Following some lower key jargon-heavy info dumps earlier in the year, both of 2020's next-gen consoles and several of their key titles have been unveiled now, and we've got a much clearer picture of what the gaming landscape will look like at the end of the year, at least in hardware terms. Despite worries that Switch would look like it was standing still next to PS5 and Xbox Series X, the gameplay we've seen so far from the upcoming console generation has left us feeling optimistic about Switch's continued relevance alongside those behemoths.
We've now had a few weeks to get used to PS5's unusual looks, too. From an aesthetic point of view, Sony's next-gen console is monstrously large and wouldn't look out of place as part of the Dubai skyline in its vertical form. Microsoft revealed the Series X shell a while ago and it looks like.. well, it looks like a box. Fitting, really.
We're not quite there yet, but ultimately the Xbox itself looks set to transition into a semi-peripheral role; the option for gamers who can't live without the very best performance.
Still, it's the games that count. Content-wise, Sony and Microsoft have shown some of their biggest cards in their respective presentation. Judging from general online sentiment, Sony arguably has the broader, stronger software offering, while Microsoft has the slight technical edge and a far-reaching vision of content delivery with the potential to radically alter how it reaches a gaming audience, arguably de-emphasizing its new flagship console in the process. Microsoft's Game Pass subscription service continues to grow in popularity and value as the ever more awkwardly named Xbox lineage shares the spotlight. We're not quite there yet, but ultimately the Xbox itself looks set to transition into a semi-peripheral role as Game Pass itself becomes Microsoft's chief platform; the option for gamers who can't live without the very best performance.
Selling a cutting-edge console while also touting the fact you don't need it in order to play the games being shown muddies the messaging, and is certainly a challenge for Microsoft's marketing team, but the potential rewards are far greater than simply 'winning' a console cycle.
Sony's proposition, by contrast, is much simpler: PS5 is a big juicy next-gen box that plays big juicy next-gen games - games you can't play anywhere else. The message is comfortingly familiar and easy to understand: BUY OUR CONSOLE, PLAY OUR GAMES!
Sony's proposition, by contrast, is much simpler: PS5 is a big juicy next-gen box that plays big juicy next-gen games - games you can't play anywhere else
So, as the Xbox Series X and PS5 head to the ring to tag out their predecessors, where does this leave Nintendo with the plucky little Switch? The rumours last year and earlier this year that we'd see an upgraded Switch or Switch 'Pro' to better compete with new consoles were certainly loud, but so far they've come to nothing. Was Nintendo right to carry on business as usual?
Well, having had our first proper glimpses of next-gen titles, we'd argue that the tight-lipped company made the right choice sticking with the current SKU for the time being. That's not to say PS5 and Xbox Series X games aren't looking gorgeous, but arguably only a couple of titles really showed the potential of new hardware beyond native 4K and fancy realtime lighting (the Ratchet and Clank gameplay, in particular, showcased the ability to load entire worlds and switch between them in an instant - something Switch could never handle however dynamic the resolution). Based on what we've seen so far, next gen is (predictably, at this point) a step forward rather than a leap. Impressive, of course, but not enough to send Switch to the knacker's yard just yet.
Nintendo's decision to plough on and let Microsoft and Sony duke it out amongst themselves was, with hindsight, doubly appropriate given the production issues affecting the entire industry this year. Switches are still selling as fast as Nintendo can make them and although this year's first-party lineup has been less than satisfying for many Switch gamers, it still feels like there's life in the old dog yet. For those of us lucky enough to have more than one console, any generational disparity is even less of an issue; Switch remains--and will remain--the most convenient, comfortable way to play 'proper' games on-the-go, as well as its incomparable exclusives. Nintendo's next gen really does start when it says so, and that's just fine.
Nintendo's next gen really does start when it says so, and that's just fine.
If anything, it's Game Pass that should be giving Nintendo pause for thought. Microsoft's continued focus on its subscription service has paid dividends and the mainstream acceptance of it represents a significant shift not only in delivery of games, but in gamers’ perception of content ownership. The overwhelming opinion seems to be that Game Pass represents incredible value. It's very much 'the Netflix of games', with all that entails - the library exists only as long as your membership.
The fact is, though, that gamers--primed by umpteen subscription services elsewhere--seem ready to embrace that model given the appropriate value and convenience, the latter of which is one of Switch's chief selling points, With xCloud coming to Android devices in September, Microsoft is encroaching into Switch's territory, and while it can't offer Nintendo content, the quantity and quality of games to delivers is nonetheless compelling.
Of course, Nintendo still has an ace up its sleeve in that particular fight: Switch doesn't require a good internet connection (or any connection at all) to deliver home console-level gaming on-the-go. Sufficiently strong (and cheap) mobile internet is something many gamers simply don't have access to - not yet, at least.
Ultimately, then, nothing revealed by its rival companies is likely to change Nintendo's strategy or timetable for new hardware. We've got Sony taking a more old-school approach (albeit continuing to experiment with PS+ and PlayStation Now), Microsoft taking a wider, softly-softly approach, and Nintendo off to the sides in its own niche. If xCloud can make good on the promise of Stadia (remember that?), Nintendo might have to rethink it's approach.
There's nothing stopping Nintendo creating its own Game Pass-style service, either. Technically, the NES and SNES games available with your Nintendo Switch Online subscription deliver quality titles as part of an online service, although no-one is suggesting that Nintendo is offering a fraction of the value Microsoft does. Nintendo is experimenting, though, with temporary Game Trials, discount promotions like Game Vouchers, and that Tetris 99 is a tasty little bonus. How about adding older titles as an extra incentive for NSO subscribers, for example, or a 'Deluxe' bonus in the form of all of Switch's Deluxe Wii U ports? These would be baby steps towards a Game Pass-style offering, but the potential exists and Nintendo seems willing to experiment - there's space to pivot as the landscape changes over the coming months and years. And who can say what Nintendo's got in the works for Switch Pro or Switch 2 or DoubleSwitch or whatever the successor ends up being? You never can tell these things.
Whether Microsoft can make xCloud a success given the realities of today's internet is still a big question mark. We have little doubt it'll make a better job of xCloud's launch than Google did with Stadia, although we'd wager that our dear old mum could've done better. Whatever happens, in a year that's taken us to some dark places, the end of 2020 is looking unexpectedly bright for gamers. Now, we just need Nintendo to pull an incredible rabbit or two out of Mario's cap and announce some bloody games.
Ooo, there's one!
Plenty of life in the old dog yet? Let us know below how you're feeling about Switch after seeing some of the next gen treats coming this Holiday season.