A Response to XDA – PC gaming handhelds are still too niche to replace the [Nintendo] Switch

And why this article is only half right.

Make no mistake, writing an article is tough work. You need to make appealing to read articles while working to make sure they are accurate as possible.

But sometimes, opinion based articles do appear. And while many I agree with, this one from XDA I certainly don’t fully agree with.

Let’s deconstruct what I agree with and disagree with in his response article.

Disclaimer: I don’t hate XDA, nor do I dislike Adam Conway, the person who wrote the article. However, in my opinion, if you write a public facing article, you are implicity granting permission for criticism, both positive and (in this case) negative. I do not condone harassing Adam for his views; please either criticize him constructively and in a respectful way or just don’t. I will do the same.

The “Ease of Use” Argument Falls Apart

I’m going to start by quoting the first paragraph of the original article:

“I love the Steam Deck, I love the Asus ROG Ally, and I love the Ayaneo Kun. These are all fantastic gaming handhelds, and particularly in the case of the Steam Deck, I would have no problem recommending them to just about anyone. Having said that, I think that for most people, these gaming handhelds are still far too niche to take on the likes of the Nintendo Switch… [I]t’s hard to recommend them over something tried, tested, and easy like the Switch.”

There are two things wrong with this quote: The first thing wrong is that just because one handheld came out first (in this case, the Switch), does not mean another company cannot do it better. A big example of this is with the modern PC CPU market, divided into two (major) companies: Intel and AMD. AMD started as an alternative supplier for Intel however, after they started to diverge from Intel (which led to a lawsuit by Intel attempting to shut AMD out of the x86 market which AMD won), they served massive successes over Intel and in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were reaching unstoppable growth. Intel’s famous Netburst technology was no match for AMD’s equivalents and Intel’s failed Itanium technology tried to usher in the IA-64 (x64 or 64-bit) era, which also failed due to a lack of compatibility with IA-32 (32-bit). The final nail in the coffin came with AMD once again introducing the better iteration, AMD64 (or x86-64), which not only allowed for 64-bit computing, but also kept good compatibility with 32-bit applications. It was so good in fact, that Intel quickly adopted AMD64 for their Core Duo CPUs.

And then AMD started to falter, accumulating in the disastrous Bulldozer micro-architecture era, which saw Intel take a massive lead in CPUs, essentially a monopoly. But instead of improve their lead with their (then) successful tick-tock architecture, Intel… Just didn’t really improve performance at all. So when AMD released their Zen-based Ryzen CPUs in 2017, it only took a few generations to push Intel to innovate, before they too were obliterated by Ryzen 4000 on laptops and Ryzen 5000 on desktops, as their Intel 9th, 10th, and 11th gen CPUs were too expensive and too power hungry, and in the case of their desktop Rocket Lake CPUs (which was their 11th gen CPUs for desktops), the “flagship” Intel Core i9-11900K CPU was not only worse than AMDs Ryzen 9 5900X and 5950X, but in many ways worse than its predecessor, the Intel Core i9-10900K.

The TL;DR for the Intel vs AMD CPU comparison? Without strong competition, the benefits that consumers would get from technology improving would be minimal at best. Good competition helps consumers to win.

In terms of the “tried, tested, and easy” hardware, there is an major example of “tried, tested, and easy” holding back prgoress. That example is the smartphone revolution. As much as Apple gets a lot of flack nowadays with their cost-cutting decisions and gimp entry-level products, in 2007, smartphones were very different. Not only did they have lots of buttons and stylus-controlled touchscreens if they did exist, but they were also a much more niche market before 2007. That year, Apple flipped the script on smartphones with the original iPhone. The impact the original iPhone had on the smartphone industry was explosive. The first Android prototype phone went from a Blackberry like style of device to having to redesign something that resembled the iPhone with a resistive touchscreen and less buttons, which became the HTC Dream / T-Mobile G1 in 2008. At the time, many other brands, like Microsoft, which had Windows Mobile, publicly thought that nobody would buy a smartphone without a ton of buttons. But they wereproven wrong, as Android and iOS bascially became a duopoly by 2017, after basically out muscling Windows 10 Mobile (and before that Symbian) out of the smartphone market.

The TL;DR for the smartphones before and after the iPhone comparison? Sometimes, consumers have to change their expectations around a device for the category to move forward.

Back to the Switch, it’s no doubt to me that the original Switch in 2017 changed the handheld gaming market and saved a faltering Nintendo from losing badly to Microsoft and Sony. But that doesn’t mean other products can do it better! For example, the Steam Deck works because it is sold like a traditional console. It is sold cheaper than the competing Windows handheld market because like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, Valve can afford to take a loss on hardware sales because they too have a way to make up the money with video game sales. This is something other Windows based OEMs cannot afford to do.

And unlike the Xbox Series X/S, Playstation 5, and Nintendo Switch, consumers get a massive selection of games to play that were previously only enjoyable on a gaming PC that didn’t last very long on battery while gaming (or in the case of desktops, the Xbox or Playstation, it couldn’t be used on the go at all). But they also get freedom to do what they want with their hardware. For example, unlike the Xbox Series X/S and Playstation 5, which do run AMD custom APUs like the Steam Deck, there is literally nothing stopping users from running a desktop-class operating system on your Steam Deck. In fact, there is a desktop mode inside of Steam OS that allows users to run a full-featured Linux desktop and even install more software inside of the main Steam OS interface.

Next, Valve, unlike pretty much every modern gaming console manufacturer, fully is in support of right to repair; they have partnered with iFixit to allow users to fix their Steam Decks themselves, and users can even replace the SSDs themselves for more storage! Cna you imagine Sony or Microsoft letting users do that to their hardware? I can’t.

Nintendo is also guilty of this above and much more. In fact, it seems like in many ways, they’re worse.

Let’s take a look at another point in the article which I disagree with.

Nintendo is Running Out of Steam

“The Steam Deck … still doesn’t make it any easier to have a local multiplayer gaming experience. Even when it comes to solo or online gaming, you’re at the behest of Proton working with the games that you want to play. For the most part, Proton will work, but nobody looks at a Nintendo Switch and its gaming library, hoping that the games will work.”

First of all, many multiplayer games either don’t exist or are severely degraded on the Switch. Why? Because every single model of the Nintendo Switch released and sold since 2017 has the same Nvidia Tegra ARM SoC. That isn’t a very powerful SoC, and in the past few years, we’ve seen countless example of games launching on the Switch in worse states than Microsoft’s and Sony’s consoles, games getting delayed to try to prevent this from happening on the Switch, and they launch with fewer features than other platforms or less graphical fidelity, such as with the recent launch of Hogwarts Legacy, which launched not only with lower graphics quality due to the old as dirt hardware, but also made the open-world not so open, again due to the hardware. The fact that the game does run acceptably on Switch is testament on how much had to be cut from the Switch port just to get it to work at all, and that’s really sad when even the Steam Deck can run the full open world just fine on around low to medium settings.

There are even several examples of Nintendo Switch ports either not happening or (like with Marvel’s Midnight Suns) getting canceled before release no matter how long the companies try to optimize the games because there’s simply not enough power on tap for the games to be playable even at 720p on the lowest graphical settings. This is also the reason why some games like Baldur’s Gate 3 or Cyberpunk 2077 will never come to the Switch; there’s no way they would run acceptably on such under-powered hardware.

Then there’s the fact that many third-party games that only 15 years ago would likely have been console exclusive are now coming to Steam too. For example, many indie games are now on PC in addition to Switch, and in many cases, day one on both platforms.

As for the Switch’s first-party library, that is a reason to buy a Switch, or is it?

“Speaking of that Switch game library, there’s one thing that Nintendo has that others never will, and that’s the iconic Nintendo library of games. Whether it’s MarioPokémonThe Legend of Zelda, or Animal Crossing, there are so many franchises that are exclusive to the Switch. These games are a massive draw to both casual and hardcore gamers and are often the priority for many who are figuring out what they want in a console.”

Yes, there are some good first-party games on the Switch. Games like Super Mario Odyssey, Super Mario Bros Wonder, Animal Crossing New Horizons, and The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild are good games on the Switch, but for every one of these good games, you’ve also good… Less than good games, like Paper Mario The Origami King, Pokémon Sword & Shield, and the many good but either other third-party games that are either also on PC or just don’t exist on the Switch for reasons mentioned earlier, like Cyberpunk 2077 and the massively acclaimed Baldur’s Gate 3, both of which would give the Switch a stroke if it tried to run the games at all, and classics like Stardew Valley and Undertale, both of which exist on other platforms and are (in my experience) better on those platforms.

And then there’s the abuse Nintendo inflicts on their fans, which you can find countless examples of. In fact, to this day, I cannot stand Nintendo and their “our way or f**k you” attitude towards fans. Valve doesn’t do that.

“The future of PC gaming handhelds is bright, and for enthusiasts, it’s no wonder they’re so popular, but the Switch isn’t going to be beaten anytime soon.”

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But Nintendo has their work cut out for them with the Switch 2. Valve will certainly be flying high with their new Steam Deck OLED, and as Valve continuously improves all of their Steam Decks with future updates and if Nintendo’s Switch 2 isn’t up to the standards the the OG Switch set, then I can see many third-party developers abandoning the Nintendo platform for Steam. And again Nintendo’s “our way or screw you” attitude isn’t helping them at all.

Then again, why should it? Is Nintendo that scared of competition, the thing that keeps consumers winning?

Source Article: https://www.xda-developers.com/pc-gaming-handhelds-niche-replace-switch/


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