Nintendo Switch has been out for almost four weeks now, and it’s safe to say that its launch has been successful. Nintendo had roughly two million units ready for the month of March, and currently it’s not easy to find them on store shelves. Two million units in a single month during a non-holiday time of year is actually a pretty healthy number. To put that in perspective, Sony sold roughly two million units during its first 2.5-3 weeks on the market, but it launched right in the middle of the Thanksgiving/Christmas shopping season.
For the purposes of this post, let’s assume that momentum carries through most of the console’s life cycle and Nintendo ends up with an idea that catches on. I don’t think that’s far-fetched. Video game hardware tends to get caught in an arms race of horsepower, and while there’s always going to be a demand for a high-powered machine, there also needs to be room for something that pushes the boundaries.
Currently, Sony, Microsoft, and others are focused on virtual reality as that thing that push those boundaries. I can’t see that happening. VR feels like something that will fall in line with things like motion controls from the Wii and Kinect eras. I’m sure it will attract attention for a while, but I easily see it trailing off after a while. One thing that won’t trail off, however, is the one thing that Switch does best: mobility.
Once an idea becomes viable in a particular market, its inevitable that other companies will try to jump in. Once the Wii became a runaway success, you saw Microsoft and Sony come in with Kinect and Move, respectively (not to mention the hundreds of Wii-clones out there). When mobile gaming became big with the Game Boy, you saw the Game Gear and (much later) the PlayStation Portable. This is normal, and it’s a good thing.
I think the hybrid nature of the Switch is a huge advantage for Nintendo. Mobility is important to people. It’s not always easy for people to dedicate time in front of their television to gaming. People have jobs, they go on vacations, they have families that don’t want to watch someone else play a game all night, etc. Where Switch can succeed is overcoming those obstacles. I’ve been able to play Breath of the Wild on my normal gaming television, waiting in the parking lot at the dentist, in bed, at my parents’ house, and, yes, in the bathroom, as well. And in each scenario, I’ve gotten a full and rewarding experience. That kind of idea has merit.
So, assuming the Switch continues to be successful, what happens next? Looking forward, I’m excited about what that may mean for gaming in general. First of all, I don’t think Microsoft would be interested in trying out this market. They’ve already said handhelds aren’t their thing, and they are currently going hard into the PC market (and rightfully so). Gaming laptops might be as far as Microsoft will go into mobility, and that wouldn’t even be their hardware. Plus, there’s some speculation running around that the upcoming Scorpio could be the swan song for the Xbox line, anyway (also, probably rightfully so).
Sony is a different story, though. They’ve never really shied away from trying out new markets. They’ve gotten into just about everything: portable gaming, motion controls, virtual reality – you name it, Sony will try it. Also, Sony isn’t afraid to put out a premium product at a premium price, even when that may cause them some bad press (see: PlayStation 3).
So let me propose a scenario here. In Sony’s PS4 lineup, there’s currently the base system, the Slim, and it’s higher-powered counterpart the PS4 Pro. What if Sony decides to introduce the PS4 Go (named by yours truly, copyright pending). It retails for more than a Nintendo Switch, maybe in the $450-$500 range. In terms of hardware, it includes roughly the same RAM and processing power as the base PS4 model. Since mobility is the primary goal, it obviously isn’t going to use discs, so you’re looking at buying games digitally. But those games are instantly available to play on a PS4 (if you have one), or through an HDMI output on the console itself. And, of course, it’s fully compatible with a DualShock 4 controller.
To me, that sounds very much like a move Sony would make. Yes, they have an entry in the mobile market with the Vita, and that has some PS4 connectivity built-in, however limited it may be. While Sony has not been keen to put out a successor to the Vita, a true portable complement to the PS4 might be a good alternative.
Whether or not this future comes true obviously remains to be seen, and honestly most of it weighs on Nintendo. The idea of the Switch is a good one, but Nintendo has a big responsibility to ensure its success: with a good online program, a healthy stream of quality games and exclusive experiences, and sensible, direct, and attractive marketing. So far, they’re hitting all of those notes.
Switch’s success could have pretty big implications for how people play games in the future. For fans of handheld gaming, myself included, the next few years could be a very exciting time. Let’s hope some of this actually shakes out!
What do you think a successful Switch means for gaming? Let me know in the comments below!