The video game industry is one built on the success of others. Innovation typically gives way to copycats and imitations which look to ride the success of a great idea. From the way we play games (Nintendo’s original D-Pad) through to the way we experience them (Motion controls, VR headsets), the industry has a habit of following trends. With Nintendo yet again leading the way and looking to marry its handheld and console business under one console, could this encourage Sony and Microsoft back into the portable gaming market?
While the Nintendo Switch will never challenge the hardcore dominance of Sony and Microsoft’s consoles, the true threat comes from its impact elsewhere. Nintendo Switch caters to an entirely different breed of consumer – one that doesn’t see the future of gaming on increasingly large televisions. Even if Nintendo only moderately successful in converting gamers over to this ideology, the appeal of playing AAA-level games free from the constraints of a television is the ultimate dream. And Nintendo is, at the very least, making it something of a reality. Much like how the Nintendo Wii’s success caught its competitors out, Nintendo has the potential to do the same again.
Both Sony and Microsoft have attempted to broach the idea of mobile gaming before – with diminished returns across the board. Sony’s PlayStation Portable brand enjoyed some success, but failed to translate its obvious graphical grunt into long-term success. The failure of the PlayStation Vita to ignite this market further proof that the company has never truly understood the mobile market. That console had some solid AAA games when it launched, all of which abandoned the platform when sales failed to materialise.
Another good example of this was the company’s short-lived and ill-fated PlayStation Mobile platform, which crashed and burned to almost no fanfare. Sony’s idea there was more open, attempting to create a platform that scaled across multiple devices – which never really took off. As for Microsoft, their entirely forgettable Windows Mobile platform serves as a reminder that just because you have the financial clout to make a product doesn’t mean end users will want that product.
Given these previous failings, why would either company come back to compete? Put truthfully, both company’s have changed a fair amount in recent years. Previous efforts have been lacking in foresight and didn’t really cater to their audiences. Yes the Vita was great, but why would gamers want bite size versions of games when the console promised so much more?
Creating portable versions of their consoles to rival Switch would be entirely in-keeping with the current mindsets floating around these two gaming giants. Both have gone out of their way in the last few years to talk up their consoles as platforms, scalable to both the high-end console market and the average console player. It stands to reason under this logic that there’s potential for handheld devices that offer a degree of portability within these ecosystems.
Nintendo Switch’s success entirely depends on how well it can sell this dream. The likes of EA and Ubisoft are already throwing tentative support behind the device, a potential huge hook for gamers who might fancy playing a scaled down FIFA if it means they get to play on their own terms. It’s a market that’s truly untested given that this is the first time a company had gone all in on the AAA portable console.
The problem of course is that it isn’t as simple as switching a button. As Sony’s lack of backwards compatibility showcases, bringing games to multiple devices can be an engineering headache for the best of company’s.The insistence on scaling games across multiple devices means that the cost of testing games across these devices increases.
Yet I suspect that Microsoft and Sony will be watching the initial period of the Switch closely. Nintendo has a habit of creating its own success and it would be foolish to rule out the idea that Won’t and Microsoft could be tempted into a similar position. Phil Spencer at Microsoft has openly talked about the end of console generations, perhaps this wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility.
The Switch is certainly capable of changing what we perceive to be handheld gaming. I believe Sony and Microsoft are already perfectly positioned to capture the market and entice their fans into buying such portable devices.