Feature: Looking Into The Stream

So, we're at that point again where Nintendo are ready to unveil another new console to salivating gamers everywhere. Fantastically, the names of Nintendo's projects are always as fascinating as ever - sometimes offering a hint of things to come. Looking back we've had Ultra's, Dolphins, Revolutions and chipsets all the way from Hollywood. So in 2011 we have the names 'Stream' and 'Café' on our lips. Stream seems to fall in line with the "revolution" mantra, a buzzword which perhaps indicates the direction of the console. Stream also sounds very Japanese in a Zen kind of way and when looking at the stream principle, the idea of a continuous current or movement springs to mind. In this idea then, we wonder if we will see a stream of content on Nintendo's new console like never before. And café? Perhaps the console will become a social meeting place where we all feel like we're in an episode of Friends applies.

Café? By the stream!? Brewster will rake it in!

Current Gen indicators:
If we were to define the current crop of consoles it would perhaps be how this generation truly embraced online infrastructures and purchases. To advance this principle, perhaps Nintendo's new mantra of streaming is more akin to cloud-based content which is purchased similarly to something like On-Live or rented like Netflix. Whatever the deeper meaning of 'streaming', both on and offline sales models changed with this generation of consoles and we would expect the next generation of consoles to only refine what we already have experienced.

If this is to be true, it is perhaps the retail market that may suffer most in the next generation. The retail market is extremely varied, tied to delivery schedules, factory production and retail spaces. On the other hand the online markets ensure content can be distributed in a way that arguably refines the selling process. But I'm not here to preach about the virtues of one or the other, just look at iTunes and the existing music market for proof that both can co-exist. What is important however is by having this dual-approach, marketing strategies may develop to enable consumers to understand how and where content is available.

In this (and previous) generations we've also seen release dates cannibalise other software. If the future of gaming is to be online, this principle must also be taken into consideration to ensure AAA titles don't all come at the same time. And then we have seen online content used to bolster barren periods at retail, so it will be interesting to see if Nintendo have learned to balance these fundamental concepts if they are to release a console which may rely heavily on being online.

Looking at the upcoming 3DS E-Store and the Wii's online content there may also be online content coming to Nintendo products like never before. Alongside Virtual Console/Wiiware/DSware etc. releases, Nintendo brought their typical stance to the online world. Channels like Everybody Votes gave us an example of software that was typically Nintendo in both premise and execution and other channels as well as video content sent to 3DS owners who updated their portable indicated that Nintendo may be finally changing their content streams. This future content will arguably be key to a console that may rely on streaming to users whilst at their TV's or on the move.

Wiiware, whilst not setting the world on fire was a solid first step

Indicators of the future:
Hopefully the creativity at Nintendo can use the always-connected, online world to engage and involve gamers in valuable ways. How about more "channels" that involve creating communities? Just as the 3DS has streetpass functionalities and the Wii eventually gained 'social' channels, perhaps Nintendo's next console will come pre-loaded with software that proves the concept of the console from the off. There is no reason Nintendo can't do this on a console based around streaming content constantly just as they promised with the Wii when they promoted the 'blue light of excitement'TM.

And so the idea of streaming content leads me onto Nintendo's relationship with Downloadable Content (DLC), or their lack of a relationship. It is the Nintendo philosophy to only release software when it is ready and so 'patching' is probably something that they will never be known for. But in this ethos lies a problem. Remember Super Smash Bros Brawl's online mode or the Mario Kart hackers? A patch would have been nice to curb any issues found here but it just wasn't on Nintendo's radar. Fortunately some third parties made the effort to include patches but it was hardly elegant. Nintendo can patch the hardware sure, but the software itself always remains untouched. Perhaps this is an area they will address in future and if content is to be distributed through an untraditional method patching should perhaps be possible in any piece of software. (For info: As a PS3 user, I'm not a fan of patching but can see the merits of it). Yet it is the value-adding 'DLC' that is the important discussion point here.

Evolving, Connected Software:
Ever noticed that Nintendo franchises seem ripe for DLC?
Imagine Animal Crossing being fully customised by DLC in a way similar to Sony's 'Home' software. It would ensure the game was a lot more personalised and played a lot longer, if only to see everything that is possible within the game world. I'm sure we are all aware of the possibilities Animal Crossing presents. Possibility is perhaps Animal Crossings greatest strength afterall!

Furthermore, in titles such as Mario Kart and Smash Bros. DLC could be of real benefit. After retail release, what is stopping Nintendo from releasing classic track packs from previous Mario Kart iterations or new stages/characters for Smash Bros? This would be mutually beneficial to both existing players and Nintendo's bank accounts. The competitions seen in Mario Kart Wii and puzzles in Picross and Professor Layton were good indicators that Nintendo are aware of DLC but on their own terms. Perhaps buyable content is the real issue here. Almost "patching" content in.

The 3DS should give us a look at how Nintendo envisage 'streaming'.

Hopefully DLC will become something Nintendo explore further to enhance their software. DLC is also something that a streaming, sociable console would seem built for. If you could create something in Animal Crossing and have it sent to a destination of your choice as downloadable content, gamers would embrace the technology. Streaming should be effortless, handled as if it was a part of the game. Social gaming should also play out this way. The technology should remain invisible.

If Nintendo are looking to social, connected gaming, they should be smart enough to see the money companies like Activision have made from DLC and they should be savvy enough to understand the market potential of having a console that can accept content from a central server at any point. Direct advertising/information is possible, directly onto your TV or into your hand on a controller (with a screen). It is certainly interesting where the industry is heading both online and off and E3 2011 should be very interesting indeed for gamers the world over.

So what do you think Nintendo's new console is about?
What do you expect and what would you like to see?
Please feel free to comment in our comments section below.

Mark Lee
- N-Europe Staff Writer

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