Nintendo Switch: No Games, No Players

On November 18, 2012 Nintendo released the first new eighth generation gaming console the Wii U. By this time the phenomenal success of Nintendo’s previous console the Wii had begun to rapidly stagnate in sales, and motion controller games were on their way out of the mainstream. With Nintendo’s new console the Wii U, Nintendo looked to introduce a tablet–like controller (known as the “gamepad”) complete with an LCD touchscreen that allowed for a multi screen experience. Nintendo’s hope was to translate the success of their dual-screen mobile platform the Nintendo DS into the living room via a TV screen and the gamepad with the Wii U. But despite Nintendo’s best efforts, the Wii U failed to generate mainstream success mainly due to the weak internals of the hardware that made it difficult for third-party game developers to produce and port large scale console games to the hardware. By competing in a console market mostly focused on making highly graphical experiences, Nintendo failed to offer the hardware required for third party developers to port their games over to the Wii U. This eventual led to a severe lack of games for the system that would eventually lead Nintendo to cease production on the Wii U.

Fast forward to the present day and Nintendo is looking to make up for the poor sales of the Wii U with its latest console the Nintendo Switch, currently set to launch on March 3. With the Switch, Nintendo is looking to blur the lines between mobile and console gaming with its new gamepad that can be played on the go much like an iPad, or put in a docking station and played on a TV much like a traditional console. The Switch looks to challenge the conventional division between console and mobile gaming by creating a hybrid system that can do both. Being able to support the conventions of both console gaming and mobile gaming, Nintendo is opening up the opportunity to target both the console and mobile markets in an attempt to reach a much wider audience of players.

But problems for the Switch roll-out might be just over the horizon. Unfortunately, as it stands now, Nintendo has only announced a measly ten games to release on launch for the Switch. To add insult to injury, the launch line-up for the rest of the year for the console is looking pretty slim as well with only a handful of games announced for release in 2017. Specifically, with the rise of smaller independent games on consoles, and mobile games on smartphones, there’s absolutely no excuse for the Switch’s lack of first year content. This revelation makes circumstances even more frustrating considering the uniqueness of the Switch’s vast potential to exceed in bridging both the console and mobile markets together within one product. Where competing companies such as Valve and Sony have been widely successful in both self publishing and signing smaller games to their platforms, Nintendo continues to struggle.

Switch isn’t exactly a bargain. And the lack of content becomes an even larger problem when considering the Switch’s price. The bare-bones Switch will be launching without a game at the price of $300 USD, which is $50 more than both of its competitors, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. As far as peripherals go, extra Switch pro controllers will be going for a whopping $70 a piece, nearly $20 more than both of the competing controllers. On top of failing to be price-competitive in the console market, when looking at the mobile market, one could argue that Nintendo is also competing against itself by continuing to offer the less expensive mobile platform the 3DS. Although the price of admission may be a deal-breaker for some, given the novelty of the Switch, a compelling argument could still be made for the purchase of the product if one thing were true: that Switch had the content to back it up. But for now, looking at Nintendo’s first-year release titles for the Switch, the company, for some reason, has just not provided enough content to justify a purchase of the product.

Nintendo’s inability to capitalize on its new hardware potential is disappointing in a world where independent and mobile game development has been embraced by the vast majority of other platform providers. Is there still hope for Nintendo to turn things around with the Switch? Let’s hope so, because the Switch is currently the only product on the market actively trying to converge both the console and mobile market into one, and their potential to offer unique experiences compared to other competing consoles still exists. Unlike the Wii U, Nintendo has compelling hardware this time around, and they shouldn’t be as reliant on hardware specs to succeed. If Nintendo wants to reach a larger audience, they must make an effort to embrace third-party development for the console because, at the end of the day, video game players want to play video games on their consoles.

The PS4.5, The PS4K, The Upgraded PS4..

Oh boy, I can’t keep up anymore. Between Xbox exclusives on the PC, VR headsets, cross platform multiplayer, and NX rumors, video game news has been at an all time high over these past couple of weeks. The latest rumor, although I hesitate to even call it a rumor now, comes from former Giantbomb now Kotaku writer Patrick Klepek regarding an upgraded Sony’s PlayStation 4 console. According to Klepek Sony is planning on releasing an upgraded PlayStation 4 console with a stronger GPU and CPU in order to enable 4k resolution for PlayStation 4 games and add more processing power for PlayStation VR. This has now been confirmed from multiple journalists now from multiple trusted sources.

Does this make sense? Yes.

Still not even three years old the PlayStation 4 has already began to lag considerably behind modern high end computers. Since the launch of the console, games have struggled keep a consistent 30 frames per second at a mere 1080p resolution. More and more 3rd party games, the games that are driving the majority of sales for the PlayStation 4, are running at unacceptable frame rates only two and a half years into the PlayStation 4’s life cycle. Couple this with fact that it takes beefy hardware to run virtual reality and you can start to understand why Sony might be considering an option to upgrade the PlayStation 4 to a stronger model.

Is this remotely feasible? Yes.

Unlocking the option to run existing games at a higher resolution or higher frame rate could be a great way for Sony to keep consumers from investing in performance grade computers by offering a higher end PlayStation 4. Sony should drop the existing console to $300 and offer a $500-600 USD upgraded model with a exchange program that gives consumers who have recently purchased a PlayStation 4, $150-250 off the upgraded console to keep new consumers from feeling burned. To keep the audiences from fragmenting, Sony should curate all future games to at minimum run on the original PlayStation 4 with acceptable frame rates and visual quality. The existing PlayStation 4 would operate as the 1080p console that could still run every game that releases for the platform this generation. On the other hand, the upgraded console could operate as a premium device that would run games at higher resolutions, and allow for more visual fidelity for PlayStation VR games. By doing this, Sony would not fragment their audience and while at the same time continue to compete with computer graphics for another 3-4 years up until the next console generation.

So will we see this upgraded console anytime soon? Maybe.

The PlayStation 4 is still too early into its life-cycle. With 36 million units sold and rising, the introduction of a upgraded console would most likely offend customers who purchased a PlayStation 4 within the last year. On top of that, 4K resolution gaming is still too expensive to expect Sony to offer reasonably priced hardware. A 4K ready gaming computer will set consumers back at least $1500 as of now, although that cost is likely to shrink considerably within the next couple of years due to GPU advancement. If Sony starts the conversation ahead of time on the acceptance of an upgraded console in order to temper the public, over the course of a year or two, the idea of an upgraded console might become acceptable.

To keep all the good faith Sony has fostered of this generation, the company needs to first temper consumers on the idea of an upgraded console well before its release. A mention of an upgraded console during this upcoming E3 might go a long way in achieving that goal, but as of now, it would make the most sense for the company to focus all their PR efforts on the upcoming PlayStation VR. If Sony is actually serious about introducing a PS4.5 within the next year or two, the quicker their public relations division starts the conversation of an updated console the better.  With that in mind I would be very skeptical to assume a release date for this device anytime within the next year.

How Sony Launches the most Successful VR Headset of 2016

With the launch of Oculus Rift looming a mere month and half away at a whopping $599 USD, and a likely more expensive HTC Vive soon to follow, we have yet to hear from Sony regarding the price of the Playstation VR. With a current install base of 35 million units, Sony has been dominating console sales with the PlayStation 4 outselling its direct competitor the Xbox One nearly 2/1. With an install base of that magnitude, if Sony could find a way to undercut the price of the Oculus Rift by at least $50 USD and provide content on par with the competing headset, Playstation VR would lead the charge in virtual reality sales in 2016.

Expected to launch sometime around summer, Playstation VR is positioned to make the biggest early impact in virtual reality sales if the rumors of the headsets price and developer support is true. Price speculation for the device began as early as late 2015 when Bloomberg reported an article in which Sony Computer Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Andrew House stated that Sony VR, code-named Project Morpheus at the time, would be priced as a new gaming platform. Judging from the prices of Sony’s previous two gaming platforms the Playstation 3 and 4, people have since been speculating that the cost for Playstation VR will range from $300 – $500 USD.

On January 7th of this year, Forbes reported on a price listing for the Playstation VR at around $800 on Amazon Canada’s market place. But Sony has since dubbed the price from Amazon as an errorNot more than two weeks later and we got yet another leaked price for the headset from a Swiss online retailer this time at price ranging from $450 – $550 USD. So far Sony has yet to comment on this leak.

While one leak clearly doesn’t line up with Andrew House’s statement towards the headsets being priced comparable to one of Sony’s previous gaming platforms, I’m much more inclined to believe that the cost of Playstation VR would be around $450-550 USD due to the slightly underpowered specs of the headset when compared to the Oculus Rift. But just that slight advantage in cost compared to the Oculus Rift would mean a whole world of difference in sales if Sony has the content to back up the peripheral.

Speaking with the BBC at CES 2016, Sony CEO Kaz Hirai confirmed that over 200 different developers are currently working with the PlayStation VR headset on roughly 100 different titles. But as of now, Sony has only announced a few exclusives titles for Playstation VR, and the majority of titles at launch are releasing on the PC with Oculus Rift support as well. With specs at least comparable to Oculus’ headset, if not a little under-powered, Sony is still looking for a killer app that will help move more Playstation VR units.

After No Man’s Sky sudden delay followed by yet another successful E3 appearance in 2015, analysts such as Design & Trend’s Christopher Groux began to question the reasoning behind the recent delay especially after lead programmer Sean Murray was stated saying that the game was “nearly hear.”  With a now, confirmed and coincidental June arrival, No Man’s Sky seems to be on track to release right around the same time as Playstation VR. To make matter more interesting, recent comments from both Murray and Sony’s Jim Ryan alluded to the possibility of Playstation VR support in No Man’s Sky.

If Sony were to undercut the Oculus Rift’s price with the Playstation VR and couple the headset with a killer app such as No Man’s Sky, the Playstation 4 would be poised in position to be the leading virtual reality platform of 2016. But that’s a lot of if’s and Oculus is likely to have a launch head start of around two months. With the cat still in the bag, the race to be the most successful VR platform is still very much anyone’s game.