After a series of leaks, Microsoft has formally revealed Xbox Series S. And who would’ve thought that after Nintendo Switch was leaked ad nauseam before its reveal that we’d have a situation like this again? But Series S isn’t only similar to Nintendo’s hybrid in terms of having a not-so-secret reveal runway. The real similarity between these two is the price — $299. Microsoft has rocked the gaming world by formally announcing that one of its next-gen systems costs so little. And thus, the heat has officially been turned up for Nintendo.
Nintendo must have learned a lot from the rocky starts of the 3DS and Wii U, as it was sure to go for a reasonable price when the Switch came around. The $299 price tag was music to a lot of people’s ears for what is essentially both a console and a handheld. And sure enough, this strategy has paid off well. The Switch continues to sail up the charts month after month and is on track to become one of the best-selling consoles of all time.
Despite being less powerful than the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Nintendo Switch’s fair price and unique functionality have helped it along over its three years on the market. But now, the hybrid faces a whole new challenge with the next generation looming on the horizon.
Before Microsoft’s recent announcement, my thought was that the one thing that Switch would continue to have going for it is that price point: Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are beasts of machines, and their price tags would reflect that. From that perspective, Switch seemed pretty safe. But now we have Xbox Series S coming in at the exact same price. As a result, consumers are faced with an interesting decision: Should they buy an aging hybrid for $299 or the shiny new Xbox for the same price?
Value over varnish
Xbox Series S is notably less powerful than its physically larger brother Xbox Series X, but it’s still going to be capable of some pretty impressive things. Microsoft is already touting that Series S will offer functionality like resolutions up to 1440p and even frame rates up to 120 FPS. Combine this with the same architecture of Series X and stellar SSD performance and you have yourself a small yet powerful system. On paper, Nintendo Switch has virtually nothing on Series S except its hybrid design.
Switch’s iconic functionality has helped it to stand out against the pack this whole time, so much so that people have willingly opted to play multiplatform games on the system despite its being of a lesser quality than other consoles. But will this same logic fly as we move into the next generation?
Games for next-gen systems are already noticeably more complex than current-gen systems. Plus, keep in mind that there are many games for the current generation that are still skipping Switch. If Switch developers have been having a bit of a hard time thus far, I don’t see that changing anytime soon unless Nintendo also drops its own system upgrade. If Nintendo maintains the current Switch hardware without upgrades for the next few years — which remains to be seen — this is going to become a harder sell for the company. As studios naturally begin to shift focus to the next-gen consoles, the grace period that the Switch may experience for third-party development opportunities due to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One still getting support will inevitably dry up.
Power or pennies?
There is an elephant in the room that I haven’t addressed yet though: Switch Lite. At $199, it offers much of the same functionality of the Switch, minus television play. As the single true portable on the market, it’s done pretty well for itself. No doubt, I’m sure price has much to do with this. But this now introduces an interesting conundrum for Nintendo.
If the price of the flagship Switch were to drop by $50, that would put it square in the middle of the Lite and Series S. That seems like a bit of an odd spot to me personally. Dropping the price by $100 would be a better deal, which would mean it would inherit the Lite’s $199 price tag.
What would happen to Switch Lite in this situation? Reducing it to $150 would look great, but Nintendo is notoriously stubborn when it comes to price cuts at all. It designed the Switch to purposefully be as profitable as possible. So, $150 for the Lite seems like it would be leaving money on the table, at least at this point in the system’s life. Selling both consoles at the same price would never happen either though.
The size of the “proper” price cut for each machine is up for debate.
Strength in numbers
Regardless of what path Nintendo decides to go down, one thing that none of the next-gen consoles can take away from the Switch is its install base. The most recent report pegs this at an amazing 62 million units. That’s some serious ground to cover. If things work out for Nintendo, the new systems may not reach that threshold for at least two or three years from now. By then, we would surely be on the cusp of Nintendo’s next system. Of course, then it too would have to play catch-up. That’s a whole other story, though. The main thing, for now, is that developers may be swayed by next-gen’s power, but Nintendo Switch still has a deeply active consumer base.
Assuming that not too many Switch owners decide to chuck it in a drawer to focus on the newer consoles, games will continue to be bought and created. Nintendo just needs to find a way to help the Switch look as attractive as possible since the affordability route is now a moot point. Microsoft has some serious value with the Series S costing a mere $299, especially when bolstered by services like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Play Anywhere. Microsoft is clearly pulling out all the stops to swoon customers, and it’s spent half of the current generation getting into people’s good graces.
All in all, Xbox Series S is looking to be a hot seller when it launches in November. While Microsoft may not see Nintendo as direct competition, consumers will be judging with their wallets which console they deem to be the better bang for their buck.