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The year is 2020. We’ve seen the Xbox Series X, Sony has started talking about the PS5 and there are rumblings of a Switch Pro in Q2. However out of those three consoles, only two of them are guaranteed with the Switch Pro being just a rumour.

The Switch Before a Switch Pro

With the Nintendo Switch’s booming success out of the gate since its launch back in March 2017, third-parties have taken notice and we have seen some impressive support for the hybrid console. Whether it’s collaboration with Ubisoft that released Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from CD Projekt Red, the support has certainly ramped up since the dark days of the Wii U. However this year, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is going to celebrate its fifth birthday and the Nintendo Switch just barely manages to run it. This is a game that runs much smoother on the PS4 and Xbox One and Sony and Microsoft are getting ready to release their next generation of consoles. This means that as developers begin to shift their attention to newer hardware, will the Nintendo Switch be left in the dust? Well before we answer that question, let’s look at what the Switch will be needing to compete with and whether a Switch Pro is what Nintendo needs…

PlayStation 5 (PS5)

Sony has a strong sales record with their home consoles, with the PlayStation 4 hitting over 100 million units sold back in October 2019. This has made the PlayStation 4 the second best selling PlayStation console of all time and Sony is looking to ride that momentum into the next generation. Not only that, but they have a number of exclusive titles still yet to release in 2020, such as Final Fantasy 7 Remake and The Last of Us 2, to which many fans would be surprised if these titles weren’t also being developed as launch titles for the PS5.

At CES 2020, Sony shed some more light on their upcoming console, stating that it will feature:

  • PS4 Backwards Compatibility
  • Up to 8K Graphics
  • Eight-Core CPU
  • A Custom GPU Based on AMD’s Radeon Navi Hardware
  • 3D Audio Sound
  • Haptics/Adaptive Triggers
  • SSD Memory
  • Ray-Tracing Technology
  • Ultra HD Blu-Ray

Now that sounds impressive, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that just because a console is powerful, that doesn’t automatically make it a best seller. The PlayStation 2 was the weakest console in its generational lineup and it’s the best selling console of all time.

So what makes a console popular? The games, of course! Exclusivity has become a huge deal as of late, with companies throwing money all over the place in order to gain exclusive rights to a game. The PlayStation 4 has had a lot of exclusives, such as Spiderman, Persona 5, and Horizon Zero Dawn, and this is arguably why Microsoft fell behind in this generation. Sony knows this, which is why they have recently acquired Insomniac Games and announced Godfall at The Game Awards.

In addition to exclusives, the PlayStation 5 is sure to receive full support from third-party developers, to which they’d likely to take full advantage of the more powerful hardware in order to wow audiences at E3 and the like. However, Sony won’t be the only company out there looking to take advantage of third-party support.

Xbox Series X

As 2019 was coming to a close, fans were beginning to speculate when in 2020 we would see the reveal of the next generation of consoles… and then The Game Awards happened. It was here where Microsoft showed off the Xbox Series X. Fans were surprised about the design, resembling the shape of a PC tower, but it may well be on the inside that matters. Since it’s reveal, w’ve come to know a little more about the Xbox Series X’s specifications:

  • Full Xbox Backward Compatibility
  • Up to 8K Graphics
  • 120Hz Refresh Rate
  • AMD Ryzen Zen 2 CPU
  • AMD Navi-based GPU (12 TFLOPs)
  • GDDR6 SDRAM
  • Ray-Tracing Technology
  • SSD Memory

For the most part, this sounds very similar to the PS5, to which both companies are utilising AMD technology. However as specified before, it may not always been about the hardware. Microsoft has been putting a lot of focus into Xbox Game Pass which will undoubtedly carry over onto the Series X, but where Microsoft looks to challenge Nintendo’s portable nature is in its Xbox Console Streaming and Project xCloud gaming services.

These services allow users to play Xbox games on a mobile device. Players can connect to their home WiFi to stream these games or use mobile data to play on the go. This all sounds good in theory, however the technology is still in the early stages of development and is not as stable as, say, taking your Nintendo Switch to play on the go (at least we know it’s not going to stop working when the train goes through a tunnel). Therefore when it comes down to reliability, the Nintendo Switch acting as a dedicated offline handheld when undocked makes it a much more reliable experience.

When it came to console exclusives on the Xbox One, Microsoft hadn’t had the best of luck. Microsoft is wanting to change this with Series X, where they’ve already highlighted Halo: Infinite at E3 2019, Hellblade 2: Senua’s Saga at The Game Awards, as well as the many studios that they have recently acquired to ensure exclusive experiences.

Considering that Hellblade II trailer was all in-engine, it’s incredible to think about where gaming can go from here. Although, it may not always come down to graphics.

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Nintendo Switch

Oh, Nintendo. The Black Sheep; the underdog; the company that marches to the beat of their own drum. The Nintendo Switch is on record as the fastest selling console of all time and had sold 41.67 million units since October 2019. In late May 2019, the Nintendo Switch outsold the PlayStation 4 in Japan and worldwide, it outsold the Xbox One in lifetime sales. That’s a lot of momentum going into 2020 but the question is whether Nintendo will be left in the dust when the new generation hits store shelves.

The main concern is third-party support as it’s easy to see developers making games for newer hardware that just won’t be able to run on the Nintendo Switch. This then comes with the rumblings that a Switch Pro is on the horizon, but do Nintendo need this or would it even help the situation? When comparing the Nintendo Switch’s technical specifications to what is coming from Sony and Microsoft, it doesn’t look pretty:

  • No Backward Compatibility aside from the Nintendo Switch Online service
  • Up to 1920×1080 resolution in docked mode and 1280×720 in handheld mode and Nintendo Switch Lite
  • NVIDIA Custom Tegra processor
  • 32GB Storage
  • Accelerometer, Gyroscope, and Brightness Sensor

However as previously mentioned, a console doesn’t need to be the most powerful in order to be the best seller. The Switch certainly has its fair share of quality console exclusives and with the boom of indie games and the popularity of titles such as Untitled Goose Game and Hollow Knight, these won’t be an issue for the Switch’s hardware. Indie developers have shown that you don’t need the latest and greatest gaming technology to be a great game, but the ‘hardcore’ gamer will always want the best setup possible. Without a Switch Pro, the hybrid may see a decline in AAA third-party support however aside from Bethesda and CD Projekt Red, there weren’t too many games of that nature on the Switch to begin with, and that didn’t stop the Switch from becoming a runaway success. A lot of past games appear to be getting new leases on life as many fans buy the game for a second time in order to have that hybrid convenience.

Nintendo aren’t opposed to revising their hardware recently with the Nintendo Switch Lite launching in September 2019, however this iteration was for a much more casual market. That isn’t to say that that’s a bad thing, rather it’s great for sales, but decades have shown that the casual gaming audience are a much more fickle bunch compared to dedicated audiences. Nintendo has also never released a home console mid-generation upgrade, with the closest example being the Nintendo 64DD (and that’s a whole other article).

Therefore with Sony and Microsoft seeming to maintain their home console traditions without traditionally rivalling the hybrid nature of the Switch, it may seem like there’s no need for a Switch Pro. Although, Sony and Microsoft aren’t the only competitors to be wary of.

The Others

With the video gaming industry seeing a recent boom in profit and revenue, it begs to question whether a three-laned console race is still the right way to look at it. There are always competitors to the gaming industry but now moreso than ever, they’re becoming increasingly viable threats.

We can begin with Google Stadia and their aim to create a platform that does away with home console boxes and instead focusses entirely on cloud-based gaming. This is similar to what was mentioned above with Project xCloud and so far the reception has been lukewarm, but the technology is rising and with Google being the behemoth that it is, it could certainly become a threat to Nintendo in the future if they play their cards right.

Mobile gaming has been a threat to Nintendo ever since the introduction of the App Store, taking casual gamers away from Brain Training on the Nintendo DS and getting them to play Angry Birds on the original iPhone. Technology has come a long way since then and while the App and Play Stores may be viewed as an endless pit of shovelware, there are companies out their willing to take it to the next level. More and more third-party controllers are being made for mobile gaming as well as phones that have beefy specs in them that rival that of the Switch. Take the Razer Phone 2 for example, with twice the RAM, much more horsepower, better screen resolution with HDR and 120HZ refresh rate. This corner of the market hasn’t seemed to have taken off with consumers opting to go down a more traditional route with iPhone, Samsung and the like, but the concept is seemingly on the rise with games like PUBG and Fortnite being available on said devices.

Also, consider the rise of Apple Arcade which allows players with a subscription to play games on iOS mobile devices and then put their games on their big screen with their Apple TV. It may be a more cumbersome act, but subscriptions have become the new craze and the convenience of having your games on your device that’s forever going to be wherever you are is certainly enticing. Apple Arcade has also been targeting innovative indie developers that aren’t too taxing on their hardware, which can be a potential threat to Nintendo’s Nindies strategy.

Lastly, with the success of the Switch over the recent years, companies may also be on the verge on recreating this concept with their own take (capitalism). Dell Alienware announced their Concept UFO that takes the hybrid design of the Switch and combines it with a Windows 10 operating system. It’s an early prototype and Dell says that they may not see it to fruition, but the fact that Dell thought to create a concept that evolves on the Switch’s hybrid nature suggests that this is an idea that is getting brought up at office meetings.

Does Nintendo Need a Switch Pro to Stay in the Game?

Short answer: No. Would I buy one? Yes!

In the past decade, the idea of a strong lineup of games has been what allows a company to stand out amongst its competition. Couple that with an easily digestible marketing strategy (which Nintendo has greatly improved on since the Wii U days) and that appears to be the recipe for success.

The momentum may slow down when the next generation of consoles release and a Switch Pro could certainly help in making that gap feel less substantial. However considering the early success that Nintendo has had with the Switch, it’s safe to say that word has already spread. Neither of Nintendo’s two major competitors appear to be copying their core concept and even though they are looking into cloud gaming to stream on other devices, it’s going to be a long time before that becomes as seamless as the Switch.

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Posted by Alex Harding