During a keynote address yesterday at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata divulged further plans for Virtual Console, an online download service he described as “the video game version of Apple’s iTunes music store.” Like GameTap, a subscription-based game service launched last year by Time Warner, Virtual Console will serve as a legal online download service for classic video games. However, only Nintendo’s service will feature titles from its own past consoles, as well as games from past competing platforms such as Sega’s Genesis and NEC’s TurboGrafx-16. “Between them, [Sega’s and NEC’s] systems built a library of more than a thousand different games,” said Iwata. “Of course, not all of them will be available, but the best of them will.”
Set to debut with Nintendo’s next-generation game console, currently code-named Revolution, the Virtual Console will act as an emulator for classic games developed by Nintendo, Sega, NEC/Hudson, and third-parties. Contrasting with GameTap, which allows Windows PC users to download games, the emulated titles will be playable only on Nintendo’s new machine, similar to Apple’s initial launch of the iPod as a device only for Macintosh users.
Past consoles specifically supported by the Virtual Console service include the NES/Famicom, Super NES/Famicom, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, and NEC TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine. Emulation of additional classic platforms, such as Nintendo’s Game Boy, Virtual Boy, and Game Boy Advance, could conceivably be added in the future, as could support for game playback on machines other than Revolution. Iwata also noted that developers will have the option to sell new Revolution games directly through Virtual Console, rather than relying on disc-based media for distribution.
In a post-keynote interview with the Seattle Times, Iwata was asked for his thoughts on Apple. “People think of Nintendo and Apple in similar fashion,” he responded, “like we are always trying to think in terms of the customers. Apple tries to think of what’s the best way for people to use Apple products. And if those customers are not using Apple products now, what are the barriers and how they can remove those barriers.”