After Microsoft released specs for its Project Scorpio via Digital Foundry, reaction seemed to be somewhat mixed. Many were rightfully impressed with what this thing will be able to do. It’s an incredibly powerful console that will add a level of realism we haven’t yet seen to the games we play. But there’s also a number of people that don’t care as much about technical prowess, and so Scorpio appeals less to them.
As I initially looked at the Scorpio reveal and the discussion around it, I also felt a bit burned out by an arms race in power only exacerbated by mid-generation revisions of hardware. The more I think about it, though, I’m realizing that this isn’t really an accurate reflection of what’s taking shape. What I’m actually seeing, for one of the first times, are distinctive reasons to buy into each of the three major brands.
In the past, we’ve seen Sony and Microsoft kind of flip-flop in terms of horsepower king, with mainly a couple exclusive games separating the two. If you preferred Gears of War or Halo, you bought into the Xbox brand. If Uncharted or God of War was more your flavor, PlayStation was your thing. Nintendo proverbially lagged behind in technology to deliver their untouchable first party games, mixed with some new styles of gameplay.
Today, what I’m starting to see is a bit different. There’s still the element of Sony and Microsoft vying for technological supremacy, as even Sony was claiming to be top dog even just a few months ago. I believe that was more a marketing ploy, though, and their real focus actually lies in edging into new technologies. In mainstream gaming, they have been the first to jump into virtual reality, and they seem to be betting on a streaming future. PlayStation Now and PlayStation Vue are evidence of that, along with the fact that they opted to not include a 4K Blu-Ray player in the PS4 Pro because they believe that content will be streamed (you can decide how much of that is PR speak).
Microsoft is clearly going for power, and not only because of Scorpio. They have been trying to merge console and PC gaming because that section of the market has been growing lately. PC gaming also happens to be where you go if you want true powerhouse gaming. So not only can you get yourself a powerful PC rig and play some Xbox games, you can now get yourself the most powerful console on the market which also happens to be an Xbox. You know what? That’s not a bad position to be in. Plenty of people out there love having the fastest, most powerful hardware available, and developers like having that type of power to play with.
Nintendo, on the surface, is lagging behind again in terms of power. But there’s a very clear reason for that. They have completely changed how they define a home console with their latest hardware. The Switch has crammed as much technology as possible into a small form factor for a reasonable price. Nintendo’s biggest draw right now is portability. If you are on the go, or maybe just want to game somewhere else in your house than where your TV happens to be, the Switch is very attractive. It’s also worth noting that Nintendo seems to have nailed the nostalgia factor, both in terms of playing new entries in the series that you grew up with (Mario, Zelda, etc.) and replaying classic games with their virtual console.
Three companies with three pretty good distinctions between them. Personally, I love this. Having the power of choice is the best possible scenario for consumers. And for one of the first times, I feel like there are valuable reasons to own more than one brand of console. Whereas before it felt like you needed to drop serious money for the sake of a few games, now it’s beginning to feel like there are good reasons to own the console itself. I think that makes for a more interesting landscape than anything we’ve seen yet.