Video game industry analyst Michael Pachter has a reputation for accurate sales forecasts and an ability to predict changes in console pricing. That said, Pachter may have gone a bridge too far with his bifurcated discussion concerning Nintendo's Wii U. While he praised the Wii U as "the most impactful reveal of the show," Pachter has declared the Wii U brand unimaginative and implied it qualified as a "worst ever."
The real criticism, however, is reserved for Nintendo's hardware decisions. "We think that Wii U is arriving two years late, given that the other HD consoles already have peripherals for movement," said Pachter, reasoning that since Nintendo didn't get specific about tech specs, the Wii U "is unlikely to provide greater power than the current HD consoles." His argument is that Nintendo is giving up a massive 'first mover' advantage, and handing whatever power it might have garnered back to its top two rivals. MS and Sony, he figures, will have cut prices on the XBox 360 Kinect and PS3 Move to the point where they'll undercut Nintendo's 2012 Wii U launch.
Two Sides To Every Story
We're not convinced Pachter's tea leaves are all that clear. Both Sony and MS have gone on record as stating that their full focus remains with the PS3 / XBox 360 respectively. While it's reasonable to think the two companies have begun evaluating their next-generation prospects, new consoles are likely at least three years away.
Unlike Sony and Microsoft, both of which initially lost money on every console they sold, the Wii is thought to have made money since day one. The Wii U could easily do the same at launch, which would put Nintendo in a very different position than its competitors. Sony and Microsoft need a console to live long enough to recoup and then surpass its initial production costs. Nintendo isn't necessarily chained to console sales in quite the same way.
The Wii proved graphics aren't the determining factors in a console's sale. The Wii U should be able to match existing solutions for the XBox 360 and PS3, if not surpass them. The R600 at the heart of the XBox 360 is a first-generation HD Radeon part that was notoriously slow, hot, and inefficient compared to the HD 3000, 4000, and 5000 series that succeeded it. There's no reason to think the Wii U's solution won't blow the pants off the XBox's chip in terms of pure GPU performance, particularly if Nintendo keeps the vastly upgraded tessellation hardware that's now incoporporated into the Radeon HD family.
Pachter is right when he says Nintendo may squander its first move advantage, but that's an inherent risk any time a company does anything that doesn't lock-step with its competitors. We're not convinced that Nintendo avoided talking about the Wii U's specs because it would look bad compared to the PS3 or XBox 360. The fill rates and performance levels of both systems are downright lousy by modern standards; a modern Radeon HD solution offers a higher clockspeed and substantially more texture filter units and render outputs.
We suspect Nintendo has avoided talking hardware precisely because the company made a name for the Wii by avoiding specs comparisons and emphasizing gameplay. That strategy worked stupendously well for Nintendo five years ago; there's no overriding reason why the company should abandon it now.