Nintendo is the most unique of all game creators on the market. No, that isn’t because they provide innovative hardware, nor is it because of just Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon. Reality is that Nintendo is unique because they are likely the only game company in the world that has such good first party support for their hardware that they can, essentially, completely self support a system, and have games that are so good people buy the systems simply to play them. They are not available on another console, not on PC, and not in any Social Network medium. If you want to play the best Nintendo games, you have to buy Nintendo hardware.

But that merely means Nintendo will make money so long as they provide a ton of quality software to support it. It doesn’t mean, however, that Project Cafe is necessarily going to do well. Nintendo is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the system. On one hand it gets a big jump start on the next generation, and Nintendo fanboys are going to be giddy. Regardless of what the system costs, the fanboys will flock and support it simply so they can play Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Pokemon, Pikmin, and all the rest in HD. However, the goal is to win back third parties… and doing so would naturally increase the sales of the console. However, in this, I’m not sure Nintendo can win.

I am personally experiencing a wet dream whenever I think about Project Cafe. The prospect of graphics better than the present generation alone gets me giddy, let alone the fact my HD TV will finally get proper Nintendo love. Heck, if they have a streaming touch screen all the better – why not make at home gaming slightly portable? Oh, and it will support full motion controls and be backwards compatible with the Wii? Sweet, so I get my new stuff and can still get my motion games in HD. Excellent… what’s not to like?

Well, that’s what Sega thought with the Dreamcast. Naturally any Nintendo console will never flop that bad because Nintendo has the strongest software in the industry, but the Dreamcast didn’t exactly create a massive pool of support for itself. It was far more advanced than any of the current consoles that generation, but it was also a cross-generation platform, and was out performed mightily by the Xbox and PS2. Likewise, Project Cafe is going to be a cross-generation platform that will be part of the tail end of this generation and probably sustained for most of the next. As great as it will be at launch, Sony and Microsoft’s next boxes will likely blow Cafe out of the water.

On top of that, the price point is going to be higher than the present generation at launch so it really needs third party support more than ever. It also needs to expand beyond what Nintendo does best: Gaming. See, people like multifunction capability, and something I think no one has actually talked about is the fact that Cafe could easily support something such as Blu-Ray movie playing and a richer online experience. The touch screen can do wonders for this, as it gives everyone what appears to be a super high tech “ultra” remote that you only see in the “people with lots of money” houses. Grant it, it likely wont sync with all devices, but making it sync with a TV may not actually be too far out of place. After all, the tech to do that costs pennies.

So, Nintendo is going to really have to think hard here in how they market the system. Yes, Games first and foremost, but to get an expensive box in a home you’ll have to convince people it can adequately replace present thing sin the house to warrant a higher tag. That way it seems like they get more bang for their buck. This just goes against Nintendo’s nature, but since they are now supporting Netflix it’s possible they are ready to step out of their comfort zone.

Still, the big reason Nintendo can’t win is that they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. It’s a tad late to do a Wii HD type system, and it’s a bit soon to try start the next generation. Are third parties going to need separate teams to port games “up” to the Cafe hardware standards out the gate? When the other big boys come out, are they going to need a team to port games “down” to the Cafe standards? Are the graphics just too the point now where you can’t tell the difference anyways? Who knows, but it’s a legitimate concern.

The other side of the coin is the direction of gaming, and that of the big three Nintendo has the best staying power. As many third party games become available on systems like OnLive, consoles are likely to die out at some point. Everyone is moving to digital distribution, and Nintendo can only avoid it themselves for so long. Still, Nintendo has the franchises to create staying power for consoles, and if they can continue to provide innovations for the living room they can actually extend the life of consoles.

Take this “streaming” rumor we keep hearing about: What if it’s able to stream TV as well? What about streaming Netflix and all that jazz? This is something that you presently need an actual tablet to do, but since the tablet IS the system, it’s not able to do “as much”. That will likely work for now, but it’s innovations like this that Nintendo needs to keep pushing to make consoles stay viable. The days of simply having “powerful beasts” and that being enough are fading quickly. Gaming is expensive, and thus, gaming has to become more than gaming.

In the end, Cafe is likely to do very well it’s first year, but unless third parties completely jump on it will hover around 30 million lifetime sales from the fanboys and that’s about it. The question is whether third parties are ready to believe in Nintendo. Nintendo has the best console staying power, but is that enough if they continue to ignore what is expected, such as amazing online systems like Xbox Live? That has yet to be seen. I hope I’m wrong, but Nintendo is in a very interesting situation.

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