NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – On the heels of announcing its first-ever loss, Nintendo on Thursday shocked the gaming industry by announcing plans to unveil a new video game machine next year.
The company will debut what it's calling a "new gaming device" next May at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (the annual trade show of the gaming industry) in Los Angeles, with a probable release in Japan -- and possibly worldwide -- later in the year.
Nintendo refused to comment further but did issue a brief statement saying the device would not be the successor to either of its flagship products.
"Nintendo can confirm that a new product is in development," the company said in a written statement. "This product will be exhibited at E3 2004. The nature of the product has not been announced. Nintendo can confirm it is not the successor to Nintendo GameCube or Game Boy Advance."
Whether Thursday's announcement relates to the "unconventional" product announcement the company has teased for next spring is uncertain, though it seems likely. In August, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata told investors "we are preparing a new product which will be surprising and unique ... we'll be able to tell you specifics next spring."
Nintendo, which has a reputation for secrecy, has been particularly guarded about this particular secret. To date, the company has not told senior executives in its U.S. offices what it has in mind.
Confirmation that this will not be the next GameCube of Game Boy is not particularly surprising. GBA sales are up more than 25 percent year to date and the company expects to sell 9 million units this year. Nintendo has also repeatedly said it will bring its next home gaming machine to market at the same time Sony (SNE: Research, Estimates) launches the PlayStation 3. Trying to pre-empt Sony's machine has been tried before – and it failed miserably. Sega attempted this with the Dreamcast and ended up having to abandon the gaming hardware market to stay in business.
The GameCube has been selling well recently, too, as consumers have responded favorably to recent price cuts. The company still faces criticism, however, for failing to offer any real form of online gaming. (Sony's PlayStation 2 and Microsoft's (MSFT: Research, Estimates) Xbox have seen success with their online offerings).
Because Nintendo's doling out so little information, the guessing game has started among industry insiders and observers.
"Despite them trying to throw up some smoke, there's absolutely no connectivity for the GameCube," said Jeff Brown, vice president of corporate communications for Electronic Arts (ERTS: Research, Estimates). "The early patterns we're seeing about online [gaming] suggests its much more popular than anyone had anticipated. ... They don't have [an online component]. My guess is that maybe they're looking for a solution to that."
"When Iwata made his announcement [in August], I thought it might be some improved version of a controller," said Stewart Halpern, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets. "I pictured something along the lines of the EyeToy -- something that takes game control out of the realm of pressing eight buttons with your hands."
The location Nintendo has chosen to unveil the new product is worth noting, as well. Japanese companies have always chosen to roll out their major products in Japan, often at the Tokyo Game Show. To date, the only major gaming product that has debuted in the U.S. has been the Xbox.
"For it to debut here, that seems odd to me," said Melinda Mongelluzzo, director of public relations for Capcom, which has strong ties with Nintendo. "That's very unusual for a Japanese company."
Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.