The success so far of the Nintendo Switch has taken people sort of by surprise.
For some reason, I guess. To be fair, most of us in the gaming scene saw this one coming months and indeed, years before the Switch landed. It’s an incredible piece of hardware – with some flaws, granted – that just seems to have reignited a passion in the consumer market for Nintendo, and the proof of the pudding is in the fact that people are going mental just buying products for the CHANCE to get a Switch, considering they’re so hard to find (though that is down to a components shortage rather than deliberate understocking).
And now, in the run up to E3 2017, talk is ablaze that Sony should follow Nintendo’s lead
again, into the hybrid market.
I… don’t think that’s a good idea.
For a start, necessity is the mother of invention. Nintendo nailed the Switch, but in a roundabout way – Nintendo needed to nail the Switch. The Wii U was a commercial bomb, perhaps unfairly maligned but that’s neither here nor there, and it left a gaping hole in the middle of Nintendo. After the runaway success of the Wii, the Wii U was a shadow of the brands former success and Nintendo relied heavily on its handheld market to carry the company – a wise idea, with the success of Pokémon Sun and Moon. This is why the Switch exists – Nintendo realised it couldn’t keep juggling two pieces of hardware, so it made the logical decision at a time when the hardware existed to carry the concept to fruition – a handheld/home console hybrid. No more splitting the market, no more dividing up games, a unified Nintendo all chasing a singular piece of hardware that is engineered to work both at home and on the go.
It was a good move, all told. There’s a lot of talk about potential games coming and with support behind it from Unreal Engine, nVidia and Unity, it’s also fair to say that porting games to the Switch probably won’t be too difficult (there’s a button in the new Unreal Engine just for that!).
Does Sony need to jump on a new bandwagon? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time – Blu-ray, DualShock, 3DTV and PSVR all stand as examples of Sony trying to keep up with the Joneses with varying degrees of success (and financial poundings). But most notably, Sony has tried the handheld market – twice, the PSP and the PS Vita. And both consoles have summarily failed to make any real dent on the market – Nintendo absolutely dominates this sphere, and probably will continue to do so. The PSP was technically better than the DS, and the Vita was technically better than the 3DS, but that clearly didn’t matter – Sony found itself unable to support either device with anything more than lip-service.
A PlayStation Hybrid would be another attempt to chase Nintendo, and this doesn’t tend to end well. The PS Move and Kinect ran aground, and let us not forget that Sony and Microsoft had variants lined up to compete with the Wii U – it’s kind of funny to look back and realise how scared the two companies were of the Wii U before its launch. Sony has even tried to replicate the success of Smash Bros., and in a kick to a delicate place for Sony – one of the most iconic figures on PlayStation, Cloud Strife, ended up in Smash Bros. and not All-Stars Battle Royale. That must have hurt Sony a bit.
This is before we mention how much PlayStation is currently trying to do.
If the Switch offers any lesson for Sony to follow, it might be to simplify things a little. Right now, the PlayStation brand has a lot of balls in the air – you’ve got the PS4 and the PS4 “Pro”, the PSVR, PS Now!, PS Plus and talk suggests Sony is knee-deep in research and development for a PlayStation 5. Not to mention a lot of big games taking up a lot of money, like The Last of Us: Volume 2, Death Stranding and the new God of War. Whilst the PlayStation 4 base seems to still be doing well, and is getting some big games, everything else feels like a bit of an afterthought – and when you consider just how focused Nintendo can be on the Switch right now, having Sony half-arse a Hybrid console just… doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t make sense. You’d just end up with perhaps another Vita – yes, Sony could make a technically stronger machine but not cheaply and with none of the software backing it up.
Sony’s fanbase likes Sony for what it does in the home console space. They like the PlayStation 4. They like what it does, they like the software line-up and they like Sony’s penchant for big and dramatic games like The Last of Us, Uncharted and KillZone. If they wanted Sony to be more like Nintendo… well, wouldn’t they just be buying a Nintendo machine?
It’s the same argument against the rumours of Sony wanting to buy out Monster Hunter 5 and radically change it. Why? If you’re buying Monster Hunter, you’re doing so to get traction in the Japanese space where it is dominant. You don’t just waltz in, buy it out and then ask Capcom to spend huge sums of money catering for a market who have had every opportunity to buy Monster Hunter to this point on the 3DS. You can’t just keep throwing money at a problem with no thought behind it – that way madness lies, and it’s arguably what has Microsoft in such a pickle right now. Trying to have it all, trying to buy it all… but Microsoft has very little to show for its efforts.
I’d also say it is far too early to call the Switch a big success story – sure, Nintendo can’t make enough of them thanks to a components shortage. And yes, it is currently selling like the Wii did a decade ago. But we’re talking about a console that is three months old. It’s barely out of nappies in technological terms, and yet people are saying Sony should pile in? Remind me how that went again with the PS Move and Kinect? Sometimes, and this is a crazy thought so bear with me, just sometimes… it’s best to stand back and see how things go –before– you rush in. To let someone do the legwork, build a niche and then move into the big cavernous space they’ve carved out.
Sony has enough on its plate at this moment in time. With talk of a PS5 in the works, Sony is likely focused on rounding out the last possibly year to eighteen months of the PlayStation 4’s life and do so with something pushing positivity. It’s still got to try and shift PSVR units, it has the PS4 “Pro” going up against the Scorpio and PS Now! heading to the PC. That’s a lot for any company to be tackling, and people think Sony should add one more chainsaw to this precarious and dangerous little juggling act?
That’s not to say this is a ‘never’.
The Switch is running on some serious mobile hardware – it’s about the power minus some RAM of an XBox One, on a board not much bigger than a credit card. That’s where mobile technology stands right now – it has somewhat drawn equal to current console hardware. In a few years, with the shorter evolutionary cycle of mobile hardware pushing through new smartphones each year, chances are good that the technology might indeed be ripe and ready not only to equal current console hardware but perhaps even surpass it. The Switch is an early sign that the console space could, in the end, draw from the same pool of hardware that they once derided as a sideshow back in the late Noughties.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean future console cycles will end up as “hybrids” either – just because they’ll draw from the same hardware pool, it doesn’t mean they’ll all be aiming for the same thing. It could simply end up that in ten years or so, your PlayStation will be a fraction of the size it is now – it won’t be radically different in what it does, only that the hardware available means the base unit will be significantly smaller and perhaps energy-efficient (and may end up dropping optical media to facilitate that – another avenue Nintendo may be cutting in on early). And maybe the hardware will produce a more reliable controller than the DualShock 4 (my third one died on me over the weekend…).
If they did end up hybrids though, it would be because Nintendo had the balls to strike out first. And I’m more inclined to let Nintendo have this one. Let Nintendo drive the market for a bit, see how it goes and then sometime when Nintendo undoubtedly starts talking about a Switch 2, then look and see if the market is big enough to share.
Personally, I’d much rather see companies settle into their own respective niche markets. Nintendo has the hybrid-portable market with the Switch, Sony has the PlayStation eating up the main home console space and Microsoft… might be able to get a high-end console, maybe? This will probably end up to the benefit of all – and they’ll all still be competing with each other in a sense, and all driving technological growth and investment, but they’ll all have a corner to call their own, and having multiple successful consoles on the market tends to end up with significant growth and investment – see Gen 7, with the Wii, XBox 360 and PS3 selling a combined 270 million+ units (and that doesn’t include 150 million DS units and 50 million PSP units!).
But that’s just me angling some wishful thinking, I guess.
In closing – Sony needs to sort out its own house first, drop dead weight, see where the next few years go and should be more than happy to let Nintendo be Nintendo and run off into the flowery fields of the Switch and the new Handheld Hybrid market. It should know by now that you wait for Nintendo’s new baby to come back, because those fields can hide some nasty little bear traps. If and when we get around to consoles utilising mobile hardware, then Sony should consider it – and then consider if it is really worth the effort taking on Nintendo in a market that it has dominated for the last twenty-eight years.
A lot of good reasons to wait. And if you want a hybrid console now… buy a Switch.
Because when the time comes on the next cycle around, Sony will be looking at those publicly available sales figures and working out if it is worth following suit. If you genuinely think this is the future of video gaming, then the best way you can encourage Sony to make that decision is to contribute to the sales figures of the Switch.
Who knows? You might even come to like some Nintendo games…