no packed in games and every launch

title costs the usual 50 clams. Low-priced, simple games must be available

for download at very low prices and similar games should be available in

stores for similar prices. These games would have very low development

costs of course, so that should help attract 3rd parties to the arena. We

must remember that a huge part of Nintendo's target audience aren't strictly

non-gamers; they already play simple PC and flash games (ranging from

solitaire to bejeweled). The equivalent revolution games will justify

themselves by their use of Nintendo's unique controller. The trick will be

making and marketing these games without offending hardcore gamers. I can

imagine the reviews now.

Brendan: I don't think it's Nintendo's intention to have our parents buy a Revolution.

Not for themselves, at any rate. (At least in my family, that is something

that is never, ever going to happen.) Rather, Nintendo wants people like

our parents to PLAY video games... something that is near impossible for my

folks with today's controllers. (My mom still hasn't figured out how to use

the "right-click" menus in Windows.) If the RevMote is as intuitive as I

think it is, Nintendo will achieve its goal of making a video game platform

that "non-gamers" can play and enjoy. The commercial success comes in when

Nintendo Revolution becomes the first choice for putting under the family

room television... not just in the basement home-theater... not just in

kid's bedroom... not just over at a family member's apartment. Nintendo

wants its new system to be at the center of the household. Our parents

won't buy a revolution for themselves, but we will buy it for them as gifts

after discovering found how much fun it is playing together.

I think of the key to Revolution's success is less about increases sales

rather than it is about increased users per unit. Increased sales come later

after Mom and Dad talk to other couples about how much fun they had playing

"that new Nintendo with the amazing little controller". One by one, more

and more families will hear about it and conclude "we've got to get one of

those for our house".

As for the actual specs, (we've gotten really off-track here!), I think

Nintendo's mere "mortal" hardware can only help them sell it as a family

centric device. High-end electronics aren't really in the same market as

"household" items. Cutting-edge technology, as great as it would be for

gamers, only gets in the way of the marketing-message Nintendo wants to build

around the Revolution. There are some people, the majority of people, who

never buy ANYTHING top of the line. They always go for the value purchase.

And I'm not just talking about the price, positioning the system as a

"mid-level" machine automatically signals to this market that this is the

choice for them.

I want to make it clear, while I think Nintendo's target for hardware specs is rock-solid form a marketing standpoint, its still terribly disappointing as a Nintendo enthusiast. I'm somewhat of a graphics-snob who gets annoyed at graphical flaws/limitations in video games. Not being able to run/swim around Isle Del Fino in "Super Mario Sunshine" is an example that comes to mind. Will the worlds Nintendo creates for Revolution be anymore expansive than on GameCube?

I'm still hopeful that when the final hardware is revealed, Revolution will indeed show us a big leap in visuals. We still have very few hard facts about the hardware specs. Sure, the 88MB of main RAM seems puny next to the 360's 512MB... but lets not overlook that its a version of the 1T-SRAM that, with only 24MB in the GameCube, was able to keep up with the Xbox's 64MB. Microsoft increased its main-memory by a factor of 8, Nintendo by 3.6. I'm still highly skeptical that the "normal" RAM in Revolution will only amount to 16MB... isn't it cheaper to go with 32MB or 64MB simply b/c more people make RAM in those amounts?

Mike C.: When you're making a console, placing special orders in bulk, round numbers are not really "cheaper" or "easier" to fill. I see no reason for more secondary RAM in the Revolution—if they increase anything it would be the main RAM.

Whatever Nintendo is planning with IBM and ATI, clearly it isn't as powerful as what the other two have. Will Nintendo win on its less-is-more gamble? Will the graphics be "good enough"? Only time will tell.

Continue discussing it in the very long Revolution thread!

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