By Iran White:
The Oakland A’s and the Nintendo Wii U? On the surface, one might see a comparison of a Major League Baseball team and a Video game console as absurd. However, look at the intricacies of their respective builds and things become more clear.
In the business sense, Gaming is similar to Baseball in that amongst console makers and game Developers, there are those who have the blessing of the owners to go all out in acquisition and attempts at being a powerhouse, and those who do not.
The Oakland A’s in regard to payroll are ranked 26th out of 30 in baseball. Their payroll is not even a third of the top two teams on the list. Let’s not kid ourselves, the A’s owners are not poor. The Oakland A’s are co-owned by several exceedingly wealthy businessmen. Their personal properties ranging from real estate, to ‘The Gap’ clothing line. But let’s also be realistic. While you may be able to purchase a Major League Baseball team once one is that wealthy, it makes no sense to pour your own personal money into the team outside of the purchase and stadium procurement. Owning a Baseball team is owning a business. Within reason, a business has to provide for itself, or there are viability issues to consider.
So it is with Nintendo and its approach to the Wii U. The exceedingly disciplined company has over 10 Billion dollars in surplus capital, yet it views that surplus more as a perpetual assurance of existence than a well to draw from the depths of and take risks with. The company lately is bucking their general trend of insisting on day one profit on every machine sold, to taking a small loss on each hardware unit with the Wii U in order to make the console affordable to consumers. Also to draw a heavy, $100 and $200 contrast in price difference between itself and the Sony Playstation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One respectively. Yet still, they have not thrown out the dollars it would take to build the type of online infrastructures that those companies have. Nor do they see using a large amount of that money for talent expansion to ease the growing pains of making the development transition to High Definition as the best way to move forward, in spite of a few lumps they’ve had to take, and storms they’ve had to weather until recently.
So how are these respective products built? What are the similarities?
The Oakland A’s are a baseball team for which dollar for dollar spent, performance is comparatively high, the end result in Sabermetrics based statistics and as a result, Wins, is much closer to the more expensive teams than most if not all others. (Though the Tampa Bay Rays have a degree of parallel in spite of the fact that they’ve had years and years of high draft picks which now are crucial to their success.)
The Nintendo Wii U is a Video game console for which dollar for dollar spent, performance is comparatively high, the energy consumption of the machine, well used by its resources. With the end result on screen in regard to graphics is very similar to more expensive devices to the eye of most consumers.
The Oakland A’s are a baseball team for which the ‘parts of the machine’ exist in both quantified and hypothetical states simultaneously, yet tends to run on all cylinders even when the interchangeable parts are moved around. This is due to several factors.
General Manager Billy Beane has supplied his coaching staff with players that allow for success with whatever style of baseball may be needed on a given night. Be it pitching, power, speed, defense, pinch hitting, or plain, fundamentally sound use of at bats to move runners along.
Manager Bob Melvin has shown himself to be quite adept at configuring this group of players in a way that allows for the best to chance to win statistically speaking to the extent that he’s written more than 2/3 of his lineups this year differently. The Oakland A’s players are all ready to play, ready to sit, ready to come off of the bench, etc. with full trust in their manager and the organizational system in a way that seems very genuine, and shows itself through their play and interactions.
The A’s have made a habit of not only keeping a close eye on their minor league players whom they see as interchangeable parts in this machine, but have also become quite skilled in bringing them up to the Major League at times when their confidence in their abilities is at an extreme high and the match ups are favorable. Not just when they are swinging the bat or throwing the ball well. Just about anyone who has been drafted by a Major League team has the talent to play Major League baseball. However, only a relatively small percentage of players end up doing so for a prolonged period of time. The A’s are giving themselves an edge by continuing to find ways to take undervalued players and maximizing their value.
The Nintendo Wii U is a Video game console for which the ‘parts of the machine’ exist in both quantified and hypothetical states simultaneously, yet tends to ‘punch above its weight’ even when the ‘raw specs’ would seem to indicate otherwise. This is due to several factors.
The Wii U has been built in such a way, that when considering past HD consoles, such as the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360, it has about 4 times the amount of memory, a more modern and more powerful Graphics chip, and a surprising CPU, all connected closely in a way in which before the Wii U, had not been done before. There is also an all important eDRAM element to the Wii U which is all on the same chip. The CPU, the GPU, the two sizeable portions of RAM, all working in unison as the developer sees fit in order to produce the end result. (Not unlike Bob Melvin and Billy Beane do with their A’s)
The Wii U pursues an effort of ‘what you see is what you get’. On the surface, the raw specs may seem in some ways middling, the actual capability of the machine is not when it is developed for optimally. Not unlike the A’s with their each part plays a role depending on the need of the moment philosophy, Nintendo has gone with an unorthodox method of chip design. In partnership with AMD, IBM, and Renesas, they’ve taken various Graphics Processing Unit ideas, Central Processing Unit ideas and put them together so that we can begin moving away from the idea of ‘Theoretical performance’ (which past consoles don’t come close to the raw numbers touted), and closer to the idea of quantified performance.
Touting theoretical Gigaflops or Teraflops when your machine does not reach those benchmarks when outputting games is like touting money that you can never spend. Nintendo knows this, and has built the Wii U accordingly. Just like touting a high batting average for a single season when a player is over matched and doesn’t tend to hit the ball hard is setting yourself up for the let down of an inevitable statistical drop off. The A’s have realized this, among many other ways of considering the nuances of game play, and what it means in the never ending task of attaching the proper use of language to mathematics for the purposes of quantifying everything that is not the result of chance.
The A’s are a team of interesting ‘part’ design as well. Few people realize, that Josh Donaldson, their 3rd baseman has a Wins Above Replacement stat second only to the Angels phenom Mike Trout. Higher even, than the Tigers Miguel Cabrera. Fewer still know or realize that Donaldson was converted from the position of Catcher to 3rd base, yet his defense is amongst the best in the game. Another example of recognizing athletes for what they are, and steering them toward a position of success.
Here are a few person to part comparisons.
Coco Crisp: The speedy, defensively excellent Center fielder of the A’s who can supply power, yet is one of the best base stealers in the game when the need is on the opposite end of the spectrum.
eDRAM: The speedy, absolute compliment to the power of the CPU and GPU combination. If used correctly it can ensure a ‘magnitude of power’ that otherwise will not be attained. Something that one might not think at first glance of the specs, and several developers so far have obviously missed, though those days appear to be behind us.
Bartolo Colon: The relatively big, extremely efficient, older (40 years old), yet still Cy Young Award caliber pitcher. Colon is so accurate, that more often than not, if he throws a ball rather than a strike, it’s because he intended to. This with a fastball that has as much movement on it as any currently in the game.
‘Espresso’ CPU: The relatively big (45nm), extremely efficient, older and mostly abandoned tech base, yet still far more powerful than it looks at first glance Central Processing Unit. If Espresso has excessive wasted cycles, it’s probably due to unoptimized code, and yet the pipeline is so short, and the rest of the machine’s resources so near, it can handle it anyway. Just as we saw with early ported games from the other HD consoles that either did not put a lot of work into optimizing code for Wii U, were not built with a Software Development Kit that took full advantage of the machine’s abilities, or both. Yet the games still ran well, and in some cases looked better in spite of it all.
Billy Beane: The A’s General Manager has made a career of finding value where others aren’t seeing it, and has now evolved his system to the point where his teams can cover all aspects of the game depending on need. As opposed to times in the past where his players were indeed undervalued, but his teams a bit too one dimensional.
Satoru Iwata: The President of Nintendo, former understudy of sorts to the dearly departed Hiroshi Yamauchi (Who was an owner of the Seattle Mariners by the way) is also making a career as an executive in finding value where others are not seeing it. With the extremely underpowered original Nintendo Wii, Nintendo had their most profitable and successful console ever due to its pick up and play nature. Now, with the far more powerful Wii U, Nintendo is focused on other areas that their competitors undervalue. The Wii U gamepad has new features that feel so natural and complimentary to gaming, that one almost immediately takes them for granted. That is, until you pick up another controller again and immediately miss the very useful screen, comfortable feel, and the all important ‘off TV play’.
Bob Melvin: The glue that binds it all together optimally.
Multi Chip Module: The glue that binds it all together optimally.
The sleeper though, which Nintendo has silently cornered the market on this generation, is the extremely undervalued local multi-player aspect of gaming. In a gaming world full of shallow but fun, convenient but lonely smart phone games, and exceedingly impersonal online multiplayer games on competitor consoles, Nintendo is providing games that are so much fun in groups that people wouldn’t even want to play them online unless they had no choice. The more people pick up the Wii U, the more they realize this. And the word is spreading.
In the end, power is important, but it has to be reliable. The Wii U is absolutely not as powerful as its soon to be released competitors. But we live in a time now where stacking more power means less and less as far as noticeable difference goes. While it’s become more absurd than ever to count on theoretical potential that can never be realized in a relevant way for anything other than a marketing ploy.
There are quite a few similarities in Wii U and the A’s. I see them in the Wii U with its attempt to take every watt it consumes and turn it into sheer performance while using customized parts, crafty configurations, and the spotting of openings in the market. I see it in the A’s with a trade that sends a power hitting 1st baseman with a low on base percentage and high strike out rate and a decent pitcher who does not fit into the A’s big pitcher away for a Shortstop poised to have the most healthy and productive year of his career. The product parallels are there because the situations also have certain parallels, and the respective executives are for the most part, playing them properly. In spite of what the impatient, or those with unsustainable, short term agendas may think. Of course there are hiccups and failings here and there. These men are human after all. But their track records leave much justified hope on the horizon.
These products, the Oakland A’s and the Nintendo Wii U, are so very different. However, they are so very similar. Each respective executive has had to deal with doubters, and naysayers, but each is poised for true greatness if things work according to plan. Smart business is smart business. Whatever that business may be.
Best of luck to the Oakland A’s this baseball post season!