The near future, at least.
Over the past decade, Nintendo has competed directly with Sony and Microsoft on the home console space, and with the rise of mobile gaming on the portable space. At large, Nintendo faces competition from any electronic device or hobby that demands a person’s time. But now it looks as if Nintendo has clear skies ahead for the next five years, at least.
Never mind home consoles.
Sony recently stated that they “remain focused around a highly connected gaming experience and also coupled with having a great range of other entertainment experiences so you can reach multiple people on the big screen in the household.” In other words, they want to make sure that your living room needs but a single device to fulfill all your entertainment needs – a Playstation 4. A lovely idea, but one that dares to spit in the face of a historical truth: when it comes to entertainment, portability eventually trumps performance.
Can you tell me when was the last time you listened to your vinyl records on your living room’s home stereo system? Can you say that you watch more movies on your living room’s Blu-Ray player than on your bed with your tablet’s Netflix app? Do you ever call your friends from your landline or whatever VOIP service you have, rather than simply calling or texting them on your smartphone? Do you browse Facebook and the internet from your desktop computer? I don’t think most of you do.
Surely you can easily appreciate how these technologies fell behind: not because they didn’t provide good performance, but because mainstream audiences saw more value in their portable alternatives. So why is it so hard to believe that the same fate awaits home video game consoles?
I understand that portable gaming is nothing new. For a long time, portable gaming has been an excellent complement to home consoles without competing for their audiences. But gradual improvements to portable gaming have brought it ever closer to the home console experience: Starting from single-game systems like the Game and Watch, portable gaming matured into a cartridge system with the Game Boy; then to back-lit color screens and lithium-ion batteries with the Game Boy Advance SP; and finally to the same Dual Analog controls and similar performance of modern home consoles with the Nvidia Shield and Nintendo Switch. We are at a point in which a game like DOOM will be running on the portable and home console systems of the same generation.
Currently, Nintendo is the only company firmly positioned at the forefront of the AAA portable gaming space. They are in no shortage of killer apps, still have a trump card with Pokemon in the future, and could easily slash the Switch’s price or sell appealing bundles, if they have the need. But first, they have to keep up with demand.
What about VR?
To be fair to Sony, however, they did bet their chips on the allure of Virtual Reality, and it’s entirely possible that it takes off the way it has been hyped to. So let’s say that the price of VR somehow goes down all the way to mainstream affordability; and let’s say that a quality developer that understands mainstream games, such as Valve or Blizzard, finds it in their heart to make a killer app that shows all of us the true promise of VR; then, I can see this impressive living room center with VR being a fine thing for people to commit their paychecks to.
Just remember, the Wii was that console that captured the imagination of the mainstream with a fun new way to play games, a killer app in the form of Wii Sports, and an accessible price. Yet its legacy is dead and buried, with all the benefits of its advancements in motion controls reaped by its portable distant cousin, the smartphone. Even in the case of VR success, its best case scenario on any platform would be like the one above.
Those who cried “mobile gaming!”
On the other hand, smartphone gaming no longer seems like the looming threat it once appeared to be. While the power of smartphones grows with every new model, there is a very big reason why a smart device can not also be a good gaming device right now: battery life.
A smart device needs to stay on from the morning to the night – just enough time to function as a phone and notifications center throughout the day. If a smartphone were to draw enough power to play DOOM the way that a Switch does, it would also die in a few hours and stop doing the thing that you bought it for. Until there is a breakthrough in commercial-grade batteries (which could be “several years away”), or until recharging our current batteries somehow becomes a quick, ubiquitous, and effortless process, devices meant to act as smartphones can not represent a threat to portable gaming devices.
Here comes a new challenger! …Anyone?
There is always room for new competitors, of course. First, we have Amazon, who seem to have some bizarre plans that involve Twitch, experienced game designers, and the Amazon Fire TV. To me, it sounds like a sort of Ouya but with real developers and Jeff Bezos money. For now, let’s say that anything could happen and this could turn out to be a solid living room gaming system with decent games. In that case, it still wouldn’t compete with the Switch’s portability.
Apple are diving into the Augmented Reality market with their very own development kit. We won’t have to wait too long to see what some of the more creative developers can produce on the massive platform that is iOS.
The last potential competitor, and the most interesting of them all, could be Google with their Glass devices. While they only recently announced the existence of Google Glass Enterprise Edition, which is designed for workplace applications, it’s likely they will continue exploring other types of applications, gaming included. After all, of all the companies that looked with interest at Nintendo’s success with Pokemon Go, wouldn’t the makers of the first AR glasses be the most obvious ones?
At any rate, the AR future is coming sooner or later. Even Nintendo, if the batteries permit it at the time, could bring together the AR applications of Pokemon Go and of the 3DS with a future revision of the Nintendo Switch. But that’s speculation for another time.
“Did you forget Microsoft?”
No, I didn’t. GG, Microsoft.