Watching the Nintendo's E3 announcement this week, I was impressed, as I'm sure many others were, by their upcoming 'Wii U' system. Technically, the rumors swirling around the device are quite impressive, from its processing power (reported to be 30-100% more powerful than the PS3 or Xbox 360 depending on whom you ask) and the use of existing peripherals from the Wii, to the most impressive detail, its touchscreen controller which allows gaming without a television (streaming the game to the controller's 6 inch display). While the 'screen in the controller' trick isn't a new one (I'm looking at you Sega Dreamcast), this is the first time that a gaming experience can move from TV to handheld device and provide a reasonably identical experience.
While I could focus on the system's implications on gameplay, which include new levels of same room multiplayer, multiscreen movement of characters and even an inventory you can manage while in-play; I thought one of the greatest possible achievements for this system lies outside of the realm of traditional video gaming. Nintendo's Wii U may make ripples within game companies, but it stands to make larger waves throughout broadcasters, media owners and advertisers by advancing multi-screen TV viewing.
To understand my hyperbole, its worth noting that multitasking while watching TV has become a rather common place thing. 42% of the American consumers admit to surfing the internet while watching television. Services such as Miso, Get Glue, Tunerfish & Intonow are allowing users to share what they are watching online. Twitter & Facebook buzz around 'appointment to view' content is expanding the conversation about what's being viewed, as it airs. These trends have moved the act of watching TV away from just consuming content from a single screen on one's own to a variety of experiences: with commentary, secondary angles, contests and networking around the viewing experience.
Despite all of these advancements however, the multi-screen TV viewing experience doesn't seem to translate well when there are families or multiple people in the same room. Apps such as Heineken's 'Star Player' for the 2011 Champion's League Final allowed viewers to compete against others to anticipate game outcomes, providing an interesting dual screen experience, but this translated more into a one to many dynamic, as opposed to a social experience with others in the room.A family of four could feasibly all use iPhones/iPads & laptops to create a dual screen experience for each person, but the experience would be far from standardized across devices and requires a large amount of money (I don't know how many families own four iPads).
Looking at sales of the Wii, it becomes clear that adoption of the new console may be the most cost effective solution to providing every member of a household a standardized dual screen experience, especially after the cost is justified against choosing a game console. From a development perspective, making applications with the functionality of Heinken's Star Player could be more efficient as it doesn't have to work across multiple platforms, just one. Finally, the Nintendo console and online gaming network provides the perfect distribution system for dual screen applications and experiences around programming. Apps could be accessed without interruping main screen TV viewing in a clear and familiar fashion.
While this may seem rather hypothetical, imagine media partnerships where X-Factor plays out on TV, while voting, replays and user commentary & videos are generated by each member of a viewing household independently from the controller. Imagine a Champions league final where each member of the household controls a different part of their favorite team, making decisions as individuals players on a family team against the rest of the UK. Game show viewing could become part of a richer gaming experience, pitting family members against each other to win the household. Crime dramas could become 'who done it' mysteries, with each household viewer conducting their own investigation in a dynamic game of Cluedo.
I think its important to point out that currently, most of these dual screen viewing experiences could feasibly be exectured, but to truly socialize it, something like the Wii U (or the offerings competitors respond with) is necessary. While it may not be the main focus of the console during launch, it looks like Nintendo, with the correct content/media partnerships, could un-intentionally be selling something more revolutionary than it first appears.