July 13, 2021
This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: Nintendo polarizes its fans with a new Switch model; EA's new sports games signal the wind down of free next-gen upgrades; and the video game engine market has new competitors.
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Even when Nintendo drops a big surprise, it never strays too far from its play-it-safe strategy. Last week, the Japanese game maker revealed its long-awaited new Switch console, though it wasn't quite what most fans were expecting. The ensuing debate raised a lot of astute observations about the company's history of lackluster hardware updates, and why the gaming community keeps building up its expectations around Nintendo only to face an eventual letdown.
The new handheld wasn't the rumored Switch Pro the gaming community had whipped itself into a frenzy over. It features an OLED screen, but no improvements to its chipset or battery, and the response ranged from profound disappointment to "What were we all expecting?" But it's easy to see why the move makes perfect sense for Nintendo.
Nintendo will make a killing selling a Switch with an OLED screen. Beyond the Switch Lite handheld, Nintendo has only made one minor battery improvement to the base model device in its more than four years on the market. This new Switch ensures Nintendo can continue selling hardware at a steady clip and bide its time until the chip shortage subsides and it has new, first-party software that can make use of the performance bump.
The Switch Pro is coming, but don't hold your breath. Nintendo is notoriously cryptic when it comes to hardware, and there is no telling what it's planning. It could be a Switch Pro in 2022 that does have an improved chip, or it could be a proper Switch sequel in 2024 that's capable of playing games that won't run on the Switch we have today. Maybe both.
Casting blame over mismatched expectations is a favorite pastime of the gaming community, where even small rumors or vague insider info regularly snowballs into the most-discussed topic of the week. There was reason to believe the Switch Pro was coming; a reputable Bloomberg report pegged it for release this fall, and it's likely Bloomberg's report is sound and such a device is in the works for later. There is also fun to be had poking at the gaming industry's often absurd level of NDA-guarded secrecy and trying to suss out what's unseen around the corner.
But Nintendo will always be Nintendo, for better and for worse. The company makes improvements over time, but always in the same incremental fashion and always according to the same sets of strengths and weaknesses. It has excellent, unrivaled software tied to lackluster, often gimmicky hardware that perhaps once a decade gives us something we didn't know we wanted. The Switch was one of those groundbreaking, generational successes. Enjoying Nintendo's products becomes a whole lot easier when you stop expecting the company to strike gold every few years.
We compare 5G to electricity. In the beginning, people might not have known what electricity was good for. Now it's an essential part of life. You always assume it's going to be there. That's how we think about 5G and its role in connecting everything to the cloud. It will transform how we communicate.
Join Protocol's David Pierce for a conversation with Smart Columbus' Jordan Davis, Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners (SIP)'s Jonathan Winer and Microsoft's Jeremy Goldberg on what it takes to build smart cities right. July 13 @ 11 a.m. PT / 2 p.m. ET Learn more
EA on Monday announced its plans to restrict next-generation upgrades for FIFA 22 and Madden NFL 22 to those who purchase the $99.99 special editions. EA has had a selective upgrade system in place it calls Dual Entitlement, but its most popular sports games won't qualify when the new installments launch in August (Madden) and October (FIFA).
It's becoming increasingly clear the biggest players in the industry are beginning to sour on free next-gen upgrades, even though it's still difficult to even purchase a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X/S. Sony earlier this month said Ghost of Tsushima's official PS5 upgrade would be bundled with its expansion for $30, while owners of PS Plus versions of cross-gen games are also finding themselves locked out of free upgrades. It's not hard to imagine many more developers taking firmer stances on this in the future.
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