Nolan Bushnell, the man behind Pong and Atari's first home video game console, says he doesn't get the attraction of the Wii U. "I actually am baffled by it," he told The New York Times for a weekend feature. "I don't think it's going to be a big success."
What's more, Bushnell doesn't think the Wii U dawns a new gaming console generation as much as it closes down an era in which consoles are video gaming's dominant force. "It feels like the end of an era to me."
The Times, in an attempt to capture the news of the Wii U's debut week, goes off on a stretch of futurecasting that positions mobile gaming as the doom-bringer to console hardware. Anecdotes present lids with console hardware in the living room, yet fooling around on iPads because the games load more quickly. Nintendo's abstinence from developing for smartphones and tablets is portrayed as potentially fatal not just to that company, but to the console business it has defined for more than 25 years. Traditional games' prices are presented as too steep next to mobile games', even considering the cheapness of free-to-play modes.
I don't think the Wii U heralds a renaissance for Nintendo or for console gaming; the company simply waited too long to deliver a high-definition alternative but, to its credit, didn't create one just for the sake of cannibalising its own product line. Nor do I think it's too late to the party. The GamePad and the Miiverse may look like copies of tablet hardware and social networking but it's not to say they don't have potential to deliver new experiences.
But saying the Wii U shuts the door on an era of video gaming, when we're all but assured of a new console — perhaps two, in the coming calendar year — seems a bit of a stretch. Mobile may be pinching console gaming with its ridiculously low price points, but the 99-cent expectation it sets also crimps developers are willing to make and publishers are willing to fund, too. Facebook gaming is a tremendously disposable experience. Nintendo may have recently posted its first loss ever as a video games company, but it's not like Zynga is tonning it right now.
Nintendo Confronts a Changed Video Game World [The New York Times]