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 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 traditional console games to the device. 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 weak 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 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 Microsoft and Sony have been widely successful in both self-publishing and signing smaller games to their platforms, Nintendo continues to struggle.

The 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 cost of $300, 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 the 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 because, at the end of the day, video game players want to play video games.

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

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 couples of weeks. The latest rumor, although I hesitate even to call it a rumor at this point, comes from former Giantbomb now Kotaku writer Patrick Klepek regarding an upgraded Sony PlayStation 4 console. According to Klepek, Sony is planning on releasing an upgraded PlayStation 4 console with a stronger GPU and CPU to enable 4k resolution for PlayStation 4 games while adding more processing power for PlayStation VR. This has now been confirmed from multiple journalists spanning various trusted sources.

Does this make sense? Yes.

Still, not even three years old the PlayStation 4 has already begun to lag considerably behind modern high-end computers. Since the launch of the PS4, games have struggled to 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 lifecycle. Couple this with the 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 with a more robust model.

Is this remotely feasible? Yes.

Unlocking the option to run existing games at a higher resolution and frame rate could be a great way for Sony to keep consumers from investing in performance grade computers via a higher-end PlayStation 4. Sony should drop the existing console to $300 and provide a $500-600 upgraded model with an exchange program that gives consumers who have already recently purchased a PlayStation 4, a sale on the new model. To maintain 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 future release within this generation. The upgraded console could serve 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 reframe from fragmenting their audience 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 an 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. If Sony starts the conversation of incremental console upgrades ahead of time to temper the public, over the course of a year or two, the idea of updated 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 the updated 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 promoting the upcoming PlayStation VR. If Sony is serious about introducing a PS4.5 within the next year or two, the quicker their PR division starts the conversation with the public on 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.

The Last Traditional Console Generation

About a year ago I made a post on Reddit about the future of the video game console market. I made some basic predictions about the video game industry and used those predictions to make some assumptions on where I believed the console market is going to head into the near future. The underlying forecast was, as PC’s continue to become more accessible and easier to play games on, gamers are going to start spending more time playing on the PC due to the better variety and quality of games the PC has to offer. Although this assumption seemed a bit dire for the console market, using this assumption, I provided some advice to Microsoft and Sony to keep the console market alive for future generations.  

And it seems someone has been listening.

With the most recent comments from Xbox’s Phil Spencer, Microsoft plans on creating a marketplace where applications will run on all of Microsoft’s hardware. This means PC games on the Xbox and Xbox exclusives games on the PC. Microsoft plans on blurring the lines that separate gaming from the PC and consoles through the use of Universal Windows Applications (UWA). 

Here is a messy analysis of my past assumptions and predictions with updated assumptions, predictions, and speculation on where I think the Xbox is heading with Microsoft new initiative of UWA’s.  

My original assumptions predicted 10 months ago are indented and marked with bullet points

  • We’re now 3 years into the future

10 months later

  • PC’s can be built for less than 500 and are significantly more powerful than current gen consoles

I still believe this to be the case, 3 years from now the Nvidia GTX 970 and R9 390, two cards significantly stronger than the consoles, should be two generations old and price should be on par with a GTX 680 now which you can find on Amazon for a 150$.

  • Middle tier Steambox’s are selling for 399 and are also significantly stronger than current gen consoles

I also believe this assumption is still on track. Right now the Alienware Alpha which is relatively on par with current gen consoles is priced around the 500$ range. The 2nd gen Steambox’s price and spec ratio should give a much better indication of what Steambox’s will look like in the future.  

  • 4k gaming has caught on and is on the way to becoming the new gaming standard

I’m much more skeptical about this prediction now. As it stands, building a PC to run The Witcher 3 at MAX settings with a steady 60 frames on the 4k resolution will set you back at least two grand, and that still hasn’t really changed since last year. Nvidia’s Pascal cards scheduled to release this summer should drive down the cost to run older games at 4k 60fps, but I don’t see 4k becoming a gaming standard until the mid-tier graphics cards can run most games at 4k 60FPS. If that’s not going to happen during Nvidia’s Pascal generation, we might have to wait for 1 or 2 more generations of GPU’s. 4k monitors and tv also need to drop significantly in price as well. I’d project early 3 years but more likely 5 years until 4k is an affordable standard.

  • PC gaming is picking up Steam and is now starting to take a piece of the console market. Fortunately for Microsoft and Sony, 3rd party hardware manufacturers are struggling to market Steambox’s and gaming PC’s to the semi-casual gaming audience, i.e., the average Call of Duty/Assassins Creed player. There still exists a PC enthusiast stigma to PC gaming, but it’s rapidly going away.

So the primary assumption here is claiming that 3 years from now, PC gaming will start to directly compete in the console market. With now 36 million PS4 units sold and whatever Microsoft has sold, I don’t see the console market taking any real hits anytime soon. People are going to continue to buy Sports games and Call of Duty on the console for as long as this generation lasts.

As far as what Valve has done with Steambox’s thus far, the marketing has been a complete mess. Right now there is absolutely no benefit to buying a Steambox over a pre-built PC. The form factors and specs between the two are the same, and because the Steambox runs on Linux, you’re actually getting a smaller game library. Not only that, but all the user-friendly benefits you get from Windows 10 are completely non-existent on Linux. The Steambox is failing in every market it’s trying to compete in, while Windows PC’s continue to grow.

  • Now let us look at the current-gen consoles now into their 5th year
  • both Microsoft and Sony each have their 3-4 big exclusives that drive the majority of sales each year

Yup seems about right. But what if Microsoft started selling Xbox exclusive games on the PC? More on this later

  • 3rd party games are also doing very well but don’t look nearly as good their PC counterpart

This is an interesting one here. 3rd party games are not only looking much better on the PC now, but these games are now running much much better on the PC as well. On consoles, Fallout 4 and Just Cause 3 launched with horrible frame rates, Rainbow Six Siege was riddled with bugs, and the latest Hitman game suffers from terrible load times. If this trend continues to worsen on consoles, a capable PC becomes that much more desirable.

  • Consoles continue to scoop up 30% of the indie gaming market, (smaller games) but the majority of smaller innovative games are on the PC

Consoles continue to scoop up about 1 of every 3 popular indie games that release on the PC. The PC continues to thrive in the strategy genre in where a mouse and keyboard are preferable.

  • Sales for both consoles are starting to plateau and, more and more hardcore consoles gamers are looking for the PC due to the convenience and price of Steambox’s

Remove the word Steambox from that sentence and Windows-based PC in its place. I cannot foresee the world where Steambox’s become relevant anytime soon.

windows-10-48

  • How do Microsoft and Sony keep the Xbox and PlayStation brand alive? (I’m going to use Microsoft and Xbox as the example but just replace those words with Sony and PlayStation, and you will get the same results)
  • Microsoft needs to create a PC that has the form factor of a console, (much like the current-gen consoles) with upgraded specs that will allow dual boot the Xbox Marketplace and the latest version of Windows. The Xbox Marketplace will be the console part of the system that can play exclusive games for Microsoft, and the Windows OS will be a fully functional OS that can run Steam. This allows Microsoft to keep its Xbox brand and continue to make money on exclusives while at the same time keeping the system open to third-party software providers such as Steam, Origin, Uplay, etc. At the end of the day, this is a win/win for Microsoft. They can market this PC as a console with the Xbox brand and keep the hardcore gamers at bay with the alternative options PC gamers have via Steam. They also get the casual COD market because those plebs just want to buy COD, eat Doritos, and drink Mountain Dew all day.

So I almost nailed this. When Phil Spencer recently said this about Windows devices, “We’re allowing ourselves to decouple our software platform from the hardware platform on which it runs.” What he is basically saying is, through the use of Universal Windows Applications (UWA) people who own Microsoft hardware are going to be able to quickly run any UWA through the Microsoft Marketplace because the applications are universal. LApple app store, apps and games can run on any Apple product through the app store and long as the hardware is compatible. So what does this mean for games? As long as games run under the UWA guidelines, they should be accessible by any piece of hardware that meets the UWA system requirements and run on any up to date Microsoft OS. Games that run on your phone will be able to run on your Xbox and PC. Games that run on your Xbox will be able to run on your PC. And like we have already started to see, this new initiative means Xbox exclusive games will run on Windows PC’s

By making the process easy for developers to port and create games under UWA guidelines, Microsoft can convert the majority of PC exclusive games over to the Xbox without having to worry about allowing other marketplaces such as Steam, Origin, and Uplay to get involved.

So what does Windows 10 and UWA’s mean for the Xbox?

If Microsoft can pull this off, they are essentially turning the Xbox into the Ipad of console games. When you buy the latest Xbox, you’re essentially buying a console that runs all the current games on a Windows PC through the use of UWA’s. That means full backward compatibility with older games (provided the developers continue to update the game) and access to smaller games have traditionally been PC only due to the complicated nature of having to port games over to consoles. Like an Ipad, the new model comes out every year or two with better specs and more features. The lifecycle of a future Xbox will likely be longer than an Ipad but will definitely be shorter than the last console generation. My guess would be the 2-4 year range for each Xbox. Another question is whether the next Xbox will be upgradable. Will you be able to swap out an old GPU for a new one in the Xbox and save a couple hundred bucks? Or will you be forced to upgrade to a new console every time one is released?

On paper, this new initiative sounds like the perfect way to integrate the benefits of PC gaming into the Xbox while still maintaining the accessibility of a console, but this idea is going to either live or die based on how easily developers will be able to create and port games under UWA guidelines. The easier it is to build under UWA architecture, the more content you will see in the Windows Marketplace, and more content in the Microsoft Store means more content for the Xbox and for consoles. If the architecture is easy to work with, porting games from the PC to Xbox should be easier than ever and games traditionally only available on PC can make their way to the Xbox console. By creating a more natural architecture to work with, Microsoft can provide an easy way to port games over to consoles without having to provide competing marketplaces available on the PC such as Steam and Origin.

With Sony’s PlayStation 4 selling over 30 million units, we now know consoles are here to stay, but if Microsoft finds a way to successfully integrate UWA’s into the Xbox One and all future Xbox iterations, the way we think about consoles is going to change.

New predictions

The next Xbox (Nextbox)…

  • Will be announced within the next 2 years
  • Will be backward compatible will all current UWA games on the Microsoft and Xbox Store
  • Will potentially be up-gradable
  • Will launch with a larger game library than the Xbox One’s library as of now
  • Will function as a multimedia device for the living room that can take advantage of apps available on the PC and on Phones
  • Will have a considerably shorter life cycle

 

How Sony Launches the most Successful VR Headset of 2016

With the launch of Oculus Rift looming a mere month and a half away at a whopping $599, 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 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 are right. 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, codenamed 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.

On January 7th of this year, Forbes reported on a price listing for the PlayStation VR at around $800 on Amazon Canada’s marketplace. 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 a cost ranging from $450 – $550. So far Sony has yet to comment on this leak.

I’m much more inclined to believe that the cost of PlayStation VR would be around $450-550 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 underpowered, Sony is still looking for a killer app that will help move more PlayStation VR units.

After No Man’s Sky unforeseen 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 here.”  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.