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Opinion: Speculation over Nintendo's future reveals ugly truths about gaming media

Right now, Nintendo must be scratching its head and wondering what on earth went wrong. A few simple words from company president Satoru Iwata, designed to assure the industry and consumers alike that the company remains absolutely committed to the GameCube platform, fuelled a storm of speculation, conjecture and misinterpretation which forced hurried clarifications and reassurances from Nintendo PR people around the world, but not before it had contributed to a drop in the Kyoto-based company's share price.

What Iwata actually said was that Nintendo plans to continue developing software and peripherals for the GameCube for the next two to three years, and won't be releasing a next-generation console in that timescale - which brings us up to late 2006, the current best-guess estimate for console launches from all three manufacturers.

What the media read from this, often failing to apply basic mental arithmetic to the dates in question, never mind checking the facts with Nintendo, was that development on the company's next generation console (which we dubbed "N5" last year) was postponed or cancelled, and that Nintendo planned to continue using GameCube as its main platform rather than launching anything new to compete with Xbox 2 and PS3.

For once, it wasn't just the usual unscrupulous online sources that ran with this nonsense, but some publications who should really have known better helped to perpetuate it as well. In fact, the ball was kicked off by generally reliable Japanese newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, which Nintendo accuses of taking Iwata's comments out of context.

The question which Nintendo must be asking, and which the industry at large should probably also ask, is why this happened - why, in effect, the first conclusion that many commentators jumped to was that Nintendo is leaving the hardware business.

The answer is that this is a strongly held belief of many industry watchers - that in accordance with the "conventional wisdom" which states that the industry can't support more than two platforms at once, Nintendo must inevitably bow out of the home console business. It's a blinkered and uninformed view - one which fails to take into account the profitability of Nintendo's business and the nature of its business models, never mind the fact that the GameCube has a larger global installed base than the rival Xbox - but you don't have to walk very far on the show floor at any industry event to hear it stated.

Many journalists have pet theories about what Nintendo's future, and most of them focus on the company pulling out of hardware - ranging from the popular idea that the company will "do a Sega" and produce software for other platforms, to the more bonkers concepts of it selling re-branded Microsoft Xbox 2 hardware or even teaming up entirely with Microsoft to take on Sony. None of these theories have any particular foundation in fact, and they should not have influenced coverage of Iwata's comments - but influence it they did, as writers dived headlong at the story in the belief that it confirmed their own favourite Nintendo conspiracy theory.

This is hardly the proudest hour for online game media, and it illustrates the need for journalists - even some of those working for large professional sites - to more effectively divide fact from speculation and opinion in their reporting. The upshot of this particular storm in a teacup, however, is that Nintendo has now affirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that it plans to launch a new console in two to three years time, and has even stated categorically that it will show this new hardware, the "N5", at E3 in 2005. Whether this will silence the uninformed and increasingly vocal media speculation over the company's future, however, is another question entirely.

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