Cast your mind back to when Nintendo lifted the lid on the Nintendo Switch. The reveal trailer was packed with footage of people playing the console, showing how the machine seamlessly transitioned from home system to handheld in the blink of an eye. You could take your AAA games with you, finally, and the detachable Joy-Con controllers allowed you to enjoy multiplayer gaming anywhere. It communicated the unique nature of the system superbly, and, three years later, the Switch is still the machine everyone wants to own. This wasn't a one-off, either; if you're old enough to recall it, the Wii's initial reveal was all about how motion control was going to change things up.
What's striking about those two examples is that during them, there wasn't a single mention of processing power, RAM, disc storage or I/O speeds. Nintendo used the core concept of the hardware to sell the dream, rather than a list of meaningless numbers that most casual players won't understand.
Contrast that approach with the recent reveals for Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5. We use the term "reveals" lightly, because they were less about showcasing the hardware than they were about bombarding the viewer with a seemingly endless array of dry technical specifications that were sure to put even the most ardent fanboy to sleep in minutes.
Out of the two, Microsoft's approach was perhaps the most digestible, thanks largely to the fact that it allied itself with a media outlet (our friends over at Eurogamer's Digital Foundry) in order to share the finer details. Even so, it was a dense report backed up by an equally weighty series of exclusive access videos, all of which generated a fair amount of excitement for pure tech-heads. Sony's presentation – which, admittedly, was intended for developers at the now-postponed GDC – was a lot harder to get through, partly due to its laughably fake 'live audience' approach. Mark Cerny is a legend in the world of gaming, but his show simply wasn't meant to be put in front of players; it was supposed to get devs excited about the hardware (which, it should be noted, it has done).
Now, it's important to remember that Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are chasing different audiences when it comes to their reveals. The latter pair are engaged in a war of technical power; they're fighting for the title of the most powerful home console and that's why teraflops and compute units in GPUs matter; these are the metrics upon which victory will ultimately be decided for many buyers. It's like purchasing an expensive smartphone or television; you want to know the stuff inside is the best it can be, right? It's less about what the device actually does and more about feeling smug over having a shiny new cutting-edge piece of tech.
Nintendo, on the other hand, hasn't really participated in this tiresome willy-waving contest since the days of the GameCube, the last Nintendo console to make any genuine attempt to maintain parity with the status quo. Nintendo knows that it's the games you're going to play on your system that really matter, not the details of the underlying technology which makes them possible. That's why the company has shied away from talking polygons-per-second and instead shows potential customers what the console can actually do; you can play it during a rooftop party! You can play in the car! You can start your quest at home then take it to the park if you want! If anything, Nintendo went too far the other way when it came to specification detail; remember how it stubbornly refused to confirm if the Switch had a touchscreen at one point?
This 'show, don't tell' approach is arguably why Nintendo is doing so well in this hardware cycle, and you could argue it's why it did so badly in the previous one; while it wasn't concerned with shouting about the Wii U's improved specs over the Wii, it failed miserably to explain exactly what made the console so unique from a gaming perspective. Still, the Wii U is a single misstep in what has been an otherwise supremely effective approach to selling gaming hardware – with the DS and 3DS, Nintendo focused on the gameplay potential rather than the processing power that would enable it, and both of those machines sold well, too.
Despite the dull nature of Microsoft and Sony's reveals – which, it's worth noting, were perhaps influenced in some way by the fact that the coronavirus is currently removing the means for both companies to effectively communicate what's so great about these consoles – we can't imagine either machine will fail to find its intended audience. Indeed, the 'Road the PS5' presentation has clocked up an incredible 8 million views on YouTube so far, which suggests that, even if the audience was bored stiff, it was still watching regardless. And it's worth noting that what both Microsoft and Sony were talking about is exciting on one level; stuff like ray tracing, backwards compatibility which enhances old games and super-fast storage access will shape the way games look and play over the next few years. But even so, these are details that the average punter in the street isn't perhaps interested in; they just want to know if they can play their favourite games on the console when it eventually launches.
The next-gen war is going to be very interesting to watch, then, but we can't help but feel that Nintendo – despite being somewhat outside of the conversation thanks to the humble nature of its hardware – is in the ideal position to capitalise on the fatigue many players will be feeling after those jargon-heavy presentations. With Animal Crossing: New Horizons launching this week – a game which doesn't concern itself with polygon-pushing power or RAM speeds one bit – Nintendo is offering the perfect tonic for tech spec boredom, and long may that continue.