The traditional console life cycle is somewhere from 5 to 6 years. The previous generation, the seventh, set the bar higher at 7 to 8 years. Developers love having all these time to learn the ins and out of a console so that they can squeeze every last ounce of power out of it before moving on. However, they also often can’t wait for the next big thing, to have more power to play with. Currently, we’ve passed the halfway mark of the eighth generation which began in 2012 with the release of the Wii U, followed by the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 a year later, and the late entry of the Nintendo Switch in 2017.
That is where the problem lies however. The Nintendo Switch is late to the party, and unlike the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, systems which raised the bar even higher while not actually being next-gen consoles, the Switch in docked mode is only somewhat more powerful than its predecessor, the Wii U. Its primary selling point is its versatility, something I can vouch for personally. The Switch has the potential to stand in the home console market, while also simultaneously dominating the handheld market where the only competition is smartphones. And while it’s fairly impressive for a handheld with no equal, it lags far behind in the console domain. Developers and publishers are humoring the system due to its surprising sales figures(14 million and counting in just 10 months.) and passable power that allows their games to still run decently enough. However, that is not likely to last as long as Nintendo would like.
The mid-generation refreshes of the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro have extended the life of the current generation, which is likely to come to a close between 2020 and 2022. The next generational leap is likely to leave the Nintendo Switch in the dust in terms of power. As a result, third party support could potentially fall off a cliff as developers seek to harness all that new power, something the Switch can’t hope to match. At that point, it becomes less about how much needs to be sacrificed for the game to run properly on the Switch, and more about if it’s even possible in the first place.
And that’s why Nintendo’s 7+ year plan isn’t likely to go as smoothly as Shigeru Miyamoto wants it too. The 3DS has managed to survive this long because it occupies a completely different market and its only competitor practically fell off the face of the Earth. Why replace something when there is no immediate need to do so? The Switch is different. While it has the capability to be a handheld, Nintendo has marketed the device as primarily a home console(Something the usage numbers disagree with. Most players apparently use it in handheld mode, with dedicated docked mode coming in dead last.), and thus it is constantly compared to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It’s trying to compete on two fronts and one of those fronts will prove to be difficult to fight on as time goes on.
Now, to be clear, Nintendo saying the Switch will have a long life doesn’t necessarily mean that newer, more powerful models with total backwards compatibility can’t be released. These refreshes still count as the Nintendo Switch, just like how the New 3DS is not the successor to the 3DS, merely a more powerful version of it just like the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro. But if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that Nintendo is highly unpredictable. They could believe in the current model so much that they think it’ll stand the test of time. Time itself will have to be the judge of this one. I’ll enjoy my Switch until the day it dies, but I’d rather not see Nintendo fall into the same trap they fell in with the Wii. They got far too confident and cocky after it exceeded all expectations, then made the Wii U and the rest is history.
Not everything is about graphics, that’s the truth. However, developers need more power to continue to be more and more ambitious and bring new ideas to the table, and that’s what more RAM, more GPU and CPU power, allow them to do with far more ease. NVIDIA is far more than capable of producing more powerful chips for Nintendo based on its latest architectures, the question is whether or not Nintendo will let them in the near future.