There often comes a time when silence is just as much the enemy of progress as direct opposition. In the consumer electronics industry, there has virtually always been a steady push for progressive movement. The times of being satisfied with what is currently “state of the art” are already obsolete. It’s about keeping it moving!
So, as you may or may not be aware, Nintendo is a video game company that has always prided themselves on creating unique and exceptional experiences for their customers. Whether it was finding new ways to ensure patrons were able to have satisfying and fun experiences on their arcade machines, or giving people the closest thing to arcade experiences in the home, or innovating the ways in which we interact with our games, Nintendo has always striven to do the next new thing to make video games fun for every player.
That very desire has driven the company to their current position, on the verge of releasing their seventh mainline dedicated home console device, the Nintendo Switch. October 2016 finally saw the reveal trailer hit the mainstream, and it certainly served its purpose immensely, giving a highly sufficient understanding of what the console would be bringing to the market. January 12, 2017 saw the full Nintendo Switch Presentation, which delivered a deluge of information, from hardware-specific details that we did not yet know, to brand-new game titles that will soon be available for us to get our hands on. Much of what the company needed to share in order for people to make an informed decision on whether to purchase the console, and when was delivered, plus some!
So that leads us to the question at hand: What is the point of it all? What is the point of much of the current discussion going around the gaming community? Youtubers making videos with the leading question, “Is the Nintendo Switch ‘worth it’?” or just generally trying to “anticipate” the “biggest problems” with the console! Gaming “journalists” freely jumping at the chance to play devil’s advocate! Gaming industry financial analysts watching the Japanese stock market more than the pre-orders selling out at retail and online! On a couple occasions now, I have somewhat addressed some things close to this, but this particular post is dedicated to this entire topic, so enjoy…
So, as it goes, for the last several years, the President of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aime, has stated on many occasions when asked about competing against Sony and Microsoft, that Nintendo is not “trying to compete” with those two companies. However, even though many of the outlets that report on every single interview that Reggie gives, and have printed that same quote on many occasions, they still do podcasts or write articles that constantly espouse the comparisons, and cite their dismay that Nintendo can’t possibly “compete” against Sony and Microsoft with this particular hardware because…reasons! Spinning that constant narrative serves a purpose (and I’ll get to that soon)!
Some time back (likely during the Wii/DS era) the chic thing to talk about was “more power” in consoles; at least that was the case for many of the new-type gamers that didn’t grow up playing games on the Atari 2600, and in the arcades. The ones that feel it is necessary to justify their desire to play games as they get older. One funny thing about certain personalities is their inherent desire to become defensive, prematurely. Long before they are offended, they find a reason to be defensive about it. So, back to the power argument. On the surface it seems that that argument is legitimate, until you really look at the impact of an arms race just for the sake of it. The video game industry is an entity that has been around more than 40 years, first in arcades then in the home and beyond. As with most any industry, video games have seen ebbs and flows in their viability, and even showing signs of volatility at times. Historians and lay observers, alike, have varying reasons for the volatile periods, but one such reason that many fail to acknowledge is the arms race that is often orchestrated and pushed by interests that do not see beyond the financial numbers.
“Not surprisingly, the success of our industry, and the profit-margin for hit games, has again drawn big attention from larger entertainment companies. But, we may not be compatible.”
Keynote, Game Developers Conference
The above quote from Iwata-san speaks volumes when you understand what happens in this scenario. Here is what happens. We as gamers ultimately want the same thing, no matter which company holds your most allegiance, we all want to enjoy great game experiences. Bottom line! So, we are clear, however, the scenario that Iwata-san mentions (which he says is happening “again”–so it’s happened before, mind you) offers different voices; voices that ultimately do not represent those of the consumers/fans. Here is what I mean, publicly traded companies have their retail customers to satisfy, but they also have another primary level of “customers” to satisfy called share holders, and ultimately, they are the more powerful, vocal minority. So, as gamers are clamoring for new iterations of their most beloved franchise to come around again, shareholders are looking for their next BIG payday. Sometimes those interests can coincide, but they usually do not. Who wins there, the powerful, vocal minority, of course. So, back to the “power argument”. As these vocal interests push the video game companies to do what will make the most money for them, you find developers saying we need these hardware devices to be more powerful because we want to be able to realize our vision. You have console manufacturers saying we need to make our device the most powerful, so that it can not only be the most attractive to consumers, but will also be the most future-proof. We also have the segment of the gamers who believe they have to have the most powerful device on the market, because it will ultimately yield the best experiences.
As the game developers have clamored for more power, they have gotten it almost exponentially from Sony and Microsoft. Optimization is the clearest measure of whether these developers are utilizing that power. However, full optimization of a console and all it has to offer, especially power, takes considerable time, and that means several years. Those years certainly have not passed on the current cycle for Sony or Microsoft, yet there seems to be a consensus effort to move on already. If games have not yet been optimized (not even close), then the current push for more power is not necessary, after all.
Console manufacturers have pushed the idea that power increase is the major key to advancing to a new generation. However, pushing for more power simply bottlenecks progress into one set parameter, thus oversimplifying what progress is/should be. So, as Sony and Microsoft are trying to out-power each other, who is left to truly advance what it means to play video games? Nintendo is, of course!
Now, for these gamers, many of whom have bought into the argument given by the above-mentioned developers, believe that power is the meaning of moving gaming to the next level, and that’s not entirely true. The argument has been posed by several people who believe that Nintendo is “doing it again with an ‘under-powered’ console” in the Nintendo Switch. The problem with that sentiment is the question, “under-powered according to whom?” Do you mean “under-powered” compared to the PS4 (Pro) or XBox One (“Scorpio”)? Those systems are not being optimized as is, so is the amount of “power” in them even necessary currently? The developers bringing games to those systems are having far too much difficulty taking meaningful advantage of either of those systems for me to take their word as gospel, at this point. I am not saying there aren’t any good games there, but the amount of “power” they feel is lacking but necessary in the Nintendo Switch (which, by the way, because of different architecture, cannot be viewed through the same lens as the other two console for comparison to determine viability) is truly a fallacy, in my view. How do they know they can’t do something that they have not tried, honestly? So, for gamers to react simply based on the bias of a few ill-informed developers, is a disservice to them as gamers. But beyond getting their ideas from developers, there are yet other gamers who look to seize upon the opportunity to express their displeasure with Nintendo’s newest console solely based on their own dislike of the company. No matter what they do, it’s always wrong. The thing is, if the Nintendo Switch just does not appeal to you, there is a simpler solution to that issue than the one that many are choosing to employ…just don’t buy it! There is no reason for you as an independent-thinking individual to spend your (I assume) hard-earned money on a console that just does not appeal to you. If you are, in actuality, not really a fan of Nintendo games, it is completely not necessary for you to purchase a Nintendo Switch, at launch, or any other time. Thing is, it’s also equally unnecessary to rail against the console for what you perceive to be slights, when you were not even getting the system in the first place.
Just as there are games that are made that are not for everyone, there are game systems that fall into that category, as well. That’s why it strikes me as odd and disingenuous when some people feel it’s necessary to justify their counter-productive behavior toward Nintendo hardware (Nintendo Switch and earlier), yet profess to be fans of Nintendo, at the same time. “Nintendo needs to do this to get me back,” or “Nintendo just abandoned me; I grew up, but Nintendo never did.” And the most egregious of offenses by this type of gamer is the one that somehow feels that Nintendo “needs” all of these 3rd Party Developers to support the Nintendo Switch (in this instance). The thing is, Nintendo has a good number of 3rd Party Developer partners supporting the console, already, and others keeping a close eye on it. What many of the critics mean, though, is they want to see more Western 3rd Party Dev support, which is, quite honestly, a bit over-rated.Would it be nice to have a healthy amount of variety with those games, sure, but Western 3rd Party Developers have a lot of bad habits that don’t always translate well on Nintendo platforms. In other words, porting older games to a new system is not the best strategy if you are serious about the sales numbers. Also, treating the games you do bring to Nintendo systems as if you don’t truly care about them, by stripping content, and features…but still charging full-prices, doesn’t quite work well, either.
“Core gamers have a huge appetite for challenge. Casual gamers want less difficulty. At Nintendo, we believe it is our responsibility to make games for all skill levels, and most definitely that includes people who are not playing our games now.”
Keynote, Game Developers Conference
So, as Nintendo has done many times over the years, they have pivoted their focus slightly with their target demographic on several key franchises for the Nintendo Switch. In generations past, titles such as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda have taken on different roles in regards to attracting player, old and new. It is plain to see that the desire by the dev teams behind The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey have not only readdressed the conventions of the series, but have also focused the game play on mechanics that will lend themselves to more “core gamers”. Sure, there are some confirmed games that will offer easier entry levels for less experience gamers who may just be finding their way into gaming, but even with those, as always, Nintendo will still offer deeper, richer experiences for the gamers looking for that.
Bottom line, the Nintendo Switch is going to be an amazing new console for the people who are looking for that type of experience, and specs will not dictate that, neither will graphics. Power certainly won’t be the answer! It will all come down to the gaming experiences that player have that will determine the console’s viability in the marketplace! One of the silliest things that I see constantly in the community is the hollow competition between gamers, in which they believe they have to defeat other gamers on different consoles to have the “best” one. Like what you like, and will absolutely do the same!
As always, gaming is meant to be fun, so keep gaming!!