When it comes to the console landscape, it’s very clear that the main ‘battle’ is between Sony and Microsoft. Both companies have been going toe-to-toe for three generations at this point, and continuously try to out-do one another on every front. Nintendo, on the other hand, seems quite fine doing things its own way and it looks like that will continue to be the case for the time being.
In a recent interview with French publication Les Numeriques, Philippe Lavoué, the General Manager of Nintendo of France, explained why Nintendo isn’t following the same trends as PlayStation and Xbox. Specifically, the matter of creating a console that is capable of 4K gaming, and also getting into the VR business. The basic reason is that these markets are still too limited for the company, and also Nintendo wants to continue be different and fears that trying to compete directly with Sony and Microsoft will only lead to disaster since it’s not as big as those two. Here’s Lavoué’s translated full statement (via Google Translate, so it’s not perfect):
“We are very pragmatic. You look at VR helmets, I have doubts about their ability to seduce the greatest number. And consumers are not patient with entertainment if you are not able to offer them a complete solution. As for 4K, should we invest in a technology that is not widely adopted? Where are the 4K screens today? Should we invest before the consumer has adopted the technology? We can not invest everywhere. And what will be new compared to competitors? If we do the same thing as others, we are doomed to die because we are smaller than them. With the Switch, we have the merit of proposing different uses adapted to the rhythm of users’ lives. [The] interest is to be able to return to your daily life. The use of video games becomes less exceptional.”
This is actually a pretty sound argument. Sony and Microsoft are behemoths. PlayStation and Xbox are simply divisions of those companies. For Nintendo, gaming is the company’s primary and almost sole asset. Without gaming, Nintendo would fundamentally be nothing. As a result, it has a lot more to risk when it comes to this business. What Lavoué said about there being a chance of failure if Nintendo directly tries to compete with Sony and Microsoft is a very real possible issue.
Remember, there was a time when Nintendo was the top dog of the gaming world: the NES and SNES eras. After Sony came in with the original PlayStation, the ‘crown’ was usurped from the Big N. Since then, Nintendo has started to follow its own pattern more and more, and with the release of the Wii, the company completely cemented its strategy of taking a unique course from the rest of the industry. With the Switch, Nintendo has listened to what developers want but still has not sacrificed this unique functionality. As the only hybrid system on the market, it stands out from the PS4 and Xbox One, which is a big factor of its current success.
Would it be nice for Nintendo to adopt modern advances like 4K and VR? Yes, of course it would. But, is it necessary? As Lavoué said, not really. 4K TVs are still not the industry standard; most people don’t own 4K displays, except maybe their phones/tablets. Even broadcast TV is still typically aired in 1080p, and some shows are still only shot at 720p. 4K does look nice, but it’s very taxing on hardware, which means creating a 4K-capable system would be very expensive for Nintendo and the consumer alike. Maybe in the next five years or so this could be more of a balanced reality. As for VR, it’s still unclear if it will truly come into its own or not. The industry is adopting the technology, albeit very slowly. So, all in all, Nintendo seems to be making the right choice here and sticking to its own path.