Here’s a fact you already knew: the Switch is a lot different from the other consoles that are currently on the market. In fact, it’s a lot different from pretty much every other console that’s ever been released. That’s because the Switch is a hybrid, so it plays by a different set of rules than a standard home console. This has resulted in it needing some “special attention” from developers, but that takes a lot of resources. The Switch needs more studios that can cater to its specific needs.
Throughout 2017, there have been several developers who more or less gave the same answer when asked if they’d bring their games over to Switch: “No, we don’t have any plans for Switch at the moment.” Of course, these responses garnered some confused reactions from the fanbase, since the system has been doing so well. But, it really boils down to the Switch not being as powerful as the PS4/Xbox One, and thus requiring special attention. Games are not easy, or cheap to make, so it’s understandable why these developers have stuck to the other consoles. They’ve already become acquainted with that hardware and each of the user-bases are also larger than the Switch (which is obvious since the Switch is the only a year old). This is where dedicated porting studios come in.
One studio in particular that caused this whole idea to pop into my head is Panic Button. This studio isn’t making games of its own, but is actually being contracted by other developers for various ports, and some of them involve the Switch. A game that has already been brought to the Switch thanks to Panic Button is the incredibly-popular Rocket League. I’ve had it for over a year on PC, but I bought the Switch version when I got the system a few months ago, and I’ve been loving it. While it may not look as pretty as the PC version, the same core experience is still very much intact. I’m surprised that I’ve been enjoying it so much, but it really is a great fit for the Switch. I’ve especially had fun with it in handheld mode; playing offline and honing my skills for those online matches.
Panic Button has brought over a few other games and has more on the way, including a some that they haven’t revealed yet. The team has proven themselves to be very skilled with the Switch’s hardware and that’s allowed their ports to turn out so well. This proves just how important it is to have the right team when creating a game for any system; this really is the issue when it comes to multiplatform games—split resources.
It’s thanks to Rocket League that the full experience of Rocket League has been brought to the Switch.
No two systems work exactly the same way, even ones that are really close in design like the PS4 and Xbox One. So, when creating a multiplatform game, developers need to optimize their game for each platform, but that isn’t the easiest thing to do. On many occasions, systems that are notoriously difficult to develop for have ended up getting the short end of the stick when it comes to multiplatform games since developers only have limited resources. Consoles like the PS3 and Wii U come to mind. Thankfully, the Switch is actually a pretty straightforward system to work with, but it still has one big hurdle that affects every developer that works with it: it’s a hybrid console.
I’ve touched on this topic in a previous article, but allow me to reiterate. The Switch’s hybrid functionality is achieved by it having a tablet-like design and mobile components along with a battery, unlike the PS4 and Xbox One which feature PC-like components and rely solely on wall power. The Switch itself has proven to be surprisingly capable despite these limitations, but developers do need to give it extra attention in order to make the most of its less powerful hardware. Thus, we have porting studios like the aforementioned Panic Button to help with these kinds of situations.
When porting studios are contracted, they pretty much take on the same role as that of a first-party studio. Their sole focus is to bring a specific game to a single platform. As a result, they have the time to tinker around with the hardware in order to make the most out of it. Compare that to just one team who’s developing for three different platforms, and it’s easy to see why porting studios have an advantage—dedicated resources. That’s why it would be really nice to have more studios like Panic Button being hired for more Switch projects. But, this still won’t necessarily fix the entire situation.
The Switch’s hybrid functionality is what really makes the development situation so complicated.
A lot of the games that we’ve seen miss the Switch have been in development for multiple years, even before the Switch was released. This is another reason why some developers have said no to a Switch port: even in cases where it would be possible for the team to do it, progress on the other versions is already so far along that a Switch version would have to come later. We’ve seen examples of late-ports already.
But, we’ve also seen examples of the opposite. Some teams have managed to add Switch development into the mix despite already being far along with a project, which has so far resulted in the Switch version being noticeably rushed. Games like NBA Playgrounds, come to mind. The Switch version of that game was released the same time as the other platforms, but it had a lot of issues and missing features for several months. So, this goes to show that having a dedicated team that can take the proper time to make sure everything is ‘A-okay’ is pretty important.
As the Switch continues to become a more established platform, developers will indeed have a harder time ignoring the system as it is a legitimate source of revenue. But even so, we’ll have to wait and see if that’s enough to convince them to take a serious look at the system. Hopefully, we will get more studios like Panic Button which can make this whole situation easier for everyone. The more games there are to play, the bigger the chance for the platform to continue to thrive with a growing userbase.