Reflections on next-gen: Remember the Game Gear

Lest anyone still be concerned about the Wii and its imminent epic struggle against the forces of Sony and Microsoft, remember the Game Gear and the fact that history — eventually — repeats itself in some form or another. The Game Gear was ahead of its time. It boasted (and boasted rather loudly thanks to an arrogant marketing scheme from parent Sega) a large color screen, more power and was downright sexy when compared to the monochromatic Game Boy. You were cool if you managed to plunk down the change for a Game Gear, or so the commercials told us.

But then something happened. Actually, then something didn’t happen. Your Game Gear stopped working, so you turned it over and opened the battery cases (there were two). Six dead as a doornail AA’s stared back at you. They were not rechargeable. This was the early 90’s. “Lithium-ion” might as well have been something in Sandscrit. The Game Gear was about three years too early, but by the time we caught up with the Game Gear it was too late. Three years in the tech industry is an eternity. People weren’t willing to wait; not with Nintendo around.

Fast forward to today. Sega now makes games for Nintendo and Sony has taken over the mantel as the arrogant, bone-headed game company on the block. Some may disagree with the label, but regardless the behavior of Sony does not bode well for its chances in the next gen. The lessons of the Game Gear were lost on Sony with the PSP, and all indications are that they will carry that ignorance with them into the marketing of the PS3.

Make no mistake about it, in three to five years time the market will be ready for a machine like the PS3. Honestly. The slim minority of people today who have shelled out $1,000 for HDTVs will have grown, and the developers (those who have remained with the system thru high cost failures and successes alike, anyway) will have hopefully mastered what is increasingly looking like a very complex system. But again, three years is an eternity to get your pants on in the “console war,” especially when the system that compares closest to yours (the 360) has more than a year head start. Then there’s the Wii, which in theory has had a five year head start with the core technology being based loosely on the GameCube. I would think mastering the controller interface wouldn’t take much, given what we’ve seen from Ubisoft, Nintendo and Konami in this first crop of luanch window titles. The robustness of Wii titles can only get better than what we’ve seen thus far. When George Harrison said the potential of the Mii was not yet known he was half right. The other half applies to the Wii itself. There really are an infinite number of new ideas this little white system has just unlocked. People just need to find them. Learning from ones mistakes is paramount, just look at Nintendo pre-GameCube and Nintendo pre-Wii. A different animal entirely.

Three to five years. Taking a loss the whole time. A disastisfied customer base before the system is even launched. Two alternatives that are either equal in capability or better in value. Remember the Game Gear.

Ed. Note: This lengthy post was inspired by an article written by Jen Gerson of the Toronto Star.