In my last feature, I discussed how the incoming launch of the next-generation PlayStation and Xbox consoles will put Nintendo in a very awkward position going forward. The basic gist of the situation is that while the Switch has been exceedingly successful throughout its now near-three-year lifespan, it has quite the daunting task when it comes to taking on the upcoming PlayStation 5 and Project Scarlett consoles. That’s due to the massive power difference that is going to exist between it and the new systems. Is a “Switch Pro” the appropriate answer to this situation?
Well, many of the responses to my last article pointed out how Nintendo isn’t competing with Sony and Microsoft. Interestingly enough, just last year, former Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime mentioned in an interview that he doesn’t consider the PS4 and Xbox One to be competitors to the Switch.
Reggie mentioned that the real competition comes with capturing the attention of consumers—their entertainment time. The Switch ends up being the stronger contender compared to traditional consoles from a time standpoint since players can make use of it anywhere, rather than exclusively at home. Looking at it from this perspective does make sense. It may have been exactly what Nintendo was always going for when it decided to create the Switch as a hybrid console rather than a traditional system. While its hybrid design has allowed it to exist in a realm almost entirely of its own, there’s still an important hurdle that cannot be ignored: multi-platform compatibility.
The Switch being hybrid is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it’s convenient and unique, but on the other hand, its small body is what holds it back from matching the power of the other systems. While it is more capable than the Wii U and 360/PS3, the Switch still falls behind the power of a regular Xbox One. That alone is noticeably less powerful than the Xbox One X. So, with the incoming Project Scarlett and PlayStation 5 being even mightier, it’s easy to see that the Switch is really going to have its back against the wall in this situation. Complex titles today are already having a hard time running on the system without major technical sacrifices. So, as games get even more advanced on the new systems, this problem is only going to get worse. Does that mean the Switch will need a power boost of its own?
This generation has already opened up the previously unexplored avenue of mid-generation upgrades. The New 3DS/2DS, PS4 Pro, and Xbox One X all launched just a few years after the arrival of the initial versions of each system. They all had the same purpose: reinvigorate interest in their platforms, and also give developers some more headroom to push the technical aspects of their games further. This created an interesting situation where, for the first time in console history, there were console players who had a “basic” and “premium” experience. This fragmentation previously only existed on PC.
With mid-gen upgrades now being a thing, it’s not completely unlikely that an upgraded Switch can and will be released by next year. After all, it’s already been heavily rumored throughout 2019; accompanied were rumors of a Switch Mini, which turned out to be the Switch Lite. With that being the case, I’ll be surprised if a Switch Pro doesn’t end up existing at all. But what I don’t know at this point is what form it will take.
That’s because Nintendo is has no qualms about doing just about anything it feels like. I didn’t think a handheld-only version of a hybrid console could (or should) exist, yet the Switch Lite is now carrying out that role. With that being the case, it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there could be a console-only version of the Switch as well, which would end up being the Switch Pro. If the Switch Pro really did turn out to be a “true” home console, then that alone would give Nintendo the opportunity to outfit it with significantly more powerful components. If this were to be the case, then the difference in power would likely be dramatic like the Xbox One vs. the Xbox One X, rather than minimal like the 3DS vs. the New 3DS. Regardless, just having a Switch Pro at all would introduce the aforementioned situation of platform fragmentation. That leads to the next question: How would Nintendo handle this?
There can be only one of two paths: like the New 3DS/2DS or like the PS4 Pro/Xbox One X. There are specific games that are only available on the New 3DS/2DS systems due to being too complex for the original models to handle. In contrast, (as of now) every PS4/Xbox One game is required to function on both the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X in addition to the base models. This latter option is clearly the better path to consumers, but the likelihood of it is uncertain. Again, the Switch Pro would be competing with an entirely new generation of systems. So, if it were to possess the power of at least the base Xbox One, that would still put it at a great disadvantage against the new consoles. On top of that, it would further put the regular Switch in a bad spot since it is more likely there will be games that could only manage to run on the Switch Pro.
Just try to think about this whole situation from a developer’s perspective: creating a game that can run on something as beefy as the PlayStation 5 / Project Scarlett and modern gaming PCs while also being able to scale down to something as simple as the Switch Lite. That’s no easy feat — not impossible, but also not simple. Thus, a Switch Pro would help, but that still leaves the problem of there being over 30 million current regular Switch owners. Not to mention the Switch Lite population is also growing.
With the Switch Lite having just launched, it does appear that Nintendo intends to keep the existing Switch family running for at least two or three more years. That would give the Switch a lifespan of at least five years or more, which would then put it in a comfortable position for a formal successor. However, that would still be two years after the launch of PlayStation 5 and Project Scarlett (2022), which is a sizeable time gap. That means it would end up being a similar situation to that of the current Switch where the install bases of the other consoles are already vast. However, said consoles’ adoption rates should have subsided enough at that point to give a new Nintendo console a chance to steal a lot of thunder, similar to what the PlayStation 5 and Project Scarlett will end up doing to the Switch next year.
Ultimately, all of this speculation does still leave yet one more question: Does Nintendo even need to worry about the other platforms? Once again, this topic will be explored further in my next feature.