Nintendo Marks the End of the Graphics Race with the 3DS

Rumors of specs for the Nintendo 3DS (to be revealed this week at E3) surfaced earlier today, with developers claiming it would have roughly equivalent power to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Today also marks the announcement of the iPhone 4. This marks the beginning of a different era in gaming.

Let’s do a bit of history

The history of gaming is very much tied to that of graphics evolution: from Super Mario Bros to Donkey Kong Country and Ridge Racer, better graphics have been a major selling point for new hardware. It allowed for more detailed worlds, added cool factor and helped developers achieve their vision more easily. Nintendo changed the game, by releasing the DS and Wii, two underpowered devices compared with the competing PSP and PS3, and yet won, through a combination of cheaper consoles, strong IP, and new user experiences.

Reaching the graphics plateau

The PC game Crysis, which was released in 2007, introduced almost photorealistic foliage and facial modeling. In 3 years, no game has managed to top it yet. Why? First of all, the demand for better graphics has stopped. Here is a picture of a map created on CryEngine (more pics in that gallery).


Do we really need games to look better? I (and I believe, many consumers) wouldn’t mind if games never got to look better than this. As a matter of fact, they very well may not improve for a long period of time. First of all because publishers are no longer willing to commit enough resources for better looking games. Simpler games like Mario Galaxy or GTA 4 sell much better. Another factor is that the manufacturers are not willing to push the envelope in the hardware race anymore, as shown by the appearance of Natal, Move, and the extension of multiplayer features. Basically, the graphics race has stopped because it is not profitable anymore.

The next console war will be mobile

Nintendo has declared that their next rival is Apple. With the 3DS and iPhone 4 / iPad, we have a gaming experience equivalent to a modern home console. Let’s look at it in more detail:

  Nintendo 3DS iPhone – iPad
Power equivalence ~ Xbox 360 – PS3 Game Cube – Wii
Touch control Yes Yes
Motion control ? Yes
3D Yes No
App store Virtual Console Apple Store
IP Strong Weak
TV Out ? ?

Interestingly, this is a roughly comparable offering to Xbox+Natal or PS3+Move. In fact, the 3DS will have the advantage of native 3D support.

We can be certain that Nintendo will leverage its existing games and strong DS brand. There is the definite possibility of Wii ports at well as earlier games, as well as cross platform gameplay, similarly to what was done between the Gba and the Gamecube.

Whether Apple can counter that and become a solid gaming provider remains to be seen.