- The Nintendo Switch is finally getting the support from third-party developers and publishers that fans have been craving for years.
- Unfortunately, many high-end third-party games are difficult to port to the Nintendo Switch — and that will only become more challenging when the next versions of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles arrive within the next few years.
After many years of neglect from third-party game makers, Nintendo is finally getting some in-demand, heavy-hitting games from outside developers thanks to the popularity of its one-year-old console, the Switch.
Many of the games being ported to the Switch are on the older side — the Nintendo Switch is less powerful than rival game consoles, so it can't keep up with many blockbuster games you can play on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. But lately, some developers have been able to get their newer games onto the Switch just several months after launching those games on more powerful consoles.
— "Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus," a game that launched for the PS4 and Xbox One in October 2017, released on the Nintendo Switch in June 2018.
— "Doom," which launched on the PS4 and Xbox One in May 2016, came out on the Switch in November 2017. (The same company that developed the port, Panic Button, is also working on the sequel to this game, called "Doom Eternal," to be released "alongside" the PS4 and Xbox One. Whether that means the release date will be the exact same day remains to be seen.)
— "Fortnite," which launched on PS4 and Xbox One in October 2017, released on the Switch in June 2018.
As Kotaku's Ethan Gach put so well, "the Nintendo Switch is a port machine." From the triple-A games listed above to other indie titles like "Hollow Knight" and "Stardew Valley," and even Wii U titles that not many people experienced like "Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze" and "Bayonetta 2," Nintendo's portable console has been a great way to give life to older games.
In its current form, the Nintendo Switch will continue to be a great way to experience Nintendo games, indie games, and some bigger third-party games. But the big third-party games that everyone likes — the Dooms and Wolfensteins of the world — will be more difficult to come by once rival consoles start evolving. And that's apparently already in the works.
The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are about to get new hardware
The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both launched about five years ago, in 2013. And both consoles are already more powerful than the one-year-old Nintendo Switch.
The gulf in terms of power and capability is only going to widen.
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesBy all accounts, it looks like Sony and Microsoft are about to upgrade their respective game consoles. Microsoft already made its intentions clear that it is working on the next Xbox. Sony is reportedly following suit with what will likely become the PlayStation 5.
When those new game consoles arrive — likely around 2020 or 2021 — third-party developers and publishers will want to make new games that are optimized for that new hardware.
Much of their focus will be on those two game consoles, because that's where the money is: People have bought over 76 million PlayStation 4 consoles, and somewhere between 30 to 50 million Xbox Ones. Combined, that's anywhere between 100 million to 120 million consoles sold. That's a lot of money!
Nintendo is no slouch here, having sold nearly 20 million Switch consoles in just about 18 months. But considering the architectural similarities between the PlayStation and Xbox consoles, it's much easier to develop a game for both of those consoles than it is for the standalone Switch, which has very unique hardware that's also less powerful compared to rivals.
The Nintendo Switch already doesn't get the major tentpole games like "Call of Duty" or "Battlefield." But once games like that get upgraded to be optimized for the next generation of consoles, it's going to be even harder for developers to port those same games to the less-powerful Switch without sacrificing quality or major features.
The silver lining for Nintendo
NintendoNintendo is having a nice moment right now, with so many big publishers like Bethesda Softworks committing to putting their most popular games on the Switch.
But even if some of that third-party support fades, Nintendo has two big things going for it:
— First-party titles. I don't know about you, but I didn't buy my Nintendo Switch to play "Stardew Valley" (though it's a great game). I bought it to play "Zelda: Breath of the Wild." I bought it for "Super Mario Odyssey." I bought it for the promise of new Pokémon games, and Metroid games, and Smash Bros. games. And guess what? Nintendo makes all of those games. Even if outside support wanes, Nintendo's north star has always been its own game-making, and with wonderful new "Zelda" and "Super Mario" titles in 2017, it's clear Nintendo is still the master of video game making.
— A massive library of older games, and a growing number of indie titles. People always get excited about games coming out in the future, but some of the best gaming experiences have already been created and published. "Hollow Knight," for instance, is a treasure that not many people got to experience last year on PC or Mac, but it feels right at home on the Switch. Since Nintendo's console can't power the same kinds of experiences as the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, older games, and less graphically intensive games from independent makers, work best. And that contrast offers a great opportunity: While the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One offer more visually benefits, the Nintendo Switch could differentiate itself as the best way to play those retro or indie games, since Switch games can support more players and even be taken on the go.
— Nostalgia. Guess what the top-selling console was in June? No, it wasn't the PlayStation 4. Or the Xbox One. Or even the Nintendo Switch! The top-selling console in June was actually the NES Classic Edition, which was only on sale for two days that month since it launched June 29. That's huge. And considering Nintendo has other "Classic Edition" consoles up its sleeves — including the already released SNES Classic and blueprints for a Nintendo 64 Classic — Nintendo is in a pretty good position right now to capitalize on its past.
Nintendo may never catch up to its rivals from a visual standpoint, but Nintendo has also existed for 128 years, while rivals can't say the same. The company has innovated itself and its products time and time again. But it's still worth enjoying this moment in time, where the Nintendo Switch is the closest it will be to its console competitors. And who knows? Maybe Nintendo's next hardware will surprise everyone and narrow the gap once again.