So, Nintendo has finally confirmed that a new console will be out in 2012, six years after the release of the Wii. With Microsoft and Sony not due to release consoles until 2014 at the earliest, is this the death of the "console generation"?
Since the latter half of the 1990s, video game consoles have been released in concise generations, similar devices competing for market share until they're replaced at the same time by more similar devices. The N64 was joined by the PlayStation and Saturn. The PS2 shared shelfspace with the Xbox and GameCube. All similar machines out around at the same time.
Nintendo releasing a new machine so far ahead of their competitors, though, pegging what seems like halfway "between" the 360 and PS3's generational leaps, perhaps signals a move away from this, ending the days of being able to pigeonhole every manufacturer's machine in terms of a single "generation."
WARNING: WILD SPECULATION AHEAD!
Of course, you could argue the Wii has already killed the idea of the console generation. While released alongside the Xbox 360 and PS3, it was relatively under-powered, and relied on an innovative control scheme to cover up its antiquated hardware. It was, in the end, a very different machine to its competitors, something that had never really happened before.
A console release two whole years ahead of the competition would be something else entirely. It's rumoured that Nintendo's new machine is more powerful than the Xbox 360 and PS3, which will give it temporary superiority on the hardware front. There will be games on the new Nintendo machine, taking advantage of this, that you may not be able to play on older hardware.
That dominance won't last forever, though. Microsoft and Sony will eventually release new hardware, and unless Nintendo is years ahead of the game - and this is where the wild speculation comes into it - you'd expect those consoles to in turn be more powerful in turn than Nintendo's machine. As is usually the case when consoles are given a year or two to advance on technology, as faster components become cheaper to include.
(This is assuming, of course, that Microsoft and Sony continue their current strategy of bigger, better, faster. And that Nintendo won't rapidly respond in kind. And that Nintendo's new console is as powerful as rumours suggest. That's a lot of ifs and maybes, hence the warning!)
Were this to take place, we'd get a repeat of the Wii, in essence. Consoles out of step. Only this time, instead of simply being out of step technically, they'd be out of step technically and in terms of time. Killing the idea of the console generation.
(Imagine the Dreamcast taking on the original Xbox, for example. If the Dreamcast had actually lived long enough to do such a thing.)
What would this mean for gaming? More than you think! It would mean absolutely squat for Nintendo games, because Nintendo games are made for Nintendo hardware. But Nintendo consoles have for a long time now suffered from poor third-party support, and having another console out of step with the competition would presumably do little to help rectify this.
While Nintendo's new machine was the market leader in terms of hardware, third-party games would - unless specifically built - be presumably built to still be able to run on 360 and PS3 consoles, negating Nintendo's advantage. And when successors to Microsoft and Sony's consoles are released, we'd be in the same position we are now with the Wii, third-party games having to be built using "last gen" technology and looking poor by more modern standards.
It's certainly an interesting move by Nintendo, almost as if the company is intent to upturn the boat it started rocking in 2006 with the release of the Wii.