2017 Is All About Microsoft Scorpio Vs. Nintendo Switch – Forbes

image: Nintendo/youtube

image: Nintendo/youtube

It’s been a bit since we had a good console war. The definition of what makes a games┬áconsole seems more fluid than ever, but the gaming industry still has a penchance for entering into the sort of old school, Nintendo vs. Sega-style throwdowns that have characterized the space for decades. For most, this means the big two: Microsoft with the Xbox, Sony with the Playstation. Nintendo has for a long time been sort of dancing around the periphery, making weird decisions about living room consoles and owning portables hands down. This year, however, that distinction disappears as Nintendo prepares to release the Switch, a hybrid living room/portable console that could never come from any other company. At the same time, Microsoft is pushing things in a different direction with the Xbox Scorpio, a “premium” experience aimed at a customer that has a 4K TV and knows how to use it. It might not be a console war that looks like one we’ve seen before, but how the conflict between Microsoft Scorpio and Nintendo Switch plays out will tell us a lot about the future of gaming .

First up, Microsoft Scorpio. Microsoft has called it the most powerful console ever made, and it’s expected to arrive on the scene with quite a bit more juice than the PS4 Pro, which forms a roughly analogous competition. It’s going to play the same games as the Xbox One but with higher resolution, better framerates and possibly some other bells or whistles. That means that like the PS4 Pro, the selling point here is graphics only. Your game experiences will theoretically be the same whether you play on the new machine or the older model, they just won’t have that sheen. It represents a certain image of gaming that has dominated the narrative for a while now: the constant pursuit of processing power, realistic graphics and technological wonders.

And then there’s the Nintendo Switch. The Nintendo Switch will not be the most powerful console ever made, and more than likely won’t even be as powerful as the consoles we have out now. Nintendo, however, is making a big bet that that won’t matter. The Nintendo Switch can be used as either a portable or a living room console and the Nintendo Switch will have Nintendo’s storied first-party development: not the juggernaut it once was, but still capable of producing some of the best games on the marketplace. Nintendo is basically the only major developer serious about local multiplayer, and that’s what it’s pushing with the Switch: the ability to play games with your friends, at home or wherever you want. It’s a nice narrative, but it needs a hard sell to a gaming market that’s been using the Playstation model for a while now.

And so there’s a real question here about which one of these visions will resonate with consumers, even if it’s not in any way a zero sum game.┬áThis won’t be the fanboy-driven “console war” that has characterized the years of Playstation/Xbox dominance, where Sony and Microsoft release machines that are more or less the same with some minor differences and then one of them screws up royally, ceding the race to the opponent but still sticking around and doing fine. That situation is sort of like a constantly expanding zero sum: sure, there are more consumers every day, but every one of them is going to be making the binary choice, and video games are going to continue along the same course no matter which one “wins.”

the Xbox One elite controller, a premium product that did quite well. Image credit: Microsoft

the Xbox One elite controller, a premium product that did quite well. Image credit: Microsoft

No, these two are actually different things, and I’m genuinely curious to see what happens. We’re already seeing graphics-fatigue with the lukewarm reaction to the PS4 Pro, and I’m not sure how well the promise of more pixels crammed onto a fancy TV can sell new machines. Nintendo is betting that the hardware we have is good enough for great visuals, and that a game running a machine half as powerful can still look twice as good if the developer knows what its doing. We’ll see: fact that Xbox Scorpio and PS4 Pro only provide the sorts of graphical upgrades that can be measured in pixel count and frame rate is a direct appeal to the tech-head crowd, and I have a feeling many of those have migrated to PC.

We’ve seen this sort of contest before, of course, with both the Wii and the Wii U. In both of those cases Nintendo effectively “lost,” despite the fact that the original Wii saw some pretty wild success in its time. Despite that, console gaming continued to be something largely dictated by the Xbox/Playstation model, and the Wii U faceplanted. Things have changed since then. Graphical power may have finally hit some sort of fabled plateau of diminishing returns, or it might not have. Income inequality continues to both increase the number of price-conscious consumers and also develop a separate market that will gladly pay any price for the fanciest thing. We’ll see what happens when the rubber hits the road soon: both of these companies are somewhat accident-prone, and so it’s always possible that they could both defeat themselves, or both see modest success.


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