Nintendo faces 'path to irrelevance', says Atari founder

By Dave Lee
Technology reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Media caption,

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell says Nintendo is could be on a "path to irrelevance"

Nintendo, whose latest console has sold poorly, could be on a "path to irrelevance", the founder of legendary games company Atari has said.

In an interview with the BBC, Nolan Bushnell said the Japanese firm was left in a "very difficult position".

Games analysts have drawn parallels between Atari's doomed Jaguar console in 1993 and the struggling Wii U.

Mr Bushnell said Atari had been "abused by corporate charlatans" after a "glorious beginning".

The 70-year-old had been speaking at Campus Party, an event held at London's O2 Arena in which thousands of developers, staying in tents, worked together on various collaborative technology projects.

Founding father

Mr Bushnell, who gave a keynote speech at the event, now runs an educational software company called Brainrush.

"It's about taking game technology, mashing it up with brain science, and creating some pretty powerful software towards learning," he said.

"We have some really powerful engines right now that are knocking it out of the park. You'll hear a lot about it in the next few years."

Image caption,
The Wii U console, which Nintendo expects to reverse its fortunes, has seen disappointing sales

Mr Bushnell is famed in the computer games industry and beyond for being a "founding father" of video games. But equally as famous as his early success was Atari's dramatic fall, something he warned may face Nintendo.

"I don't think handheld game-only devices make sense anymore," he told the BBC. "Not when you have an iPod or an Android microtablet.

"When it comes to the console market, I think the market is truncating.

"Nintendo always had a soft spot for young people - they sort of did the 12-and-under pretty well, and the other guys did the 12-and-over.

"And now I think the other [consoles] are good enough on those things, and the rush to upgrade from the 12-and-under is not nearly as important."

'Motion sickness'

Atari's Jaguar console was released in 1993, but was effectively discontinued three years later. The console's release date was seen as its critical flaw - while more powerful than existing consoles at the time from Sega and Nintendo, it was soon eclipsed by newer consoles from Sega and Sony.

Similarly, the Wii U, released ahead of Christmas last year, has had slow sales - and is soon about to come up against more powerful machines in the shape of Microsoft's Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.

Image caption,
Atari was behind ground-breaking early video games

The Wii U's poor sales have led to it no longer being stocked by some key retailers, such as Asda, while several games publishing companies have either stopped making titles for the platform, or made it a low priority.

In modern gaming, Mr Bushnell said he is most excited by the possibilities of the Oculus Rift - a virtual reality headset that has been backed by several influential figures in the games industry.

"The problem with virtual reality has always been motion sickness," he said.

"If they're able to really get the reality and the image right, with low latency, I think they'll get it.

"With most motion sickness you can build up immunity - and I believe that will represent a brand new, really powerful gaming system."

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