Generation 9 – Advantage: Nintendo?

Well, it’s clear the hardware increases will make these new consoles proper next-gen machines. But are Sony and Microsoft bottling it by trying to keep Gen-8 alive?


 

Okay, we still don’t know a damn thing about the NX, Neo or Scorpio.

Actually, scratch that, we know one thing; Microsoft revealed that the power and performance of the Scorpio was quite a significant leap from the XBox One. So significant, one can’t help but come to the conclusion if Sony and Nintendo make similarly huge leaps, that there’ll be no doubt that these consoles will herald the dawn of Generation 9 – a huge leap forward pitching towards VR and 4K Gaming, requiring significantly better hardware. There will be no room for slackers, and no doubt these consoles will be more expensive than current-gen offerings at launch. I’m predicting £400-£500 each, and I think that’s a reasonable estimate for where we’re headed.

So the question for me is – why did Microsoft join with Sony in this “Nobody Left Behind” nonsense?

I appreciate the sentiment, of course. Gen-8 has been a bit of a washout, and that’s putting it extremely mildly. It was clear when consoles couldn’t even hit the promised 1080/60 benchmarks consistently that we were in for a short console cycle; four years, or five for Nintendo. And I think most of us have come to accept that it was always going to come sooner rather than later – with Wii U sales bottoming out, the XBox One struggling and even the PS4 sales figures dipping dangerously low, no-one should have been under any illusion that change was necessary – is necessary – and that we’re much better off fleeing the sinking ships of Gen-8 onto more technologically-sound hardware that might have a chance of surviving for a good seven to ten years.

But the problem with appeasing the last-gen crowd, and insisting games work on older hardware – as both Microsoft and Sony have now stated – is that most of this new hardware won’t be put to good use making our games better on a technical level. The power, Microsoft and Sony insist, is directed at making 4K and VR achievable. Which is fine – but what incentive is there for anyone to upgrade to 4K or VR if they can play these exact same games on old consoles? Why even buy a new console at all at that point! Why even bother with the research and development of such significantly-improved hardware if you’re reluctant to let the past go?

And believe me, we need to let Gen-8 go. From performance issues to technically poor games to just a raft of disappointments, this hasn’t been the console industries finest hour. Perhaps Sony and Microsoft still believe they can salvage something from the smouldering wreckage of the last few years, still have hope that good can come from the adversity. And that would all be noble and commendable…

But Nintendo. Ahh, Nintendo.

Nintendo sits in perhaps the most interesting position of all. Whilst Sony and Microsoft clearly want to keep supporting the XBox One and PS4, Nintendo isn’t so keen on carrying the Wii U any further than it has done thus far. As the worst-selling console for almost twenty-five years, the Wii U is a chapter Nintendo will be all too happy and eager to forget – hence why news has been coming out that dozens of Wii U projects from inside Nintendo HQ have quietly but expediently been pushed towards the Nintendo NX in the last couple of years. It’s why the new Zelda: Breath of the Wild, will be launching on both Wii U and NX at the same time; Nintendo clearly hoping that you’ll much prefer it on the NX. Heck, throw in a “buy on Wii U, play on NX” deal for the new Zelda game and you’ve got a recipe for a roaring launch title!

Sony and Microsoft couldn’t have given Nintendo better news, really. With no old-gen console to support, the NX can focus on delivering a new-gen experience for consumers and developers alike – and the latter don’t have to fret about making sure their projects work on ageing hardware that may restrict their development options (and increase their budgets). It can focus on just being better, rather than trying desperately to bridge the gap between generations. Making it easier for developers, cheaper for developers and better for consumers as they’ll get better looking, more focused gaming content – that seems like a no-brainer to me. And whilst I know there’ll be some who’ll squawk at that – Sony and Microsoft confirmed that there’ll be no “Exclusives” for these new consoles.

So what you will end up with, at least initially, are two consoles capable and powerful enough to be considered next-gen… but pretending that they aren’t.

It’s why, at least for the moment, the NX looks to be in the more advantageous position. Sure, Microsoft and even Sony have developers saying nice things about their hardware – but so did Nintendo, when it showcased the Wii U. We all know how that went down. Given the option towards splitting your game between two consoles with vastly different power resources, and one console that doesn’t have such a restriction, I believe third parties – whatever they feel about Nintendo – will opt to go for simpler, straight-forward one-console development. It will be better for their games and their bottom lines – and Nintendo, in theory, should reap the harvest.

Of course, until we get more specific information or concrete specifications, this isn’t exactly watertight. But it makes sense that if Nintendo can hold it together and deliver a console with the grunt needed for 4K gaming and VR, as now seems the case, without requiring old-gen console support – they’ll have the stronger hand compared to the competition. Sony and Microsoft are playing it safe – unwilling or perhaps unable to rock the boat. Sony clearly need to pretend that the Neo is “just a PS4”, even though it clearly won’t be – they need to because they promised a hundred million PS4 sales, and at this rate they won’t make half that before the Neo launches. Microsoft promised lofty sums and install bases – so it too would prefer to nestle the Scorpio with the XBox One, and pretend these new console sales are “just like the old ones”.

Nintendo, from the outset, haven’t been so duplicitous in this. They accepted the Wii U was a commercial disaster. They have no interest in saving it any more – they’ve tried, many times, and each time has failed. I have to give them some respect for that – there’s no delusion here from Nintendo. The NX isn’t a Wii U successor; it’s meant to be its superior, and a big step forward for the company. Whether that is successful or not, we’ll find out towards the end of 2016.

But if I were Sony or Microsoft, I’d be rethinking this “Nobody Left Behind” thing. No-one is saying to stop last-gen versions of games; that’s a nonsense, even the PS3 and 360 still get a few new games even now. That will always happen and developers will sometimes be so far into development that there isn’t much point in a new-gen update until the current version is complete and on the market. But not one “exclusive” for either the Neo or Scorpio? Really? So… why would I buy your new consoles, when I can enjoy all of those games on cheaper hardware? And will developers really appreciate the restriction?

Generational transitions require we slowly phase out the old for the new. It’s never immediate. It’s never straight-forward. But it is always for the betterment of the industry. Nintendo doesn’t even have to phase out the Wii U – we all know it’s over, and it’s on life support until the NX arrives and yanks out the plug. Nintendo can afford to get stuck into an aggressive generational push. It’s dog in the Gen-8 fight is gone. They can put full focus into making their new hardware sing on its own terms; and when you consider what Nintendo can do with the likes of Splatoon and Mario Kart 8, I certainly wouldn’t want to be betting against them.

Right now, on paper, Nintendo has the clear advantage for Generation 9. Not because it was smart, or clever, or wily; but because they were lucky enough that the Wii U was such a commercial train-wreck that they can just drop it without too much fear of reprisal. Nintendo’s whole NX position has been one of good fortune and no small amount of blind luck – so much for leaving that to heaven, eh Nintendo? Sony and Microsoft’s reluctance to shed Gen-8 completely hands Nintendo an ace it would be stupid not to play to its advantage; tired of making old-gen versions of your game? Come to us! We don’t have an old console your game is required to support!

The only question is; will the NX be powerful enough for this? I hope so; even if it is weaker than the Neo and Scorpio, if it’s still significantly better than current-gen hardware and pitching at 4K/VR gaming, the more straight-forward approach should still work to their advantage.

But the ball is now in their court. Let’s hope Nintendo doesn’t fumble it…

 

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