At this time next year, we will likely be just weeks away from the launch of the next-gen systems, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox One successor Project Scarlett. Neither console has been fully unveiled as of this moment, but that will no doubt change in the coming months. Sony and Microsoft have at least both provided a release window (holidays 2020) along with an overview of the specs of each of the new machines. All in all, they appear to be very powerful. Regardless, just the fact that they’re the all-new systems on the market will be enough to generate a huge wave of interest from consumers. That leaves the question: How worried should Nintendo be for the Switch?
What really makes this situation so off is the timing of it all. Usually, the generational transition for each console maker tends to happen either at the same time or in relatively close succession. For instance, the Wii and PS3 both launched in late 2006 and the Xbox 360 hit the market a year prior. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launched mere days between one another back in 2013, and the Wii U launched one year earlier. Compare that to the current situation that’s facing the Switch.
The Switch hit the market in early 2017, so it’s been around for over two years now. By the time the PlayStation 5 and Project Scarlett launch, the Switch will be three-and-a-half years old. That means it would be in the middle of its lifecycle whereas the new consoles would just be getting started. That’s actually a mirror image of what occurred when the Switch launched, as it, too, came in the middle of the PS4 and Xbox One’s lifecycles. Speaking of which, that could give us an indication of what will possibly occur starting next year.
By the time the Switch came to market, the PS4 and Xbox One were in the prime of their lives. Both platforms were fairly established at that point but were still generating substantial hardware and software sales. Even so, the Switch swooped in and quickly took the top spot on global sales charts. The growth of its install base has remained strong and steady ever since, with very little interference from the other platforms. So, does that mean that’s what’s going to happen next year? It’s hard to say, really.
A big reason as to why the Switch has managed to perform so well since its early days is due to its being the first true hybrid console. This extremely unique design captured the interest of consumers and continues to help it today. Not to mention that its improved systems architecture over past Nintendo consoles has also given game developers a chance to quickly adapt their titles to the console. On top of this, Nintendo itself has worked to fortify its relations with both indie studios and larger companies, which has further led to a noticeable proliferation in third-party/indie support.
To tie this already attractive package all together is the Switch’s price point. It’s MSRP of $299 (which remains the case today) has made picking one up relatively easy, especially when compared to the $400 and $500 price tag of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, respectively. Now, the Switch Lite has also joined the party with an even more attractive $199 asking price. While base PS4 and Xbox One S consoles can be nabbed for a similar price, the fact that those consoles are now a whopping seven years old has made them far less sought after since their install bases have already plateaued.
Speaking of install bases, by the time the PlayStation 5 and Project Scarlett launch, the Switch should be in the realm of 40+ million units sold. This is a significant amount, even eclipsing that of the Xbox One’s (alleged) lifetime sales. Even with a large crowd at its side, however, that doesn’t mean Nintendo is necessarily in the clear.
There’s still a matter of how many Switch owners will pick up one of the new consoles. Even though the Switch’s unique hardware offers a different experience than a traditional home console, it’s all too easy for the interest of consumers to be captured by the “shiny, new toy.” A Switch that’s sitting in a drawer may have been a unit sold, but it’s not a unit that’s generating additional profit for Nintendo or developers. There could also be consumers who are looking to buy their first console who will then be bombarded with the marketing of the all-new systems versus one that already has some age to it, in addition to being a lower-end package. People like “new” things, so this makes the decision-making process harder in Switch’s case.
Again, its one real crux in this situation is its significantly lower price. The fancy specs of the new consoles will no doubt influence their launch prices, most likely being in the realm of $400-$500. To be ultra-competitive, Nintendo might drop the price of the flagship Switch to $250 (or even $200), while also perhaps shaving a bit off the Lite’s price down to $180 or $150.
Of course, there’s still the argument that Nintendo exists in its own world separate from Sony and Microsoft. To an extent, this is true, but that doesn’t mean that what the other platforms are doing has absolutely zero effect on Nintendo’s business. As I discussed in my last two articles surrounding the Switch vs. PlayStation 5 /Project Scarlett fiasco, these new systems will likely prove to be formidable challengers. Developers will now have to take into deeper consideration the lesser power of the Switch, as they’re already having a hard time with some multiplatform games. In a situation like that, Nintendo can’t carry the platform on its own — the Wii U proved this. So, it is at least reasonable to consider what might happen starting next year — the Switch’s slow fall from grace. Just having it as a thought in mind doesn’t hurt; it may or may not happen. But treating it like it can’t happen isn’t necessarily the better option.
Even so, this situation is not necessarily all doom and gloom. Really, all of the possibilities are still on the table. A situation like this is basically unprecedented in the console space, so what we’ll be seeing is a first: a middle-aged hybrid console going up against new, high-spec traditional systems. Unique, yet underpowered, Nintendo will have to proclaim its quirky, distinct experience even more so to keep interest high. But at the same time, the shortcomings of the Switch will be further exacerbated when the new consoles show off all they can do. The simple UI, lackluster online experience, and weak hardware will all be put under an even more powerful microscope going forward. So, here’s hoping Nintendo plans to enhance the Switch experience one way or another.