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.

Pokémon Go proves Nintendo must conquer the smartphone

Nintendo has been too stubborn. Their consoles changed the way we played decades ago, but that era has passed away and the latest hardware from this legendary maker has proven one thing other makers have failed to realize: people doesn’t want another device to do what they can do on their smartphones.

It has happened with music players, with cameras and it’s happening with games. Nintendo’s attitude has been a conflicting one: not devoting themselves to the mobile world has been a disappointment for their fans.

They just need a tiny show of affection to follow the firm wherever they want, and Pokémon Go lately (and the weirdly original Miitomo) have shown how true this is:

Shares in Japan’s Nintendo Co Ltd (7974.T) soared again on Monday, bringing market-value gains to $7.5 billion in just two days as investors cheered the runaway success of Pokemon GO – its first long-awaited venture in mobile gaming.

Nintendo, it’s ok to continue pushing on the console world. The future, though, seems to be in the smartphone. Accept it and conquer this world now that you’ve got the chance.

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.

Steam Machine is a tough sell. Steam Link isn’t. Steam Controller? I really don’t know

Valve’s developers and Polygon’s editors share thoughts on the potentially revolutionary new hardware

As a veteran Linux user, I was really a big supporter of Steam Machines when the idea started to take off. The freedom and power that Valve was giving to the traditional PC was inspiring. Your PC could finally be your console and viceversa. Clever.

The execution has to prove many things, and Polygon editors share their first impressions about the first machine from Alienware (good design), the user interface (clunky), the openness (fantastic, but here developers must tell if it is useful or useless), the controller (amazing in some ways, confusing in others), and the games (good catalog, not perfect, big franchises out).

I admire the concept, but I guess it will be a tough sell for end users. Consoles give a pretty good environment, good user interface, fantastic multiplayer online options and the newest games… at really compelling prices. I wonder how Valve will market this.

The Steam Link is different: streaming Windows games to your TV seems a nice option to have –PCGamer agrees on this– for $50 bucks. The Xbox One supposedly will have this option in the future (you can stream games from the console to a Windows 10 PC), but for people who prefer to play on PC and has no console, the idea is pretty much perfect.

Source: Steam Machine hands-on: Does Valve’s hardware live up to its potential? | Polygon

Follow up: The Alienware Steam Machine: finally, a gaming PC for the living room | Engadget