Nintendo today confirmed that it plans to release a Wii successor in 2012.
In a three-paragraph note (PDF) issued this morning, the game company said it "has decided to launch in 2012 a system to succeed Wii." Nintendo said it had sold 86.01 million Wiis since the console's launch in 2006.
A playable version of the new system, as well as its specs, will be unveiled at the giant E3 video game show in Los Angeles in June, Nintendo said.
The news should not come as a shock to industry observers. Rumors have been circulating for some time about a potential new Wii that could cost between $350 and $400. It was thought that the console could hit shelves as early as October. But Nintendo's announcement would seem to throw cold water on that potential date.
On Thursday, the game-focused site IGN reported that its sources were telling it that the next Wii was being code-named Project Cafe:
According to sources with knowledge of the project, Nintendo's next console could have a retail price of anywhere between $350 and $400 based on manufacturing costs, and will ship from Taiwanese manufacturer, Foxconn, this October, putting the earliest possible retail release anywhere between mid-October and early November.
However, Nintendo could also opt to build up a sizable supply of the system and allocate more time for software and games development by launching in early 2012. Similarly, Nintendo could attempt to lower the retail price of the system with lower profit margins to make the price more alluring.
Clearly, the company seems to have chosen the latter route, at least as far as the release date. If IGN's reasoning is correct, that decision could be because Nintendo doesn't want customers to repeat the experience of previous years, when a Wii was nearly impossible to find in stores during the holiday season. On the other hand, it would be interesting for Nintendo to launch the Wii's successor in early 2012. The original Wii was released in the fall (of 2006) as was Sony's PlayStation 3. Microsoft's Xbox 360 also came out in the fall, albeit of 2005. All three of those releases were timed to the holidays, and led to significant sales of the respective consoles.
In its announcement today, Nintendo did not address the specifications for the new system. But IGN seems to believe that the console will have a lot more horsepower than the existing Wii. "The system will be based on a revamped version of AMD's R700 GPU architecture, not AMD's Fusion technology as previously believed," IGN wrote, "which will, as previously reported, out perform the PlayStation 3's Nvidia 7800GTX-based processor. Like the Xbox 360, the system's CPU will be a custom-built triple-core IBM PowerPC chipset, but the clocking speeds will be faster. The system will support 1080p output with the potential for stereoscopic 3D as well, though it has not been determined whether that will be a staple feature."
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Many people have been wondering when, or if, Nintendo would put out a system rivaling the performance of the PS3 or the Xbox 360. If IGN's sources are correct, 2012 would appear to be the answer. Of course, Microsoft and Sony are hardly going to stand still and let their consoles be overtaken by a rival that has sold 86 million systems in large part because of its ease of use, not its appeal to core gamers.
But if either Sony or Microsoft is to step up their games, as it were, it's most likely going to be after Nintendo makes its next move. A report last week suggested that neither Sony nor Microsoft will come out with a new console until 2014.
"Both companies are hoping to wait out the current generation, and extending an already elongated console life-cycle despite clear signs that Nintendo will launch its next machine by the end of 2012," cited the report from the video game blog Kotaku. "Both MS and Sony are telegraphing to each other that they're delaying, to milk the current [generation] and fill in previous craters better," one insider who has worked with the first-party companies like Sony and Microsoft told us."
No matter what happens, of course, the idea of the five-year console generation--which was the industry standard for years--has gone out the window. If it hadn't, Microsoft would have put out the next Xbox in 2010, while both Sony and Nintendo would have followed suit this year. On the other hand, as Kotaku suggested, all three of the current-generation consoles are still selling well, and there's no immediate reason for any of the companies to supersede their existing hardware. That's particularly true for both Microsoft and Sony, which have breathed new life into the current-gen machines with the release of new motion control systems, Kinect for Xbox, and Move for PS3.