by Jeffrey Vadala PhD “The Digital Anthropologist”, Gaming News Daily Contributing Author
The Nintendo switch looks like a potentially groundbreaking new portable/home console hybrid. Its daring design may bring Nintendo success or it may finally sink Nintendo’s sinking ship. Given that the Wii U was a critical failure for Nintendo the Switch’s success is even more important. Issues with the Switch could sink Nintendo forcing it out of the console business like Sega. The issues related to the Switch’s striking hybrid nature, its graphical horsepower (or lack thereof), and its cart-based game delivery system are discussed here.
What is the Switch?
With the lackluster sales of the Wii U, Nintendo needs the Switch to be a hit. That said, Nintendo is not exactly playing it safe. The Switch takes risks that other game companies simply do not take. The Switch is Nintendo’s new flagship product that offers a portable tablet-like gaming experience which can be docked into a receiver for a more traditional HD TV experience. The switch also has removable controllers that connect to a central screen for portable play. These controllers can also be removed while the screen is docked to a TV for a more traditional console experience.
What Issues may sink the Switch?
The Switch’s unique hybrid design brings flexibility and limitations. According to early leaks, the Switch may be limited by its GPU and a cartridge-based non-downloadable game system. The unique removable controller system that can connect to the tablet-like screen for portable play and detach for the traditional home console experience may also prove to be problematic overtime. At this point, no one knows how these controllers will hold up over time (after detaching and reattaching over and over).
Problem 1: The sliding/removable controller mechanisms
Given that these controllers use plastic sliding mechanisms to slide in and out of place, over time, these mechanisms are likely to wear out and become loose. The worst case scenario is that these controllers may wear out and not be attachable. This would be immensely irksome to consumers. Even if these controllers just became slightly loose, having flimsy or wonky controllers that felt like loose or shaky parts would still prove bothersome and annoying during gameplay. Traditional controllers like those used for a Wii U or an Xbox One, often do wear out over time with buttons becoming loose or thumb sticks becoming less precise. Yet they never feel like their basic form or structure is weakening. This could easily become the case with the Nintendo Switch. At this point in time, its impossible to know how these unique controllers will hold up. That said, we can be assured that there will be some poorly designed third-party offerings that will highlight such issues (which will be necessary to avoid).
Problem 2: Cartridges and a poorly developed online offering
Early video footage revealed the Nintendo Switch will use what Nintendo is calling “Game Cards.” Like memory cards or game cartridges used in the Nintendo DS, these game cards appear a backwards choice for a game console being released in 2017. Good for Nintendo, bad for consumers, traditionally cartridges have been expensive. Hard to copy thereby preventing piracy, cartridges (referred to as carts) are far more expensive to produce than Cd’s or even blue ray disks. Early leaks from Nintendo leaker Emily Rodgers (see http://nintendotoday.com/report-nintendo-switch-game-cards-are-16-gb/) indicate that these game cards will max out at a 16 GB capacity.
With many or most contemporary games clocking in sometimes at over 30 GB, this is problematic for consumers and developers alike. Developers will be forced to use lower resolution textures. This may be less of an issue for the Switch when using it as a portable system (with the smaller screen) but when in console mode on an HD TV, low resolution textures will be more noticeable. Beyond the constraints of capacity, Nintendo’s focus on releasing games on memory cards indicates they are less focused on creating an online downloadable game store. Still an unknown at this point, leaks indicate that the Switch only includes 32 GB of internal storage (also leaked from Emily Rogers). If games do indeed clock in at 16 GB this means that 32 GB would only be enough space to hold two full games.
Most tablets, smart phones, and computers have operating systems that take large amounts of space for system memory (sometimes 5-8 GB). With this in mind, the Switch will have less than 32 GB available for storage. The available internal storage will be closer to 25 Gb. Most likely it will be used for game saves and paid downloadable content. In sum, at this point, the Switch’s games will probably be sold on “game cards” that include lower resolution textures. Downloadable content will fill the Switch’s internal 32 GB. This distribution model is in contrast to the more “modern” and highly successful app store approach of the Android TV, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 that allow consumers to download full games to their systems (which allow consumers to avoid buying games through traditional retail channels).
Problem 3: Lack of Graphical Horsepower could lead to low developer support
The last issue outlined here is the Switch’s lack of graphical horsepower. Early leaks indicate that the Switch will use a low power NVidia Tegra ARM GPU. The good news is that this GPU is extremely like the GPU used in the capable NVidia Shield Console which can offer graphics horsepower similar to that of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. The bad news is that Nintendo appears to have lowered the clock speed of the GPU from 900 MHz to roughly 300 MHz for the portable mode and 700 MHz in console mode. From these numbers, it appears that the switch will be less powerful than both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. Once again Nintendo seems to be prioritizing other innovations rather than graphical power. This worked for them during the early days of the Wii, but the question remains as to how consumers will react to less graphical fidelity in the current day and age of 4k.
Entering the Nintendo Switch
With these issues in mind, the state of the Switch remains in question. Will these issues hold back games? Will we have to deal with broken Switches? Will game cards and graphics limitations push away developers? Is Nintendo’s lack of concern for killer graphics hardware pushing away dev support and cutting edge appeal? Only time will tell. Either way launch day can’t come soon enough!