Thursday, January 26, 2017

Why the Nintendo Switch Isn't That Bad

[Note: you can also listen to the video version of this article here.]

There are times when I feel compelled to play devil’s advocate to half the internet and this is one of those times. Now I may be a bit late to the party here (and I sincerely apologize for that), but today I’m going to be talking about the reveal of the Nintendo Switch and, more specifically, peoples’ main complaints against it.

So let’s start off with the problem that seems to be on everybody’s mind, and that is the cost of owning a Switch. Forums everywhere are complaining that the $300 price point is too high for a console that is outperformed by both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and which has only 32 GB of storage and no bundled game. Sure, if you looked at Amazon right now you would see that both the Xbox One and PS4 are currently selling for cheaper, but people seem to easily forget that this is still launch hardware. A little over 3 years ago, the current generation of consoles kicked off with gamers having to shell out $400 for a PlayStation 4 and a whopping $500 for an Xbox One. Had the Switch launched that year as well it would have been the cheaper console by about 2-3 games worth of money. However, the cheaper launch price does not forgive Nintendo for what I personally consider to be the gravest sin of the Switch, and that is fact that the launch edition will have only 32 gigabytes of memory space. But while many consider this sin to be an egregious one, Nintendo does deserve a little slack here, mainly because Nintendo games in general do not take up as much space as their Microsoft or Sony brethren. An example of this is in the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. A recent report by Egglplante estimated the overworld map size of the new Zelda game to be roughly 360 square kilometers. This estimate puts Breath of the Wild at about 9 times bigger than the commonly accepted size of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s map, which is around 40 square kilometers. Despite this, Breath of the Wild will only take up 13.4 gigabytes compared to Skyrim’s 22.75 on the Xbox One. Nintendo’s historically low emphasis on realistic graphics means that 32 GB can actually get you a lot farther on the Switch than it would on the PlayStation or Xbox. But even so, it’s still not a lot and the Switch’s first blockbuster game is going to be taking up over a third of the console’s hard drive space. While you can expand the Switch’s memory via MicroSD cards of up to 2 terabytes in size (which are not yet commercially available), adding 128 gigabytes can cost between $40 and $50 while a 256 gigabyte card can cost well over $100. But having to pay extra to add more memory to a relatively cheap console actually isn’t such a bad thing, and I’ll explain that a bit more on that in a bit. For now let’s move on to the next complaint about the Switch’s cost, and that’s the peripherals.

Out of the box, the Nintendo Switch comes with the console itself, the dock which charges the Switch and connects it to your TV, a left and right Joy-Con controller (which can be either one or two controllers depending on the game), a pair of wrist straps for those controllers, a grip which you slide the Joy-Cons into to obtain the feel of a more traditional controller, and of course an HDMI cable and AC adapter. Those are all the essentials. If you want to add more to that, you will need to pay $70 for a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller (a traditional gamepad that does not require the Joy-Cons to function), $80 for a pair of Joy-Con controllers, $50 for a single Joy-Con, $30 for a grip that charges the Joy-Cons while also functioning as a gamepad, $90 for a second dock, and $15 for pair of those steering wheel things that make playing Mario Kart more difficult than it has any right to be. This means that purchasing the Switch, an extra set of controllers, and all of the accessories would total out to about $575. This is more than you would have paid for a launch version of the Xbox One plus a second controller, a fact which seems to be off-putting to many gamers. But here’s the bit that seems to be getting overlooked: you don’t have to spend that much if you don’t want to.
To use Microsoft as an example again, the Xbox One launched back in November of 2013. At that time, Microsoft was hell-bent on putting both the main console and the Kinect in your living room. By only allowing consumers to purchase an Xbox One bundled with a Kinect, Microsoft jacked up the price of their own console, putting it $100 more expensive than their direct competitor Sony’s PlayStation 4. This price differential is probably one of the main reasons that the PS4 outsold the new Xbox by over a million units by the end of 2013. It took Microsoft less than a year to start offering a Kinect-less Xbox One, which was $100 cheaper. To bring this story back around to the Switch, Nintendo is offering us a relatively cheap launch console and essentially letting us pick our accessories and games a la carte. I think Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime sort of confirms that philosophy of letting the consumer choose what they want to spend their money on in an interview he did with GameSpot that was published on January 13th. When talking about why the Switch didn’t come bundled with a game like the Wii or Wii U, he stated:

“For this launch, what we found is that with the range of software that's coming…that we wanted to enable the consumer to buy the software they want, to look to get to the most approachable price point we could get to. That led us to a $299 price point, and let the consumer decide what games they want to buy.”

That means that now we can spend however much we want to make the Switch our kind of console. I, for example, live a cold lonely life and also generally prefer to buy my games digitally. I’ll probably be using the money saved from not having all these accessories bundled in to get another 126 GB of memory so that I can download most of my games and not have to interact with a vile human at the store. Someone who prefers physical games and has actual friends might prefer to spend that money on more controllers. My point is that the relatively cheap console could be seen as offsetting the numerous optional accessories.

The next complaint that many people seem to have about the Switch, and the one that I believe has the most merit, is the small number of launch titles available. After the presentation on January 12th, only five titles were confirmed for launch date. Those were The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, 1-2-Switch, Skylanders Imaginators, Super Bomberman R, and Just Dance 2017. Though that number has since increased to ten, with The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+, I am Setsuna, Human Resource Machine, Little Inferno, and World of Goo being confirmed for launch day, it is still a comparatively small number of titles containing multiple remakes of older games. Even if you were to include Has Been Heroes, Sonic Mania, Lego City Undercover, Arms, Snipperclips: Cut it Out, Together!, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Splatoon 2 (all of which are slated for Spring or Summer 2017) that is still fewer titles than the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launches, both of which had over 20. So hey, if you look at those 17 titles and don’t see anything that appeals to you, then that’s your business. Waiting to buy a console until it’s cheaper and has more games that you’ll like is rarely a wrong thing to do.

Lastly, there are a few controversies surrounding Nintendo’s plans for a paid online service. As it stands, the Nintendo Switch will have free online play at launch and transition to a paid model in the fall of 2017. Nintendo’s official website states that “our new dedicated smart device app will connect to Nintendo Switch and let you invite friends to play online, set play appointments, and chat with friends during online matches in compatible games-all from your smart device”. Now this description is a bit ambiguous. Though it’s not explicitly stated, the language of this statement makes it sound as though this app is the only avenue through which you can do all these things. If these features are not baked into the console itself, then that leaves people who don’t own a smart device out in the rain and also adds a layer of inconvenience to playing with friends. It’s a surprising barrier to put in place of their online service. On the other hand, depending on how exactly the app works, it could allow you to see what your friends are playing and receive invites to play games without having to boot up your Switch first, which is actually a convenient feature. I would also like to argue that the new chat capabilities still sound better than the current state of things, in which very few Wii U games offer actual voice communication. If executed properly, this app has the potential to at least be a huge step up from Nintendo’s current online offering.

In the same vein, Nintendo has touted that its paid online service will come the ability to download an NES or SNES game for free for a month. While easily a plus on paper, some claim that this benefit pales in comparison to the monthly four free games for Xbox Live Gold subscribers and six free games for PlayStation Plus subscribers. Now obviously four or six free games sounds better than one, but I think players are a bit quick to blow the cheapskate whistle on Nintendo here. Xbox Live Gold and PS Plus cost $60 per year if purchased annually and the free games are chosen by Microsoft and Sony, not the consumer. At this moment, we have no inkling of what Nintendo plans to charge for their online service. Furthermore, many players would prefer a single game that they can choose over multiple games that they cannot. Regardless, it is simply too soon to pass judgement on this offering considering that we still have no idea what the yearly cost of this service is.

So to sum things up: it’s not that bad. The console is relatively cheap for those low on dough and those willing to spend a bit more can spend it on whatever accessory they want. The online service may not be fantastic, but there’s still a good chance that it’ll be better than what we have now. Either way, it’s still too early to judge. Hopefully we’ll get some more information soon, but in the meantime, thank you for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day. Not really though. I don’t actually care how your day goes.

1 comment:

  1. Oh I was reading the whole blog with full concentration i know this is real good i wish i could buy one still searching for PlayStation 4. You are right its not bad infect its good.


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