When Nintendo revealed the Wii console at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in 2005 and followed up with a demonstration of the innovative motion controller later that year, the video game industry looked quite different than it does today. This was before the current generation of consoles (Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3) broadened the audience for gaming and the definition of what a console does with new kinds of gameplay, new genres and new entertainment features. Dedicated handheld gaming devices had existed long before, but this pre-dated the rise of smartphones, tablets and Facebook as viable gaming platforms.
Amidst many questions about how the next console transition will play out, Nintendo prepares to share details about its new console at E3 2011 next week. According to the opinions of gamers, expressed in both surveys and online chatter, anticipation is high for Nintendo to deliver as it has so successfully with the Wii since that initial reveal six years ago.
To put some context around Nintendo’s plans to launch a new console, Nielsen surveyed gamers about their expectations for and interest in buying a variety of assumed or rumored new gaming platforms to be released in the near future. Almost half of gamers (47%) expect Nintendo to release its new console (known as Wii 2, Wii’s successor or Project Café) within the next two years, surpassing the many other assumed or possible options. This likely reflects rumors of its pending announcement and alleged features such as HD display and controllers that include an embedded touch screen. It may also speak to some latent demand for Nintendo to delight gamers once again. Far less has been said publicly about new consoles from Microsoft and Sony but confidence is reasonably high that they will release these in the near future as well.
Beyond expectations, nearly a quarter of gamers say they would buy a new console from Nintendo (27%) within six months of release, but a near-equal share say the same for new Sony and Microsoft consoles. A second tier of interest contains all of the iOS devices and gaming handhelds (13% - 18%). These figures are driven partly by the current installed bases of precursor devices and the profile of the gamer for each. As a result, Nintendo’s comparatively larger Wii audience is behind much of the interest in the new Nintendo platform. The sheer size and diversity of this audience speaks to the opportunity and challenge for Nintendo in converting Wii gamers to a new platform.
To illustrate this potential challenge more fully, interest in the new Nintendo console among more hardcore, multi-platform Wii gamers is instructive. These are gamers who have experience on both the Wii and an alternative console (Xbox 360 or PS3). These groups voice greater interest in a new Microsoft or Sony console than in one from Nintendo, which could be explained by a number of factors including comparative use or satisfaction with the precursor consoles, time since purchase of precursor consoles, prioritization of a “primary” console based on the precursors, and value considerations. Uptake among these audiences will ultimately depend on the actual features, price point, and timing of release for the Nintendo console, versus satisfaction with currently owned platforms and other new system options.
In a positive sign given what is at stake for Nintendo, online discussion points to heightened anticipation for Nintendo’s console versus the major hardware unveils of E3 2010 at the same time last year. Overall buzz about E3 is up dramatically year-over-year (59% increase), with the new Nintendo console accounting for 22 percent of total messages this year, compared to 4 percent in 2010 for Microsoft’s hands-free gaming add-on Kinect, which was unveiled at the show last year. Much of the increase in overall chatter is coming from Twitter this year versus last (29% of Pre-E3 buzz in 2011 vs. 8% in 2010).
Trended buzz shows a substantial increase in interest generated by rumors and confirmation of the new Nintendo console seven to five weeks pre-E3. This is especially so compared to 2010 buzz for Kinect and Nintendo’s own 3DS handheld, which was unveiled last year at E3 as well. In the past several weeks the differences in chatter have narrowed, though it remains to be seen if any more key buzz-driving information will be released before the much-anticipated unveiling.