Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A PC Gamer's Perspective on the Nintendo Switch

I've been around since the birth of the video game industry and I've played games on just about every sort of device capable of doing such a thing. So, while it's certainly true that most of my gaming has taken place on various Windows PCs over the past several years, I've never been a platform loyalist and have always believed in the idea of being open minded when considering new ways to play games.

It's with this mindset that I approached the announcement of the Nintendo Switch– considering it not as a replacement for, but as a possible compliment to my gaming PC.

Like many others, my initial reaction to Nintendo's Switch reveal video was overwhelmingly positive. In my mind, it perfectly captured the essence of the Switch concept: a hybrid home console and portable gaming system in one elegantly-engineered device.

Put simply, the Switch is something that I've conceptually wanted for years, but had become all but convinced no hardware maker would dare create until rumors of the system started swirling back when it was still being referred to by its "NX" codename.

I've heard a lot of folks complaining about various aspects of the Switch's design but to me it comes across as a home run given the very real technical and financial limitations any such device would face.

While I absolutely understand the general desire for more: more performance, more battery life, more games at launch, and such, I'm also very aware of just how amazing it is that the Switch was even created and how lucky enthusiast gamers are to have a new device that's largely been conceived, designed, implemented and marketed for them given the current landscape of the video game industry.

What about the PS4 Pro and the XBOX Scorpio– not to mention the plethora of PC CPUs, GPUs and other gaming-friendly components being churned out every few months like clockwork one might ask?

It's certainly true that enthusiast PC gaming is on the rise. Even a cursory examination of sales figures and trends in recent years easily confirms that but the simple truth is that PC gaming has been following a predictable, natural progression for decades. Sure, you see the occasional architectural milestone in terms of hardware, operating system or software development improvements but at the end of the day, the PC follows a reassuringly-predictable line of progression that reinforces the faster, better, cheaper mantra that's become a pillar of PC gaming in general.

I'm in no way suggesting that this is a bad thing. Such tendencies have bolstered the PC platform since its inception and I don't see that changing or needing to change any time soon. Still, the PC is a general-purpose platform that happens to be well suited for gaming, which is a little different than a device built specifically for that purpose.

Which leads me to Microsoft and Sony's consoles. To put it plainly, these have both become little more than budget PCs crammed into cases as small as is practical. By comparison, even the least expensive gaming PCs being sold today effectively annihilate them from a technical standpoint. As such, the "console" market has essentially become the ultra low-end PC market for better or worse.

To be fair, there are a few unique elements that consoles typically bring to the table such as platform-exclusive games and hardware. For example, one could easily make a compelling case for Playstation VR being the most consumer-friendly virtual reality implementation currently on the market. Still, for the most part, Microsoft and Sony can't do much for me as a PC gamer aside from bringing their games to PC, which Microsoft is already doing, albeit in a less than ideal manner. By the way Sony, if you really want to stick it to Microsoft, put all your games on Steam and watch their collective heads explode... but I digress.

The point to all this is that with the introduction of the Switch, Nintendo is now the only major gaming hardware maker offering me something I can't easily duplicate or surpass via PC.

Sure, some enterprising PC maker could knock off the Switch's basic design and provide a similar device that runs Windows and/or Steam OS but who knows how long that will take to happen and how many iterations they'll have to go through before they get every aspect of it just right.

As far as I'm concerned, Nintendo's done right by gamers with the Switch. They built something nobody else had the vision or guile to build and did it in a way that exudes fun and excitement. For me, that's reason enough to support them and jump on the Switch train. Where that leads long term is anyone's guess but I feel pretty confident that it's a ride worth taking.