First of all I'll say this. I think most people genuinely like Nintendo which is why people feel constantly let down by Nintendo's decision making in the hardware realm and the road they choose to take. From all the reactions around the Switch it’s pretty plain to see that there are people who want Nintendo to either concede and go 3rd party or make a Super Nintendo PlayStation 5 Pro and not this moderately spec’d hand held/console hybrid. Is Nintendo capable of making a powerful console? Absolutely. Will they ever do it and get back into the spec race with a super powerful home console? Maybe, but I don’t think so.
Now I’m not going to defend the launch line-up of games for the Switch because I agree that it cannot be defended. Even if Zelda: BotW goes down as GOTY 2017 or becomes widely regarded as the greatest launch game ever, there is no denying that regardless of this the launch is weak. The worst launch ever? I don’t know, but it’s bad.
My focus instead will be on the console itself and Nintendo’s direction they appear to be heading in moving forward with the Switch and beyond.
Here is why I think this hybrid hardware is right for Nintendo even if this time it is a failure. There are business insiders and even some of the biggest game developers who say that console gaming will cease to exist in the way we know it and that this is possibly not too far off. Whether you like it or not, the future of gaming will be a digital streaming service and eventually there will be no need for a purpose built console to play on. When this happens and world internet speeds are superefficient, cloud gaming works flawlessly and streaming services are the norm, Nintendo will have a staggering amount of first party content at their disposal for such a service. Microsoft are already establishing such a service with their Play Anywhere model and Sony is dabbling in bringing their content to PC via their PlayStation Now service. When home consoles are replaced by a simple top box that acts as a streaming device, Nintendo will 1, have the largest back catalogue of games at their disposal and 2, because they are first and foremost a hardware manufacturer, will guaranteed have a top box/hand held hybrid approach like they’re attempting to do now with the Switch. There is no denying Nintendo shine in the hand held market and if the switch is anything to go by, then in the future I’m sure they will find a way to keep this mode of gaming alive even if there is no more need for an actual home console.
Nintendo have been building towards this for years and have always tested the market with prototypes and then built from there whether it be controllers, console peripherals and consoles themselves, even if sometimes these prototypes failed which on occasions they did. The DS was a prototype to test out the idea of a touch sensitive dual screened device which went on to sell over 150 million units and pave the way for mass market touch screen devices like tablets and smartphones. The Wii was another. The Wii console was nothing more than a GameCube with motion controls added on primarily to keep costs at a minimal while testing how the market would respond to the new motion technology. Needless to say despite how people feel about the Wii console it went on to outsell the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and again changed an element of the gaming landscape while widening the gaming market. Now bringing it back to today the Wii U to the everyday person is a failure, 13+ million consoles sold over its lifetime and now other than the Virtual Boy it is Nintendo’s worst selling home console, but Nintendo have never conceded that it was a failure, to them they now have an answer on what worked, what didn’t and what could have been done differently. They have now taken that learning and made the Switch which is built upon the concept of all their previous console iterations and again getting the same Nintendoomed response from those who disagree with their direction.
Now I’m not saying I always agree with Nintendo’s direction or their decisions, but I do believe that one day they will truly nail it and it will be deservedly so. True innovation involves risks and a consequence of taking risks is failure, but failing is important in learning how to change, grow and ultimately perfect something whether it be in one’s self or the design and execution of a video game console. The Switch is a big melting pot of everything learned from past consoles and ideas with an element of risk involved to be a stepping stone for the next one should it be a commercial failure like the Wii U or succeed and be a real hit.
There are still a lot of issues with Nintendo and the way they handle things. 3rd party support is important despite what anyone thinks. The problems for 3rd party developers who port or design games for Nintendo is they have to compete with Nintendo’s first part games which is primarily why people by Nintendo products. It will be interesting to see as the gaming business changes and game delivery becomes all digital when teraflops and custom chips are no longer an issue whether 3rd party developers will develop their own service or still support the same way as the business model they do now. Once you take the need for console power away and cloud gaming is a thing then Nintendo should have no problems appealing to a mass market and getting 3rd party support, but for now it is essential to be getting some if not most big 3rd party titles on their console.
Nintendo’s online venture on Switch is a worry too. No one truly knows what Nintendo will offer until the Switch is released or they have a direct where they announce more info but it’s sounding a bit strange. Using an app for online multiplayer is concerning and though I understand their concept and reasoning behind it, I can’t see it being user friendly like say Xbox Live which I feel is still the best online gaming service available. I do hold hope though since 3rd party peripheral makers have announced wired and wireless headsets and that the actual Switch device has an input that supports sound and a mic. Still, I feel not enough info was given to really pass any judgement which is why I think a lot of people are passing judgement. We know they have an actual account system now and purchased games will be tied to it. We know it will be a paid service which means there will have to be some incentive to pay for it. I mean surely right? One thing I do know is that the Vice President of EA Games, Patrick Soderlund, sat down with Famitsu after the Switch reveal and said EA, Activision and other big 3rd parties have had a lot of input in the Switch since its early development. If so, then this is unprecedented for Nintendo who like to dance to their own tune, so the fact that they have been open to allowing 3rd party influence is pretty promising for the Switch and Nintendo’s future moving forward. But like the Wii U support it was promised from 3rd parties, I will believe it when I see it.
Truth is I am a big fan of Nintendo and I love their first party games. I am the same with Nintendo as I am with Sony. I buy their consoles primarily for the exclusives that I know I will get and I know they will consistently deliver. I bought a PS4 essentially just for Uncharted 4 and 95% of the games I own on it a first party exclusives. Xbox has always been my 3rd party console. I kind of like the first party offerings from Microsoft but I definitely prefer to play 3rd parties on XO due to Xbox Live being what it is and the Xbox One controller still being the most comfortable for me personally. I just love video games and always have ever since I was young. I don’t ever want to see Nintendo go the way of Sega and I know they won’t. Nintendo will never go 3rd party themselves, never. They will always go back to the drawing board and plan for the next one and keep innovating until they get it right. Whether they have a few failures along the way it doesn’t really matter, it is clear where gaming is heading and this current console is the right direction for Nintendo, a top box and a combined hand held device. When streaming games becomes a reality they will be in the best position moving forward. The top twenty selling video games of all time are occupied by 17 from Nintendo. To put things into perspective when comparing first party exclusives and how well they sell, in the top 50 selling video games ever Sony and Microsoft have 2 each, 14 are made up from 3rd party developers and a total of 32 from Nintendo. In 2016 Pokémon Sun and Moon released on 18th November and ended up being the number one selling game of the year selling 9.8 million copies and that was on one dedicated console. Nintendo games sell and they sell well. A paid service with access to all Nintendo’s games both past and present is an awesome thing to think that one day it will exist and there is no one bar maybe the odd insecure fanboy of another console who could deny and disagree with that. People fail to see the bigger picture and that gaming is changing and will change into a different model that currently exists and if history is anything to go by then Nintendo will be there when it does. I’m picking the Switch will be a success. A little slow out the gate but when a switch version of Pokémon, Metroid, Pikmin 4 and other popular franchises are announced, I bet momentum will pick up and it will have a healthy existence and enough appeal for many to want to own it. I’ve never understood the whole fanboy thing wanting a rival console company to fail. If this was ever to happen to Nintendo it would be sad for gaming. While everyone was debating over which console was better during the 90’s console wars, I was simply enjoying the fact that my Mum knew I loved games so much I had a Nintendo, Sega and PlayStation and have had a love mainly for the games I played rather than what console I played them on. Games are ultimately what matters and consoles are nothing more than a delivering device for those games, but what I’m saying is that it won’t always be that way and as above, when power no longer matters it will be all about the games and who has them.
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