On Thursday, Nintendo finally revealed their next console: the Nintendo Switch, formerly known as the NX. The timing was less than ideal, going up against the first trailers for Read Dead 3 and the final Wolverine movie, but the response has been... largely positive. Sure, there's been skepticism -- their currently fluctuating stock prices are proof of that -- but all and all, anyone expecting a repeat of the WiiU's reveal were pleasantly surprised. Myself included.
Anyone who knows me on this site knows I've been quite critical of Nintendo. I grew up on the SNES and Game Boy, I still got my DS around for some Poke-Nostalgia, but the direction they've gone in since the Wii has turned me away from the company. They've ignored tech trends, went in on gimmicks that failed to impact the industry, and ultimately fell well behind Sony and MS in the process. I haven't bought any new Nintendo hardware since.
I don't know if I'll get the NS (I'm assuming that'll be the nomenclature for Switch, so I'm running with it), but I'm impressed with what I've seen thus far. Literally -- is it just me, or does this not look like a Nintendo product? The glossy, cheap, toy-esque white plastic that's been their backbone the past decade is gone. In its place, we have something entirely un-Nintendo. Something HTC or Apple would make and sell at a premium. Something eye catching that'd have passersbys asking where you go it.
Remains to be seen if the build quality will match that image. And hell, with all the rumors we've heard the reveal may have asked more questions than it answered. That's not a bad thing, however. It got people's attention, we're talking about it, the social media buzz is there, and that's exactly what Big N set out to do. Over the coming months, they'll need to address those concerns and sell people on an actual product, not just a trailer. So, to answer the question I proposed with my blog title: now what?
The single biggest question from the reveal: how much is this gonna cost me? Coming off the 3DS and WiiU, both of which were overpriced at launch and suffered because of it (the latter of which never recovered), this question is of even more importance.
You could make the argument that iPhones and iPads, with their ludicrously high price points, means Nintendo has a lot of leeway with the NS. That would be a mistake. The 360 and PS3 were $50-$100 cheaper than the WiiU at launch, and it had no shot at competing with their libraries and online services as a result. The XB1 and PS4 now start at $250 and $300. Anything significantly higher and the NS is dead in the water too. Won't matter how great the concept is.
Not only that, but what the hell actually comes in the box? Will the base model have the tablet, dock, and joy pads? Will you need the dock for TV play or will HDMI out be an option? What about the folks who just want a console and normal gamepad, not a mobile device? Will they get a SKU this time when Nintendo refused to do so last time by forcing the GamePad on WiiU owners?
There's a lot of business questions to be answered here, and none will be overcome by a cool concept with a sleek design and a new Zelda. Nintendo will need to take a loss out the gate on the NS to be competitive, whether or not they like it or have done it historical. It's no longer an option, it's a necessity. $350 is the ceiling here, probably $300.
One of the biggest criticisms of the original 3DS was its battery life. Nintendo made the same mistake a year and a half later with the WiiU GamePad. Both only managed 3-5hr of play time, and for a mobile device that's simply unacceptable. If the NS is really a "hybrid" system, designed to be used away from your TV (or house) as much as it's still a "home console", they can't make this mistake a third time.
These days, 7 hours of battery life is the bottom floor for a tablet. Anything less than that and you're probably some Chinese knock off being sold at CVS. Most manufacturers have gotten near or above 10 hours on their devices. That would be asking too much of Nintendo (and it likely isn't necessary), but less than 7? Hell, I could even deal with 6. But this 3-5 shit will not cut it, and with battery tech where it is there's no excuse for them not to spring for the higher capacity and make this a truly "hybrid" device.
Yes, the part everyone hates to talk about and no one wants to acknowledge is important. Guess what? What's under the hood of the NS will determine who supports it and how much money they'll invest in it. We've had confirmation it uses a mobile ARM chip from Nvidia, but that's all we've got so far.
So what will this thing actually need? 8 core CPUs are becoming more common in phones and tablets, even mid-range devices. Typically, you'll have 2 quad cores on chip running in what's called big.LITTLE. The lower end CPU (LITTLE) does the lightwork, the higher end CPU (big) does the heavier lifting, and for really demanding tasks both can be used in parallel. It not only gives your SoC some bite, but it can seriously boost your battery life. Nintendo and Nvidia will likely need to implement something like this.
Beyond that, any hope of matching the XB1 or PS4 is out of the question. Nvidia's upcoming Tegra X2 has 256 GPU cores pushing 750 GFLOPs, with 128-bit memory at 50GB/s. This is well behind the XB1 (768 cores, 1.31 TFLOPs, 256-bit, 68.GB/s) and PS4 (1152 cores, 1.84 TFLOPs, 256-bit, 176GB/s). This gap will only increase with PS4 Pro (4.2 TFLOPs) and Scorpio (6 TFLOPs) on the horizon. Given the X2 is the most powerful upcoming ARM SoC, it's unlikely Nvidia and Nintendo could push NS too far beyond that.
To be honest, though? That's probably not the end of the world. Yes, it'll affect potential support, especially without a console like the PS2 or 360 to give them easy ports from. But they'll still likely double performance over the WiiU, if not more. Throw 4GB of RAM in this sucker and that could give them enough juice for a healthy console lifecycle. Depending on...
If I told you in 2010 the next Nintendo console would launch with Mass Effect, COD, Darksiders, Batman, Tekken, Assassin's Creed, and Ninja Gaiden, you probably would have either laughed in my face or rushed to pre-order one. This week, the NS was revealed with footage of NBA 2K and Skyrim, along with a list of "committed" publishers including Activision, EA, Ubisoft, Take 2, Capcom, SE, and WB. Are we starting to draw the parallel here?
Yes, Nintendo's stated they'll roll out the game announcements early next year, and I'm sure we'll have a better idea of who's supporting the launch at that time. But right now? I'm hardly convinced they'll have substantial support from third parties, nor I am convinced Nintendo's done what they need to accomplish such a thing. And neither should you.
Even more than price, battery life, tech specs or anything else, publishing support will make or break the NS. Will Madden, NBA 2K, and FIFA get yearly releases with comparable feature sets to PS4 and XB1? Will Battlefield and COD? New releases from Rockstar, namely Read Dead and GTA? Will Capcom and SE support them long term? What about the in-betweens like Bethesda?
I know you may not personally care about some of these franchises or publishers. I know you may already own a PC, PS4, or XB1 to play these games. But for the NS to succeed? For the installed base to grow and give Nintendo a viable revenue stream out of the gate? They need third parties. Point. Blank. Period. The fact that NS development is already made harder by the comparatively lower specs and ARM tech makes that even more of a concern. The last thing anyone wants here is another Nintendo Box, except this time its only ports will be cell phone games.
Do I want to see more from the NS, more than I've wanted to see of any Nintendo hardware in the last decade? Yea. I fully admit that. I might even say that I'm excited to see more. But there are so many unanswered questions here and so many ways this could go wrong. Please believe me when I say the last thing I want is for NS to bomb. At minimum, Sony needs a kick in the ass in EU and JP so they can start acting competitive again. MS can't do that. Nintendo can.
But this is just the start, and Nintendo has a long way to go over the next five months. All I know for sure is I'll be rooting for them this time. Will you be?