It wasn't the only time Nintendo went out on a limb. There was the Virtual Boy, the Power Glove, the Gamecube to Game Boy Advance Link Cable, the Donkey Konga Bongos, the Game Boy DS. They've made it clear that the Revolution won't be processor-competitive with the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360; instead, the boys from Kyoto say their innovations in game control systems will drive entirely new types of play.
This is not a new story. Look at Sega: they ruled with the Genesis, botched the Saturn, but came back strong with the Dreamcast. It was a great console, very powerful, with an innovative controller scheme. The memory card had its own controls and LCD screen, and you could play little games on it by itself or plug it into the controller where it could display additional information during the game. Their online service turned the Dreamcast into a TV web browser and introduced networked gaming to the living room.
The publishers yawned.
Sony was hot. The mutant died. The standard took hold. Sega surrendered, gave up on hardware, and did what they did best: make great games for whatever platform they could.
That's the problem. Publishers want to make one game with one set of art assets, then recompile it and spit it out for every platform they can.
Consider this: some major licensed games in 2006 will be released for seven platforms. Let's count 'em: Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360, Gamecube, Revolution, PSP. This seven-platform window won't last long. The Gamecube has already dropped off the map for some publishers, and in 2007 you won't see many titles launching on PS2 and Xbox. But they'll last longer than you expect, because publishers now believe they left money on the table when they abandoned the PS1 too soon.
What's missing from that list? Game Boy DS for one. Do you think Ubisoft is going to crank out the latest Ghost Recon for the DS? If they do, do you think they'll put a lot of work into giving the second screen an interesting use, maybe find some
innovative ways to exploit the touch screen for playing Tom Clancy shooters?
No. No way. There's a bigger chance of EA adapting NFL 2006 to use Nintendo's digital bongos.
Publishers want to make one game, one investment, and then leverage that investment on as many platforms as they can as cheaply as possible. If the Revolution has some crazy gyroscopic controller that works in a brand new way which is incompatible with the dominant DualShock paradigm, publishers will look the other way. They don't want to make a big investment in tailoring a game for the special features of one particular platform.
That's why the Sony PSP is going to win. Publishers understand it: powerful 3D, familiar controls, absolutely zero innovation. That's how they like it. They can take Ghost Recon and slap it out for the PSP. Why not? It isn't fundamentally different from a PS2 or an Xbox; it's just portable.
Even Microsoft paused from chest-thumping long enough to cave on this point. Their mutant Xbox controller departed from the Sony standard of the four shoulder buttons in favor of two triggers and then black and white buttons no one knew how to use. Look at the Xbox 360 controller: Yep, four shoulder buttons. The mutant died. The standard took hold.