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Comment: Games, not specifications, will win the next-gen battle

Nintendo's stated decision not to officially release specifications for the Revolution is a bold statement about where the company is aiming the console - and one which highlights an unhealthy focus on technology over content, says <i>Rob Fahey</i>.

Comparisons between Nintendo and the "mainstream" console vendors - Sony and Microsoft - seem to become more meaningless by the day. Not content with happily classing itself as a creator of toys when the other players in the market are determined to be seen as media and technology companies, or with unashamedly favouring a family and non-gamer market over the hardcore fans who make up the core of Microsoft's audience and a fair chunk of Sony's, Nintendo dropped yet another bombshell this week - the fact that it may never officially release the specifications for the Revolution next-generation console.

This doesn't mean that we'll never know what's in the box. Developers will find out, developers will tell the media, and eventually the information will be there for anyone who wants to know. But there will probably be no fanfare, no graphs showing how much more powerful than your Xbox 360, your PS3, your GameCube, your toaster or your flush toilet the Revolution is. Why not? Because as far as Nintendo is concerned, it isn't important, and you shouldn't care.

Naturally, the instant response of many people is to assume that this means the Revolution will be underpowered compared to its rivals, and that's probably true. Nintendo wants to make an inexpensive, accessible box with a unique control system and a compelling line-up of games which will attract gamers and non-gamers alike; its rivals want to make incredibly powerful gaming and multimedia systems which will be supremely desirable to hardcore gamers and gadget fans.

Does this sound familiar? Of course - it's exactly the same as the situation with the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP, and it's worth noting that the DS is more than holding its own against Sony's move into the handheld market. It can't hope to rival the incredible graphical quality of games on the PSP, but cleverly designed and incredibly accessible and fun software has easily compensated for that problem.

That's no guarantee that Nintendo will repeat this success in the home console market, but the decision not to discuss the specifications makes it even more apparent how many lessons the firm has learned in the last ten years, which have seen it go from the top of the business to being a distant joint-second to Sony's PlayStation behemoth. If Nintendo doesn't want to talk about specs, it's less because they're afraid of being compared to their rivals, and more because they know that their audience neither understands nor cares about the figures.

Ultimately, that's also something Sony and Microsoft could learn from. Cell and RSX, PowerPC and Xenos, none of these things will matter down the line to anyone other than fanboys arguing on forums. Consoles sell because they have compelling content, and Sony has successfully dominated the market for two generations despite having the least powerful console on both occasions.

What will matter in the next generation is partially getting the content to satisfy the hardcore gaming population, but more importantly, working out how to engage the countless people who would play games but aren't engaged by anything our industry produces at present. Here's a hint - they're unlikely to be wooed by the awesome size of your throbbing graphics chipset, but they might just be interested in stroking a puppy, singing a song or dancing a dance. The next generation battle will only be fought for a short time over the hearts and minds of the 100 million people who buy consoles right now. The real battle will be for the hundreds of millions of people who don't, and the challenge in that market is not to win the meaningless specification war, it's to innovate and evolve - or face becoming irrelevant.

Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.