Nintendo last week disclosed more details about its intention to merge handheld and home console development divisions, which will result in an organization with 280 top-notch engineers capable of creating leading-edge products. At least officially, one of the primary goals of the new group will be gradual unification of software between different consoles and creation of unified development tools.
“Last year we started a project to integrate the architecture for our future platforms. What we mean by integrating platforms is not integrating handhelds devices and home consoles to make only one machine. What we are aiming at is to integrate the architecture to form a common basis for software development so that we can make software assets more transferrable, and operating systems and their build-in applications more portable, regardless of form factor or performance of each platform,” explained Satoru Iwata, the president of Nintendo, at a corporate briefing last week.
A decade ago it was technologically impossible to have the same architecture for handheld devices and home consoles since both were too different in terms of capabilities and performance. Today, the performance gap is still significant, but gamers demand to have similar experience across different platforms and also want to have integrated features across their devices from one supplier.
“Although it has not been long since we began to integrate the architecture and this will have no short-term result, we believe that it will provide a great benefit to our platform business in the long run,” said Mr. Iwata.
Software combination is most probably the first step towards more significant integration between mobile and non-mobile platforms. For example, today’s 3DS portable console is based on dual-core ARMv6-compatible system-on-chip with Vivante graphics technology and is therefore completely incompatible on any level with Wii U, which is powered by triple-core IBM Power 750 microprocessor and AMD Radeon graphics engine. Going forward, Nintendo could stick to ARM general-purpose cores for both types of systems and pick-up the right graphics technology for them. Similar hardware architecture (not the same hardware!) would make it much easier to create similar games for different form-factors.
“We are not saying that we are planning to integrate our platforms into one. What we are saying is that we would like to integrate software development methods, operating systems, and built-in software and software assets for each platform so that we can use them across different machines. This means that if we manage to integrate our platforms successfully, we may in fact be able to make more platforms. […] The more we can share software across different platforms, the more development resources will be left for something else,” stressed the president of Nintendo.
But while technology in general is a crucial building block of Nintendo’s business, the main thing that the company pins its holes is ability to make new propositions in non-technology aspects and create games out of something that people never expected to see in the form of a game.