Nintendo Switch and the curse of being original

I’ve never been a Nintendo user. This legendary maker has always developed consoles and franchise games which always seemed childish to me. Too simplistic, too faithful to a type of games that no longer were what I was looking for. Too loyal to their heritage.

I did my little experiment a few years ago with the Nintendo Wii, of course. I fell into the Wii fever like many millions of people did before (and after) and then realized that I had a brief, shallow interest in Wii Sports although I recognized the concept as brilliant to casual players. Although playing with family and friends was fun, most of the time one ended up playing alone, and then the thing was not so funny. I sold it a month later.

Like many other Nintendo consoles before and like others that have been launched later, the Wii beat all its competitors in one area: originality. The products of this manufacturer have always managed to try to impose new trends and give a twist to those that already were there, and that is what they tried to do with an almost forgotten Wii U and what they are trying to do again with the new Nintendo Switch.

Does this console make sense today? As you can guess, I’m too confident on that. The hybrid console concept may have certain appeal, but Switch does not compete here with the Xbox One or the PS4. It does not even try. It competes with our smartphones, and I’m afraid it has already lost that battle.

It has because everybody already has a smartphone and because the human being is lazy by nature. You will not take two devices in the backpack when you can take just one. Even if you can take ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ everywhere, the competition with a smartphone it’s too tough: that device is ubiquous and versatile. You don’t need nothing else (most of the time).

It doesn’t help the fact that we’be got a limited number of games available (by the way, we’ll see how FIFA delivers at the Switch) or that the price of the console is at the level of a PS4 / Xbox One which offer superior experiences on the technica side. This isn’t certainly a guarantee of better game experiences, but most of the games the vast majority of people want are developed for those platforms. That “me against all” fight of Nintendo makes third party titles difficult to spot.

I’m sure there is a market for the Switch, but I would say that market has been dwarfing over the years. This looks more like a second (expensive) console than a main console for the vast majority of video game fans, and as I said a few months ago, I think Nintendo should accept its reality and take advantage of what it could do on smartphones with little effort. In Ars Technica they go further and claim that this is the last time that Nintendo rolls the dice to look for luck, and although it’s a pity to read and say that, I think they are right. It may be the swan song of a company that is cursed because of its obsessive quest for originality.

Razer Core is a great device with the wrong price

Razer Core

When we recently talked about the promising launch of Razer Core and AMD initiatives to push forward the use of external discrete GPUs for laptops we had only one question pending: the price of these devices.

Razer Core is the best example of the wrong pricing. The device is simply a box with a couple of PCIe slots and a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) connector. The metal chassis is nice, but I wonder how that can cost $500, which is enough to update your current PC with a powerful graphics card.

This is nonsense. Hopefully this kind of boxes will be made by small companies that have the interest to actually sell these peripherals. I wonder how many Cores Razer will sell -what Beats is for headphones, Razer is in the PC world- but they won’t be many at this cost.

Source: The Razer Core GPU box costs more than most graphics cards | TechRadar

I want to be able to play in my laptop

I don’t play videogames as much as I used to, but that doesn’t mean that from time to time I don’t want to play them.

Unfortunately that’s the usual situation in my case: I’ve got a Dell XPS 13 (9343). A great machine for almost everything, but not for gaming. No laptop is suitable for this, in fact. Convertibles, Ultrabooks and even more resourceful notebooks can’t cope with really demanding games, and in this cases if you don’t have a good discrete GPU you’ll suffer a mediocre experience.

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So if you want to really enjoy the gaming experience in a PC, you’re out of luck: you must have a desktop computer with a great discrete GPU, because even gaming laptops are not meant to enjoy the same visual detail and frame rates that a full desktop PC can.

We had a pretty inspiring view at the future of this market last CES in Las Vegas. Razer launched there its Razer Core external GPU enclosure, and the smart use of Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C connector allowed its new Ultrabook -the Racer Stealth- to become a chamaleonic machine: one that could work as a conventional ultrathin laptop but also as a full-fledged gaming PC when needed.

The idea seems to have inspired AMD as well: one of their marketing directors, Robert Hallock, mentioned a few days ago how this kind of solution could be the future for many users:

Gaming notebooks are great for gaming, but nobody in their right mind wants to carry one all the time. Ultrathin notebooks are awesome to carry, but nobody in their right mind would confuse one for a gaming notebook.
But there’s still a HUGE appetite for thin notebooks that can game.

External GPUs are the answer. External GPUs with standardized connectors, cables, drivers, plug’n’play, OS support, etc.

AMD is bound to try to democratize these kind of solutions, but once again hurdles will have to be avoided. Will AMD adopt Thunderbolt 3, a standard created by its arch rival? Will it work with NVIDIA in order to set a really universal standard? Will prices make us think this is a better solution than a full gaming PC?

I hope their answer is the right one. We’ll probably have more information in the next few days: GDC 2016 starts March 14th, and I’m pretty sure AMD will talk about this on that event. The PostPC era could open a new chapter after all.

Oh, and don’t forget: this systems will allow us to enjoy virtual reality experiences in laptops, something not possible (in almost all cases) nowadays according to requirements published by Oculus and HTC.

That’s what I would call an interesting turn of events for the demise of the desktop PC.

Update (10/03/2016): AMD XConnect has just been announced with the collaboration of Razer and the Intel Thunderbolt group. Promising. Very.

The challenge for Google’s next Cardboard 

The Google Cardboard project has been incredibly succesful on its primary goal: democratize Virtual Reality and allow nearly anyone to get a glimpse of what this trend is going to allow us to do.

Now that they have succeed in that, it seems Google wants to monetize that kind of market too. According to the Financial Times, Google will launch a new headset that will be similar to current Gear VR. That’s the right move for Google -given that they don’t abandon the current version- and will allow them to compete on  market that will for sure have associated many opportunities to earn some money.

There are doubts, though. How many kind of devices will we have?

  1. Oculus Rift: the most expensive and -supposedly- the best to get the richest experience. (Gaming PC required)
  2. HTC Vive Pre: from what people are saying, this one is really starting to be a serious contender to Oculus’s headset. (Gaming PC required)
  3. Gear VR: that’s the cheapest way to enjoy a quality VR… if you currently are an owner of a Samsung high-end smartphone. We already discussed what are the differences between this device’s features and the ones Google Carboard has. (Samsung high-end smartphone required)
  4. Google Carboard: cheapest, most affordable way to play with VR and test if it can deliver what we expect it to deliver. (Any (capable) smartphone required)

From what we see, there will be a high-end and low-end for both segments: PC based and smartphone based. I guess for the time being the VR experience will be similar to what happens with regular games on the PC and the smartphone. If you want to enjoy a richer experience in almost every aspect -mobile games can be really addictive-, you’ll have to go for the PC experience. Mobile VR will be more casual, more of a testing arena.

So Google going for the high end makes sense. Hopefully being able to enjoy a better, more comfortable experience with (almost) any Android or iOS smartphone will push this kind of content even more.

Interesting times ahead.

 

HoloLens reminds us not only of Kinect, but of another big failure

hololens1

Dina Bass writes on Bloomberg about the slow demise of Microsoft Kinect and how this device was not well supported by the company, that should have bet on it from the beginning not only on the gaming side (Xbox 360, Xbox One), but also on the ‘serious’ software side (Windows).

While the technology captured people’s imaginations and provided some entertaining gimmicks, the Kinect failed to become the all-purpose computing device many inside and outside Microsoft envisioned. The company’s ambitions for the product started out too small, and by the time it was ready to go further, the different parts of Microsoft were unable to come together and create something with lasting appeal.

This is a valid point, but the problem is far simpler. Kinect didn’t succeed because Microsoft did too many broken promises. Kinect games were garbage too simple and too casual: Nintendo had been making those kind of games for too long, and the feature was not a differentiator. It should have been.

In fact, trying to compare HoloLens future with Kinect present is misleading. These are two different kind of devices, and I’d say that HoloLens is much more similar to Google Glass in every way.

The lessons Microsoft must learn should come from that project, not Kinect. We’ll see if Microsoft delivers this time, but pitching a $3,000 consumer device is pretty difficult.

Source: Kinect’s Rapid Decline Shows Microsoft How Not to Pitch HoloLens – Bloomberg Business