Play anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Whether on the go or docked, the Nintendo Switch was envisioned as a hybrid console that players can use however they see fit. That’s why recent developments in Japan can’t help but raise eyebrows. First was the announcement of the Switch being sold without a dock, billed as a ‘2nd Unit Set’. It’s a bare-bones package selling just the device with a pair of Joy-Con and wrist straps — no dock, grip, or indeed cables.
Admittedly, this is only available in Japan via Nintendo’s official online store rather than en masse. But at a lower price point (5,000 yen cheaper than the standard bundle), it will be curious to see just how many people will be opting for this as their ‘first’ actual Switch. Handheld gaming is after all the predominant way to play in Japan, while the Switch uses USB-C that has fast become a standard for many devices.
Nintendo Switch and Cloud Gaming
But even if you only play your Switch in handheld mode, doesn’t this set a pernicious precedent undermining its USP? Not to mention, opting to buy a separate dock will leave you worse off.
Perhaps the more unusual experiment is with Capcom releasing Resident Evil 7 on the Japanese eShop. Well, not the game, but more like an app that will grant you access to stream the PC version. Essentially, you’re just renting the game via Capcom’s servers.
There are obvious concerns, from no game ownership to developers taking a lazy step to stream their game instead of a port dedicated to the hardware. More importantly, cloud gaming undermines the Switch as a console you can play anywhere. And that’s not even factoring in lag issues, which even Japan with its high internet speeds aren’t immune to.
Experiments for Future Nintendo Switch editions
I can’t help but wonder if these are one-offs or signs of how Nintendo may go about repackaging the Switch. Sure, you can do without a dock here, or only need an internet connection for this one game, but slowly but surely, you’ve muddled that simple and clean ‘Anywhere, Anytime, with Anyone’ message. In truth, we’ve already seen this with NBA2K18 which require a separate MicroSD card before it’s even playable. Just how many fine-prints and caveats creeping into are acceptable for a console just over a year old?
Given Nintendo’s history of releasing iterative versions of its portable hardware, it seems more likely than not that we’ll see something similar with the Switch. Perhaps one with larger internal storage, or a 1080p screen resolution, or a more powerful Tegra chip that not only resolves the recent hack but allows increased performance to existing games. A ‘Switch Pro’, if you will.
The question is how will Nintendo sell these new models? As a bundle, or could Switch owners upgrade the device and keep using the dock and Joy-Con they already own? But then what happens to the old devices? Will we see Switch screens flogged on eBay? Imagine the absurdity of being able to buy a whole Switch from modular parts on the secondhand market. That’s not even mentioning old Switch owners who then feel like they’re stuck with an inferior product.
Of course, this is all speculative, and these experiments have so far limited themselves to Japan. You might even say that Nintendo is already clear about the dockless Switch being a ‘2nd Unit’. But as the Switch continues its successful roll, Nintendo need to be careful not to fracture its hybrid console.