For better or worse, Nintendo is a company that observes what its competition is doing and then goes in the opposite direction. Said experimentation results in industry-changing ideas like motion control, portable game systems that demonstrate strength through solid franchises instead of top processing power, and affordable gaming that appeals to families worldwide.
The trade-off is an evident hesitation to embrace features that were considered standard in the console industry a generation ago. One of the biggest game-changers, so to speak, has been the widespread introduction of video game systems that utilize hard drives. When the original Xbox introduced us to the notion of hard storage on a console, it seemed a little odd, a feature that seemingly blurred the line between PC and console gamers. Now, it’s difficult to imagine a game console that would exclude a build-in hard drive and handicap itself in an era wherein the significance of digital distribution is exploding. But there exists a persistent rumor wherein Nintendo intends to do just that with Project Cafe, a.k.a. the Wii 2.
A “report” published on Kotaku in early May insinuated that Project Cafe will feature eight gigabytes of on-board flash-based memory and no hard drive. Eight gigabytes is hardly a thimble-sized amount of storage, but it’s still far, far short of what the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 offer for internal space. Offhand, it seems ridiculous that Nintendo would limit itself in such a way, but anyone who has been following the company for a long time will realize (maybe with a small chill) that Nintendo adheres to console schematics that (usually) allow it to price its systems attractively. The Wii has no hard drive, which lowered its price far below its competitors in the early stages of the last console race. Wallets were happy, but in the long term, gamers weren’t; the Wii’s limited built-in storage space made downloading Virtual Console games a big hassle until a system update allowed users to play games directly off an SD card.
So it’s tempting to read news about Project Cafe’s supposed lack of a hard drive, grab our hair, and yell “Nintendo! What are you doing? Why do you hate us and hate yourself?”
Don’t jump to conclusions so readily, however. Despite Nintendo’s history of going for the most affordable option while staying a step behind and beside its competitors, the company isn’t exactly ignorant about what’s become industry standard, and why. When analyst Michael Pachter spoke to Industry Gamers mid-May, he brought up the fact that keeping a hard drive away from the guts of a game system can’t necessarily be regarded as a money saving tactic anymore, as memory is becoming cheaper with every passing second. A 240 gig hard drive can cost around $20. In fact, Pachter says, Nintendo might even fly straight to the cloud with Project Cafe–though that would admittedly be an unusual move for the company.
“It’s possible they will try to jump into the cloud,” Pachter told Industry Gamers, “but I’m not sure that they have sufficient experience to trail blaze here, and equally possible that they aren’t serious about downloads or multiplayer; again, it’s premature to speculate on why they would do something we don’t yet know they are doing.”
And then we have the very real possibility that the rumors about Project Cafe being naked will turn out to be a lot of hooey, and the system will boast a spacious and affordable hard drive.
It’s probably best to just turn away from rumors and speculation about Project Cafe and sit tight until E3 2011. The alternative is fretting over the possibility over another generation of schlepping with flash storage and SD cards just to download online games, a scenario that’s a little depressing to comprehend.