When it comes to console support, there’s a pretty established formula: release hardware revisions every few years, and let developers squeeze out every last drop of power before moving onto the next iteration. This is how consoles have functioned for years, and we’re all used to it. But, things are different now. In addition to the new mid-generation upgrades that are the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X (and New 3DS), there’s also an all-new type of console on the market: the Switch—a hybrid. The Switch plays by a whole different set of rules than a traditional home console, and it looks like that will apply to its future hardware support. How so? Nintendo seems to be taking a pretty interesting approach.
The biggest factor in this whole situation would definitely be the recently-released Nintendo Labo. The new constructible toy-sets have been designed to make use of the Switch hardware in very clever and innovative ways; ways that could not be achieved had the Switch been a ‘traditional’ system. This is why I said Labo is the biggest factor in the whole situation—it makes a very important point clear: the Switch really is a different kind of console.
Nintendo’s whole design philosophy behind the Switch has clearly been to make the system as versatile as possible. In addition to its unique ability to transform from a home console to a hybrid near-instantaneously, Labo shows that the system can also be manipulated in all sorts of ways. Why is this important? Nintendo is clearly looking for creative ways to keep the Switch consumer base engaged.
The Switch’s situation is odd because it’s a new system (in addition to being a new type of system) that has launched in the heat of the current generation. The standard PS4 and Xbox One have a bit of age on them at this point but have basically been given a new lease on life due to the release of the aforementioned PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. There’s no telling how long the generation will be extended due to these upgraded systems, but I’d be surprised if it’s less than two or three more years. Nevertheless, as long as these systems stick around, things aren’t going to be easy for the Switch from a hardware perspective. In order to provide the hybrid functionality, Nintendo had to design the Switch as a mobile device, straight down to its components. Mobile technology has come far, but it’s still not really up to the level of a PS4/Xbox One, and definitely nowhere near the Pro and X. This is why Nintendo’s unique hardware support approach for the Switch is so important.
While the Switch has managed to get a few current-gen multiplatform games like Rocket League, that doesn’t mean every single game can be brought over to the little console—at least not super easily. In fact, lots of developers have turned to outsourcing their projects to dedicated porting studios just because Switch development requires such a large amount of exclusive attention. For example, Rocket League was brought over to the system, not by its original studio Psyonix, but rather the team at Panic Button.
This strategy is working for now, but games will only continue to get more complex and ambitious. Now that developers have access to the power of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, this is going to drive them to push the limits of current hardware even further. The Switch is surprisingly capable considering its small size and being powered by mobile components, but it has limitations that can’t be ignored. Nintendo knows this.
If Nintendo has more ideas like Labo to capture people’s attention, then there’s a good chance that the Switch will be able to live a normal life despite the aforementioned challenges. As stated before, ideas like Labo allow the Switch to be used in very unique ways; ways that the other consoles simply can’t imitate. This helps the Switch to stand out positively, despite its power limitations. If it really does come to a point where games become too complex for the Switch to handle even with dedicated porting, then at least it can still carry on with fun new peripherals like Labo.
Seeing that Labo came out exactly a year after the Switch, it does seem likely that Nintendo recognized this whole complicated situation early on and wanted to make sure a solid solution was put on the table. The company has spent the last several years at odds with most third-party developers so that further adds to the overall complexity of the issue. But, if the Switch user base remains active and continues to grow thanks to new initiatives like Labo, then some developers will likely be cautious, yet still willing to try something with the Switch since it’ll be a source of profit.
Until mobile technology fully catches up to what’s in the traditional consoles, then this strategy will likely be what Nintendo will have to go with for the time being. But, the big question is: will it be effective? Currently, it’s impossible to know for sure. It’s still hard to judge whether or not Labo will be truly successful, but its overall performance just might give us a solid example of what can happen in the future.