By launching new hardware, Sony are essentially giving the generation a soft reset, giving Nintendo a chance to get away with a mid generation launch.
This year, Nintendo is reportedly launching a brand new console to the market- the Nintendo NX is planned to be the successor to their disappointing Wii U console, and while not a lot is known about it, early indications certainly seem to be encouraging- rumors peg it as a powerful console with good third party support, and no intrusive gimmicks, which is all anyone has ever wanted from a Nintendo system. However, for a lot of detractors and critics, there is the distinct feeling, a sense, of Nintendo being too late to the game with the NX- after all, even considering the NX to have parity (or beyond) with the PS4 and Xbox One in terms of power, controller, features, and third party support, why would the average customer buy it over the PS4 and the Xbox One, which will by then have had three years of entrenched games, possibly cheaper prices, and also be the systems that their friends will be owning?
In a sense, the NX appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place- it’s too early for it to be considered a true next generation console, and even if it does outdo the PS4 in key respects, sheer cost effectiveness will limit just how much more powerful its hardware can be- this means that, in a few years from now, once Xbox and PlayStation do launch their successor systems, Nintendo will be obsolete again. On the other hand, if the NX were to position itself as a current generation system, then it would have trouble competing against the PS4 and Xbox One, going on three years old, with multiple price cuts, and loads more games than a system that shall just be launching (with the games available at a cheaper price, too!), as well as the added attraction of vibrant online networks and communities, which is something the NX will have to work on from scratch.
It is the exact same situation the Dreamcast found itself in, back in 1998-99; Sega, too, were coming off of the back of a horrifically low selling system, one where they lost most of their third party support, consumer mindshare, and general relevance. Back then, Sega, too, had dropped the Saturn early to focus on a new hardware launch, that they had hoped would turn their fortunes around. And the Dreamcast had found itself caught between generations- too late to compete against the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, and too early to pose a credible threat against the PlayStation 2 and Gamecube.
"The Dreamcast had found itself caught between generations- too late to compete against the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, and too early to pose a credible threat against the PlayStation 2 and Gamecube."
Is that the fate that awaits Nintendo, too? Is the NX, then, doomed to fail because of its unfortunate timing, a victim of the poor decisions Nintendo made with the Wii and the Wii U? In ten years from now, will the NX be remembered with the same fondness that the Dreamcast is, the final burst of light and glory from a company that was crowded out of the very industry that it helped define?
Ordinarily, the outlook on the NX would be pessimistic- I am a Nintendo fan, I favor them and their games against all else, but even I have taken pause at the extremely delicate situation the NX is launching into. However, recent developments within the industry may have unexpectedly given the NX a legitimate chance at managing to get away with its mid generation launch- and not just getting away with it, but also at competing and succeeding properly.
I am referring, naturally, to the confirmed and rumored launches of the PlayStation VR and the PlayStation 4K respectively later this year. Sony is launching the PlayStation VR, a new peripheral for the PlayStation 4 that it has outright stated it is going to be treating as a new hardware platform. The PlayStation VR is, equally importantly, probably going to end up extending the life of the PlayStation 4 by at least a few years, not dissimilar to how the Kinect and Wii Motion Plus extended the lifespans of the Xbox 360 and Wii respectively.
The PlayStation VR is not the only new thing that Sony is looking at launching this year, either- although unconfirmed as of now, a number of highly respected and verifiable reports have mentioned the prospect of Sony launching a mid cycle revision of the PlayStation 4, the rumored PlayStation 4.5 or PlayStation 4K, which refreshes the hardware of the PS4 by bumping up the specs of the system a fair bit, but also maintaining backwards and forwards compatibility with the original PS4 models- not dissimilar to the Gameboy Color, or the New Nintendo 3DS.
"The PSVR and PS4K extend the length of this generation beyond whatever its initially projected span might have been."
The launches of these two new pieces of hardware are quite significant. There are two things that they will be doing:
These two points are hugely important from Nintendo’s perspective- an extended generation means that the NX gets more breathing room. Instead of being made obsolete by the hypothetical launch of an Xbox 4 and a PlayStation 5 in 2018 (just two years from now!), it now has until, say, 2020, or 2021, to truly entrench itself. This enables it to properly compete against the PS4 and Xbox One (or their VR and/or upgraded variants), simultaneously also enabling it to have a normal lifespan approaching five years, rather than Nintendo having to scramble to release a successor to the NX in a couple of years time when it would otherwise have been made outdated by new hardware launches. Put simply, an extended hardware generation, such as the one that is resulting thanks to the launches of PSVR and PS4, puts the NX at relatively the beginning of this generation, as opposed to its midpoint. This means that the NX gets to compete in the bulk of this generation too, without having to worry about fending off next generation competition any time soon, or about a short lifespan, similar to the Wii U.
Imagine, if instead of launching the PS2 in 2000 and the Gamecube in 2001, Sony and Nintendo had waited until 2004 to launch their systems- the Dreamcast, launching in 1998-1999, would then have had a healthy 5-6 years on the market, and it would have been able to firmly compete with these systems, rather than being crowded out of the market by shinier and newer machines- that is what the NX gains from a longer generation.
"To the average customer, there will be two new console launches this year- PlayStation 4K and Nintendo NX."
The second point is equally, if not more, important- Sony, as the market leader, gets to define the direction of the market. Whether or not the hardcore forum going video game customer approves of the PS4K and PSVR or not (and even within these enthusiast circles, I have seen excitement for both of these product launches, so in general, it appears as though the market is welcoming new hardware this year). By introducing new hardware into the market this year, Sony are directly and explicitly stating that a new hardware launch is normal and expected this year- that any new hardware launching this year does not, for instance, directly impinge upon, or interfere with, this generation as it is.
The average customer does not even think in those terms. To the average customer, there will be two new console launches this year (PlayStation 4K and Nintendo NX), as well as the launch of a brand new platform (PlayStation VR)- this makes it no different than any other time when multiple new consoles have launched- instead of one console (the NX) straggling and arriving late to the party, there are now multiple hardware launches all occurring at once. This means that the NX, instead of being the Dreamcast launching by its lonesome smack dab in the middle of the PlayStation-N64 and the PS2-GCN-Xbox launches, is now launching alongside another new console- effectively leading to a soft reboot of the generation for the average customer.
The NX, instead of being perceived to be competing against the PS4 and the Xbox One, both three years old and with entrenched libraries, will now seen to be competing against the PS4K- another system with a fresh launch. To the average customer, spending money on a new PS4K will make as much sense as spending money on an NX (of course, this assumption is predicated on Nintendo actually getting it right with the NX in terms of specs, controller, online, and third party support). The question is no longer ‘why should I buy a brand new NX with only a few weeks/months’ worth of games, when I can buy a PS4 or an Xbox One with three years’ worth of games, and all my friends using them?’ The question now is ‘which should I buy from these new consoles, the PS4K or the Nintendo NX?’
"All of this speculation hinges upon Nintendo getting the NX right."
In simple terms, the NX launch and the PS4K launch effectively constitute a soft generation transition. it’s a soft generation transition because unlike a full transition, the ‘older’ consoles, the PS4 and the Xbox One, will still stick around, on the lower end of the spectrum- but to anyone looking to get the ‘new’ and ‘best’ hardware for the money, the NX and the PS4K are going to be the systems in the discussion. Think of this as analogous to the Xbox 360/PS3 to Xbox One/PS4 transition- while the PS3 and Xbox 360 continued to stick around and get games, and be purchased, for years after the PS4 and Xbox One had launched, the discussion squarely shifted to the newer consoles. To a ‘softer’ extent, that is the scenario that the NX and PS4k launches recreate- and assuming Nintendo get the NX right, there is now no reason that they should not be able to compete and actually establish the NX in the market.
All of this speculation hinges upon Nintendo getting the NX right, of course, and there is every possibility that Nintendo don’t do that, especially given their recent history in the console market. For all we know, the NX is underpowered, gimmicky, overpriced, and undersupported again. If that is the case, then this discussion is moot, and the PSVR and PS4K forge their own destinies independently. However, assuming Nintendo does get the NX right, there was, earlier, always the danger that the console would not do well still, simply because it would be neither here, nor there- but that no longer holds true. By launching the PS4K and the PSVR, Sony may be giving Nintendo and the NX just the opening that they need to be able to compete, and reestablish themselves in the larger industry console market.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.