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The RPG Files: The Nintendo Switch Could Change the RPG Landscape

Columns By Christopher Coke on October 28, 2016

The Nintendo Switch Could Change the RPG Landscape

Last week, Nintendo unveiled their latest console, the Nintendo Switch. Previously known as the NX, the Switch is smart blend of home console, handheld, and mobile device. Even after the Wii U flopped badly enough to make Free Willy cringe, the Switch is absolutely not something we should write off. Even if you’re not a Nintendo fan, if it takes off, it could change the gaming landscape.

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This Could Actually Be a Hit

If you haven’t seen the reveal trailer yet, take a moment before continuing and see what Nintendo has to offer.

Even though I couldn’t have been more disappointed with Nintendo and the Wii U, I have to admit, this trailer impressed me. Nevermind the fake gamers and jocks who would abandon real basketball to play on a tiny screen, the concept is fascinating and has incredible potential. A home console that is also a portable. A portable that is also a tablet. It is the trifecta of little kid’s dreams and that may be what makes this thing take off.

I work in an elementary school. Our kids are crazy for tablets and handhelds. They’re status symbols, attention magnets, and in the three years I’ve been a teacher, I haven’t met one kid who doesn’t own or want one. I also haven’t spoken to one who wasn’t intimately familiar with Pokemon or even Mario and Luigi. Make no mistake, there is a powerful social force behind portable gaming. Instead of crowding around TV or a GameBoy Color, they’re leaning in and taking turns with their tablets or DS consoles.

During their lunch, I let my class watch the trailer. On a vote, everyone said they would rather have it than the 3DS and only a few said they would rather have a normal tablet. When they start seeing these in the wild starting in March, there are lots of kids who will kill to have one of their own.

But it’s not just the little ones who could make this thing a success (even if they are the most likely). The Nintendo brand name is family safe. At holiday time, given the choice between a $350+ console from Microsoft or Sony or the kid-friendly box that is also the tablet they’ve been begging for and probably won’t break the bank to buy? That’s an easy choice. Nintendo is also avoiding the utter confusion they caused by calling their last console the Wii U. I still know people who think it’s an accessory to the Wii.

I hear you. That’s well and good for the nine year olds of the world, but why should I care?

It Could Change the Gaming Landscape

Selling the Switch to kids and families is a natural move, but the lack of any children at all in the trailer is obviously an intentional move. Nintendo wants core, adult gamers to see this as their console, maybe even more than young children. Whether they can pull that off seems like a long shot to me, but one thing is for sure, if they get the foothold with those kids and simply get Switches in homes, they’re more likely to succeed. Here’s why that matters.

Even though Nintendo’s messaging is that the Switch will exist alongside the 3DS, it’s clear that the Switch will eventually take its place. Separate but equal will only hurt the Switch and Nintendo knows that. In time, the 3DS is likely to take a back seat to the Switch or disappear entirely.

As that happens, we will see Nintendo’s portable and console titles come together in a powerful unity. Portable games will be pushed up and console games can be taken anywhere. Imagine a console-quality Pokemon game. Yo-Kai Watch with AAA production values. Suddenly, games with that had an isolated influence will be major players through the rest of the industry. Combining Nintendo’s platforms is close to introducing a new major player in the gaming world; it is the portable elevated to the level of the console. That would be nothing short of game changing -- if they can pull it off -- and that extra influence could certainly shape the types of things we see in other AAA RPGs.

Challenges to Overcome

The next couple of years will be exciting, but all of this is best case scenario dreaming. We can’t forget that this is the same Nintendo that collectively made the world roll its eyes time and again generation after generation by failing to get with the times. There are definitely challenges they need to overcome to make the Switch a hit.

The biggest is probably third party support. They really screwed the pooch with this on the Wii U with their weird tablet controller and underpowered hardware. The Switch is still underpowered, running on a mobile graphics processor, and that may be a problem. Thankfully, if they unify their handheld and console markets, they might overcome this simply by directing their stream of new games into one place.

Second to that is performance and battery life. The Switch will be using an Nvidia Tegra GPU, which is their mobile line. Many places are speculating that it will use a variant of the processor Nvidia included in their own Shield tablet. I disagree. As far back as July, insider rumors were speculating that the NX would use an updated Tegra with Pascal architecture, akin to what Nvidia uses in their latest line of video cards. As we know, Pascal not only gives a nice performance boost but also uses far less power. What we don’t know is what that battery life will actually be and if being docked will allow the GPU to “step up” like the full laptop Pascal GPUs allow.

Then there’s price. This thing needs to be affordable. If they release at more than $299, they’re making a big mistake. With PS4 Pro in the wild and Xbox Scorpio coming soon, the Switch just can’t compare and shouldn’t try to in their pricing scheme. Anything higher than $299 and they’re inviting comparisons they don’t need.

There are others too. They need a strong launch line-up (looks likely). They need games for adult gamers, not just kids. The need improved online support. They need a better User ID system and no more of this friend code “your purchase is tied to your console” business. There are issues, but there has never been a better time for them to be solved.

Right now, we don’t know a whole lot. Heck, the thing might have a projector built into it! Maybe it does have weaker Kepler technology. Time will tell, but for the first time in a long time, I’m optimistic about a Nintendo console, and that’s saying something.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.

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