What Is The Future Of Video Game Consoles ?
n 2013, Nintendo opened a new research and development facility in its home town of Kyoto, Japan. Usually, a consumer technology manufacturer opening a new office wouldn’t be news, but this was different: the $350m building would house both the company’s handheld and console gaming R&D teams.
In the past, these groups had been kept apart, producing very different hardware and games for the different markets – now they would be merged. At the time, analysts thought this was to improve functionality between the Wii U and 3DS, but now we understand this was not the end goal – the end goal was Switch. This hybrid gaming system, which works as both a portable machine and a home console, now looks to represent Nintendo’s future in the games industry. But what does that mean?
We’ll find out much more about the device in a series of Livestream videos on Friday, but as ever with a new Nintendo product, pundits are questioning its role in the gaming ecosystem. They questioned the dual-screen design of the Nintendo DS after the vast success of the Gameboy; they questioned the boxy, toy-like GameCube, and they stifled laughter at the Wii, with its cheap off-the-shelf components and weird motion controller. Most of these, of course, went on to great success, with Nintendo’s famed business philosophy – the innovative use of withered technology – ensuring that money was always made on hardware as well as software. PlayStation and Xbox machines were selling better, but often at a loss.
But the Wii U really derailed things. The first console of the merged R&D generation failed to convince consumers that a home console needed a second handheld screen. There was talk of unique asymmetric multiplayer experiences, but few materialised; third-party publishers shied away and even Nintendo itself under-delivered on truly in-depth, interesting support for the GamePad. Since its launch in 2012, the console has sold around 14m units. PlayStation 4 did that in a year.
Switch is an extension of the Wii U philosophy – a machine that offers two play forms, one involving your television, the other utilising a smaller handheld screen. The difference here is that the handheld component is the main console, and it is portable beyond the home. It’s a true synergy of the handheld and home form factors.
But does anyone want that? Right now, analysts are uncertain. One reason is that both the home and portable experiences may be compromised by this merged approach. “I don’t doubt the software will be good but aspects of the hardware concern me,” says veteran industry journalist Ben Parfitt. “Lots of people have very quickly dismissed any suggestion that a 720p screen is inadequate for the device, but I’m not so certain. Most smartphones now pack a higher resolution into a smaller display, and I worry that Switch visuals may be noticeably inferior than the target market is used to. With lots of gamers buying 4K screens for PS4 Pro and Xbox One S, having a device that needs a processing boost from its dock just to achieve 1080p seems implausibly dated.”martphones have become the interesting factor here.
For years Nintendo resisted bringing its intellectual property to mobile phones, but in 2015, a deal with Chinese mobile gaming specialist DeNa reversed that, leading to the successful releases Miitomo and Super Mario Run. Last year we also saw the phenomenon of Pokémon Go, downloaded over 500m times, with Nintendo receiving a share of the spoils from microtransactions. But the impact of this strategy has had wider ramifications for Nintendo.
Switch then, is a fascinating piece of hardware, which is utterly typical of Nintendo. But while the Wii effectively created its own niche of motion-controlled gaming, Switch is designed to sit in between other markets. The question is whether anyone wants that space to be filled. With the rapidly diversifying home console and smartphone sectors, the former appealing to “hardcore” gamers, the latter to the casual market, the industry is beginning to stratify along clear lines. Switch adds a kink in the line, but will it trip Nintendo up?
Source – Guardian