Wii U less powerful than PS3, Xbox 360, developers say

Sources say that Nintendo's new console is not even equal to the current generation

Nintendo's upcoming Wii U console may generate full HD graphics, but it's not up to the graphics power of the Xbox 360 or the PS3, according to developers familiar with the hardware who spoke on a condition of anonymity to GamesIndustry International.

"No, it's not up to the same level as the PS3 or the 360," said one developer who's been working with the Wii U. What does that mean? "The graphics are just not as powerful," reiterated the source.

This developer is not alone in their opinion. Another developer at a major company confirmed this point of view. "Yeah, that's true. It doesn't produce graphics as well as the PS3 or the 360," said the source. "There aren't as many shaders, it's not as capable. Sure, some things are better, mostly as a result of it being a more modern design. But overall the Wii U just can't quite keep up."

"There aren't as many shaders, it's not as capable. Sure, some things are better, mostly as a result of it being a more modern design. But overall the Wii U just can't quite keep up"

Anonymous developer

This may be a surprise to some consumers, who could be expecting that with a new console design five years later than the Xbox 360 or PS3 designs, that Nintendo should be able to produce more raw power than those consoles. It's not quite that simple, though. Cost and graphics power are generally tightly linked. Graphics on the cutting edge of chip technology is going to be more expensive.

Taking the latest generation of Nvidia GPU and pairing it with a powerful CPU and plenty of high-speed RAM is relatively straightforward engineering, but you could easily produce something that would cost $1000 or more at retail. The real test is in how much graphics capability you can produce at a given retail price, and the target price for a new console these days is likely to be fairly low.

Nintendo is also hampered in some ways by the tablet controller. Putting something innovative into a new console is pretty much expected, and the tablet controller is Nintendo's big innovation for the Wii U, not raw horsepower. The tablet controller, with its color LCD touchscreen, is not going to be an inexpensive component. This would tend to push the price of the Wii U (which consists of a Wii U console plus a single tablet controller, according to sources) higher; keeping the retail price of the whole package low means cutting back on the capability of the GPU, CPU, RAM and other components in order to keep the price at the desired level.

What is that level? Nintendo hasn't said yet, but certainly the continued weakness in the retail market for console hardware and software (down 8% last year in both the US and Japan) indicates that consumers will not be enthusiastic about high prices for new consoles.

Nintendo has been focusing their public statements about the Wii U on innovation, and game design quality, and offering a unique experience. Those are good things, but at the same time they have avoided direct power comparisons between the Wii U and the current competitors, the Xbox 360 and the PS3. This implies that at the least the Wii U does not have a strong graphics advantage over the competition; if they did, why wouldn't Nintendo want to shout that from the rooftops?

Nintendo seems at this point to be making the tablet controller, not horsepower, the key selling point of the Wii U. According to sources, there are some issues with the tablet controller that may be a factor in how the customers like it.

"The whole thing about the tablet controller is that you only get one of them, and you can only use one and it's not completely independent," noted the source. "The base console has to be on, and you have to be in range." Queried about other controllers, the source was clear: "Other controllers are just Wiimotes, or other Wii controllers. They may change the form factor or looks a bit, but it's the same controller."

This means that one player using the tablet controller will be having a somewhat different experience than other players on the same console. Nintendo has shown several Wii U games that make interesting use of this, where the player with the tablet controller has a different view and different goals than the other players, or is competing directly against the other players. However, what if you've got 2 or 3 or 4 players who all want to play Call of Duty on the Wii U, and the tablet controller offers some advantage (or puts you at a disadvantage)? Will there be arguments, and will that affect satisfaction with the console?

Some developers are looking at the PS3/PS Vita combo as being more powerful than the Wii U with tablet controller, and easier to program, too. "You can do everything with that combo that you can with the Wii U, and more," said the source. Nintendo's bid for a unique play experience with the tablet controller may not be completely successful.

The key issue of console price versus performance is definitely a difficult one for Nintendo. Unless they can price the Wii U very low, Microsoft and Sony will probably be able to price their consoles below the Wii U, and they may well want to do that in the Wii U's first holiday selling season. Will Nintendo be able to convince hard-core gamers to buy the Wii U if it offers somewhat less power at a higher price?

Or, indeed, what would any consumer think of slightly less power at a higher price? This would force Nintendo to make sure the innovations of the tablet controller (and perhaps other features) are compelling enough to make the Wii U a desirable buy despite the price. Many fans would probably buy a Wii U if they could get a new Legend of Zelda game with HD graphics; but are their enough of those fans to make the Wii U a hit? Will Nintendo even have one ore more of its iconic brands available in a game at the Wii U's launch?

These critical questions are likely to receive some answers at E3 this year.

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Latest comments (38)

Petr Tomicek Intern Programmer, The Creative Assembly10 years ago
This is hard to believe. If Nintendo release hardware that is less powerful, or even at the same level of performance as 5 year old hardware, the consumer adoption is going to suffer badly, especially with new Xbox and PS on the way. Nintendo doesn't need another hardware nail in the coffin along the lines of 3DS.
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Private Industry 10 years ago
Well was the Wii really more powerful than a PS2? :)

E3 is soon so we should know how powerful it is, so far most of what I read on the internet was that devs where saying it`s at least on par with 360 and PS3.
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Tom Tapper10 years ago

If the recent history of console sales is anything to go by, your theory doesn't really add up. If anything, Nintendo's target audience doesn't really consider hardware specs before purchase. Just compare the hardware of the Wii and the PS3/360 and then look at the initial Wii adoption rate compared to the 360/PS3, one of which launched a full year ahead of the Wii. Also, the 3DS is selling faster than the Wii and the DS did, so I am perplexed by the comment that it is a "nail in the coffin." The biggest problem with the 3DS was the launch price. It looks like Nintendo is trying to hit a low price point for Wii-U launch.

I honestly don't believe that the Wii-U will be less powerful than the current gen though, just because developers from Ubisoft and Gearbox have already said, not anonymously, that they think it is more powerful. It is possible Nintendo scaled back the specs on their most recent version of SDKs to get costs down though but there are rumors that say the opposite, that the new SDKs are adding power. We will just have to wait and see. I don't hold much regard for anonymous rumor spreading.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tom Tapper on 2nd April 2012 9:39pm

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
Tom, I keep hearing the latest SDK is actually more powerful than the previous versions so even that doesn't make sense at the moment.

I'm hearing far too many words from devs that the Wii U will be more powerful than the PS3/X360 (and to be honest, it would actually be very difficult for it not to be more powerful as even the most basic grade components now are beyond PS3/X360) with many of them being open rather than anonymous.

Perhaps these developers have been stuck with SDK version 1 or 2 and this is their way of pressuring Nintendo into sending them a more current kit.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago, you guys missed the April Fools joke window already.

Besides, if you are going to run this, why not run a series of comments from Sega, Gearbox, Ubisoft, Vigil and others that have openly stated, not anonymously, the contrary? I think that would make for a more compelling article.
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DeShaun Zollicoffer Editorial Director, Geek Revolt10 years ago
I agree with Jim, I honestly don't believe this one. Nintendo wouldn't even have to try and make the Wii U more powerful than the PS3 and Xbox 360. Even with lower end parts it still could be more powerful since both of those consoles are ancient in tech years. But who knows, we'll see in June.
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Daniel Hughes Studying PhD Literary Modernism, Bangor University10 years ago
It would be suicide on Nintendo's part to undershoot the current consoles. They need to at least be on par to ensure a couple of years of strong third party support, something the Wii never had, and it's that lack of third party support that's ultimately killed off the Wii. Yes, they've sold 90 million of them, but Nintendo can't carry hugely successful systems just on the strength of their own output. It's something they've publicly admitted.

Even if it means selling the system at a loss, Nintendo will match or slightly exceed the current HD machines with Wii U. I'm with Jim on this one.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 10 years ago
I'm a bit perplexed by the talk of SDKs here: the developers in the article were clearly talking about hardware rendering power, which isn't changed by a software development kit. (Or by SDK did you mean the hardware/software combination that I call a "developer kit"?)

At any rate, that it's slightly less powerful may not be such a big deal; the PS3 has pretty consistently looked a bit worse than the Xbox 360 on multiplatform games, and it hasn't really done much harm. As well, how well the developers can use the hardware is a pretty big factor: take a look at the difference between Uncharted and Uncharted 3 for an example of how large the difference can be. So a good part of the question will be, how hard or easy is it to program?

In the end, when it comes to mass market adoption, I think price is going to be the biggest factor, not only because consumers are quite price-sensitive these days, but it's an obvious and easy point of comparison. You could put all three consoles on screens side by side, playing the same demo, and the first thing a consumer would notice would still be the price.
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James Brightman Editor, North America, GamesIndustry.biz10 years ago
@Jim, regardless of what others may have said, Steve had two separate developers - importantly, completely independently of one another - tell him the same thing, that Wii U simply doesn't match up with PS3. Make of that what you will, but it doesn't bode well for anyone expecting the Wii U to be some leap forward (even a minor one) from current gen.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
@Curt, SDK = Software Development Kit. And while the SDK's may or may not represent what the capability of the final hardware will be, we have had developers state that several versions of the SDK's have varied greatly in their performance capability leading them to believe the final hardware will be similar to the latest SDK. And with the console launching later this year, locking down the performance now is necessary.

@James, I understand the circumstances. The problem is that they are contradictory to to others that have already publicly, not anonymously, stated the opposite. The only way that this is possible is if all parties are referencing the presumably performance varied SDK's in which those claiming less power are utilizing the older kits and the ones proclaiming increased power are working with the newer kits.
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Steve Peterson Marketing Consultant 10 years ago
Gauging the power of hardware is difficult when you aren't able to run the same benchmarks. The PS3 and the Xbox 360 are roughly equal, but that's rough. looking at different measurements will give you different results as to which is "better." And those measurements may or may not be reflected in actual game performance. A lot depends on the skill of the programmers, and the nature of the game itself and how it is architected.

All that said, I was told that the Wii us is not really up to the same level as the current gen. Some of this may be due to unfamiliarity with the system, and a lot of familiarity with getting good performance from the current consoles (years of experience at that). The key information I got is that the Wii U does not represent a big leap in performance, it represents Nintendo catching up to where the Xbox 360 and the PS3 are.

Things can still change, too, before shipment, such as the amount of RAM, or clock speeds, which could have a big effect on performance. (Such changes wouldn't require big design changes.) The price is a major factor, too, and we don't know that yet. Another key is just how well games perform, and whether the tablet controller makes for some unique and interesting game play. All those things will have a big impact on the perception of the Wii U. I think it's pretty clear, though, that Nintendo will not be basing their marketing around the sheer power of the Wii U. They've been very careful to steer the discussion away from that in their public pronouncements.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
The tablet is only 854 x 480. That's an extra 409,920 pixels. Hardly enough to take a console that has been claimed as being 2x, 5x and other derivatives as powerful as the PS3/X360 to being less powerful than either. A single core of the PowerPC CPU (either Power7 or Power A2) could easily handle the tablet, maybe one for the OS, and you'd still have plenty of cores left for the main system and don't forget you get 4 threads per core.

And fewer shaders? Really? How? How do you get fewer shaders from GPU architecture that is several generations ahead? It's supposedly a Radeon R700 GPU. That is shader model 4.1. The X360 and PS3 are both shader model 3.0 compliant. And looking at ALL the R700 GPU's shows that they ALL have a higher clock rate than 500 Mhz (PS3 and X360 GPU clock rates). Throw in the often believed 1.5 GB's of VRAM and I don't see how in the world it could run fewer shaders.

Then you have comments like the following:

THQ: “WiiU is just alot more powerful than current HD consoles it does 1080p very easy.”

"the Wii U versions of Darksiders 2 and Metro Last Light will be superior to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions."

Epic: "That Zelda demo was gorgeous and we can do even more than that "

Crytek: “WiiU devkits are very powerful,the specs are very good”

Vigil Games: "Yeah, just because the hardware is more powerful and it will have some extra features that I think will actually be useful to people playing the game. With it’s controller, [the Wii U version of Darksiders II] might be the best version of the game."

Valve: "Wii U seems to be a lot more powerful than the previous generation."

Never seen such varied analysis on the performance of a pre-launch console in history.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 10 years ago
Who cares about power? It is 100% the wrong way of looking at things.
What matters is giving the customer great experiences for their money. And in the current generation of home consoles Nintendo have done this far better than Sony or Microsoft. Despite having far less of this "power" stuff.
We are in the entertainment industry, not the technology industry.
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Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 10 years ago
Hopefully not to late with this pun. Can we say "Wii U Turn!"


I would agree about power if it wasn't for the fact that this current generation is only just starting to reach it's limits. That being the case it seems pointless to bring out a machine that litterally can't even get THAT far in it's lifetime.

No doubt the next HD zelda and Mario will look amazing but, quite frankly I've had it with those games as they (zelda in particular) are starting to get a stale kind of vibe i.e new link your task is to rescue zelda again!

I honestly wished they had continued with the Majora's Mask adventures as that really set the stage to really make a legend! I actually still get a small lump in the throat (sad I know) when at the end of Ocarina link actually leaves it all behind and rides off.

I wish nintendo all the best but, I'm not investing in another of their machines. Got burned with the lack of software for the Cube, then again with the super slow releases for the Wii. I'm simply not waiting a year per good title on yet another nintendo machine that they will abandon a few years down the line with nary a worthy title on it's shelves.
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Doug Paras10 years ago
There is no way this article is real, considering all thats been said about the stats previously of the Wii U.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee10 years ago
Considering all of the other completely upfront and open developer reports this sounds odd. That's besides the fact even a cheap budget GPU could destroy the old hardware in the current systems.

If this is true Nintendo have lost the plot given there is no reason they can't exceed the 360 and PS3 on the absolute cheap. That said we don't have all the facts.
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Charlie White Software Support Analyst 10 years ago
Another 'Expansion Pak' anyone?
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Nick Parker Consultant 10 years ago
The Nintendo pure play business model is different from the Sony and Microsoft business models and therefore comparing Nintendo with its competitors is largely irrelevant. Nintendo appeals to a different demographic and type of gamer so again, not really comparable. The name of the game is still the games (boxed games at that) for Nintendo so it has to rely on producing a better (gameplay and graphic quality) experience of its trusted mascot licenses as 3rd party support is fickle and, these days, not seduced by the Nintendo audience which seeks a less irreverent gaming experience than 3rd parties chose to address (with the odd exception). What should always be a concern for Microsoft and Sony is that there are enough Nintendo gamers taking cash out of already constipated wallets.
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Tommy Thompson Lecturer in BSc (Hons) Computer Games Programming., University of Derby10 years ago
I agree with Nicholas and Bruce. Not only is this purely speculative, with not even a shred of proof provided to support it, does it really matter?
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All I know, is that its going to be a much easier sell for Nintendo going from the Wii to the WiiU, than it will be for MS or Sony going to their next-gen counterparts (unless they really pull something out of the bag).

As long as the WiiU is "comparable" to the PS3/360 (it almost certainly will be easier to develop for, given more RAM, and more modern features) Nintendo will reclaim some of the developer support they lost with the Wii. And if the controller actually does turn out to significantly improve games (as I think it at least can) gamers should have a ball.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
Nicholas, Nintendo are targeting the full spectrum of gamers with Wii U far more so than they did with Wii. Just take a look at the current list of games in development:

Aliens: Colonial Marines
Assassin's Creed III
Batman: Arkham City
Untitled Battlefield
Darksiders II
Untitled Dirt
Dragon Quest X: The Five Awakening Races Online
Untitled F1/Formula One
Killer Freaks from Outer Space
Lego City Stories
Metro: Last Light
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge
Pikmin 3
Project Cars
Project Nova
Untitled Rabbids
New Super Mario Bros. Mii
Untitled Super Smash Bros. sequel
Untitled Tekken
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Online
Untitled The Legend of Zelda
Your Shape Wii U

Covers the whole gamut far more so than the Wii did at this point pre-launch. Far more 3rd party titles (very core oriented at that) than Wii. In fact, 10 of those 22 titles will receive M / Pegi 18 ratings.

And the console will be capable of full game downloads for all titles.

I'd say it matters more for Wii U to be graphically competent than it did for Wii. Wii broke a mold with the audience creating a blue ocean market but now that market is more of a red ocean market these days so repeating the same trick alone (low power spec + innovative controller) alone won't work again. That's why they are pushing for a broader consumer range.
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John Jennings Senior Producer, Machinegames10 years ago
So, the graphics aren't "as powerful" and there "aren't as many shaders"...?

Using phrases like these I don't feel this unknown developer should be considered as a technical expert.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up10 years ago
A pack of cards has no processing power, but you can still have fun with them. Billions do. Processing power has never been nintendo's strategy. Probably never will be. Just sounds like console bashing to me.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
Sandy, I'm under the impression that console power was only irrelevant for Nintendo's Wii strategy. All previous generation home consoles were known to be pretty powerful.
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Rodney Smith Developer 10 years ago
Still want one
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
"Some developers are looking at the PS3/PS Vita combo as being more powerful than the Wii U with tablet controller, and easier to program, too. "

So everything I've read about the Wii U being incredibly easy to program for is undercut by the PS3 (notorious for being difficult to program for) and PS Vita (which isn't even developed in conjunction with the PS3)?

Are we also forgetting a PS3/Vita combo is $500+?

I'm sorry, but this article just has so much incongruous information in it that it's not serving your credibility well. I can't read this article linked from other media outlets/forums without if being filled with contradictory information and worry from readers regarding the credibility of the sites content which is usually never questioned.
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Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 10 years ago
The only reason I don't dismiss this article is that Nintendo consistently do this under powered thing. It's not even a oops we did it once and never again affair. The cube was under powered, the Wii was too and then the 3DS. Yes sure that worked for them back in the GBA days but, increasingly the gamer is starting to wonder just what the heck is going on.

It would not suprise me at all to see Nintendo go for cheap parts over longevity for the 5th time in a row.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
Peter, how was the GC underpowered? It was situated between the PS2 and Xbox and even did some things better than the Xbox.

And under powering the generation even by a little is one thing (PS2 compared to GC and Xbox) but under powering a previous generation is something entirely different. The 3DS isn't below the performance of the PSP. In fact, the 3DS is actually pretty powerful. Play Resident Evil: Revelations and tell me otherwise. It's also currently only using 1 of the 2 onboard CPU's for gaming. Nintendo has talked about opening up the 2nd CPU at some point in time.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up10 years ago
In my own personal opinion....

True Jim. I think in recent times though, we have seen that great games have been about many things, including the input and interaction methods. Not just number crunching and higher resolution images. Obviously it helps to be able to render whatever you want but theres always a cost vs perfomance argument at some point along the line. I think with the Wii, Nintendo done a pretty good job at balancing power and input to offer a complete package. Most people who bought the Wii didnt care about HD. They just seen fun, social gaming. This is clearly the same balance they are trying to strike.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
An I agree with you. But as you can see from the list of games known to be in development (that's the full list, I didn't truncate it), they are certainly aiming for a target audience much wider than they did with Wii. If they wish to snag the core gamer, as the game list suggests, they will need to have some power under the hood to complement the innovative controller design. Indeed it is a balance between performance and input but if you are also trying to target the full spectrum of the gaming audience, your design must include performance to cater to the segments that consider power an important factor.
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic Keyboard Basher, Avasopht Development10 years ago
It would not suprise me at all to see Nintendo go for cheap parts over longevity for the 5th time in a row.
Since when was that the case?

SNES was much more capable than the Sega Mega Drive and the N64 with it's perspective correct texture mapping, LINEAR_LINEAR interpolation and pop-up free graphics that make it's graphics more acceptable today than the PS1's graphics (though I did prefer PS1's jaggies at the time). Ever played Star Wars or Eternal Darkness on the GC?

Now there were are a number low quality GC ports plagued by blurry jpegs, high compression ratios and underdeveloped UI's.

But as for Nintendo's decisions over machine power, I really don't know why so many people are incorrectly stating that Nintendo have always done that just because they did it with the Wii. Don't they remember the SNES' 16.7 million colours and the N64 being "1000 times more powerful than the machine that put man on the moon"? Oh, and Super FX! Come on!
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Junior Enwright Writer - novelist, comic book scripts, game narrative, article writer 10 years ago
Your so right. Because its Nintendo, people are quick to be critical. Just wait to see what happens, and then when all those critics are silenced they can stop complaining.
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Paul Gheran Scrum Master 10 years ago
+1 Sandy.

Can anyone let everyone here know which of the missing shaders is the one which generates 'fun'?
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee10 years ago
I agree Keldon, its only recently that Nintendo have underpowered their devices. Wii is last generation on an architecture level, if not more(if we're being super critical and comparing shader architectures), and the 3DS has architecture not quite as powerful as smart-phones from a couple of years ago, let alone PS Vita which is its main competition. Other devices were amazingly powerful, i.e. GC and N64.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee10 years ago

Completely disagree. The console industry is the consumer electronics industry and therefore the technology industry.

If they release an overpriced console with low end chips again, they're ripping people off. They did the same with Wii for 5 years, where it didn't even have entry level shader architecture and retailed for more than the 360 for much of its life-time. How does that work and make sense?

Sure we're here for entertainment, but Nintendo can at least start to put chips that are somewhere near the value of the console they're selling. The Gamecube retailed at a meagre £130 and it wasn't far off the Xbox.

Wii-U will be a quantum leap over its predecessor whatever happens but there is no reason why they can't exceed ancient hardware at least for the sake of helping technology progress and making more of a level playing field once the console is up against the next Xbox and Playstation.

Its not the only way of looking at things but to say 100% the wrong way isn't true.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 3rd April 2012 11:16pm

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Tony Johns10 years ago
It is not the graphics, it is the games and what the games can do on that console that makes up the greatness of the console itself.

Without good quality launch games, the console is just a brick that can do fancy stuff.
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Rick Cody PBnGames-Board Member 10 years ago
Most Kinect games have failed critically. The Wii brand is a lot more familiar with success in that regard. Power is t the issue going forward. The issues are content, accessibility/ease of use and Internet connectivity (great online shops are front and center. Facebook, Twitter, ESPN, Netflix, Hulu, etc all NEED to be integrated).
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Brandon Jaquez10 years ago
In the words of Judge Judy, "If it doesn't make sense, then it's not true"

Interesting how the unnamed developers don't come forward, but the ones who have praised the WiiU in regards to "power" have. For all we know, this could be just complete fabrication or some developer was a really early dev kit.
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