Nintendo's Switch and Microsoft's Scorpio Quietly Herald a New Console Generation in 2017

2017 IN PREVIEW: New consoles from Microsoft and Nintendo highlight changing expectations for gamers.

Feature by Kat Bailey, .

The original Xbox was less than four years old when Microsoft formally unveiled its successor: the HD-capable Xbox 360.

By the standards of the time, it was a quick console transition, coming a full year earlier than usual. The Sega Genesis had made it six years before the Saturn and PlayStation came along in 1995, while the PlayStation had lasted five. There was much grumbling as Microsoft effectively pulled the plug on development for their inaugural console in order to promote the new Xbox 360.

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Fast-forward to 2017, and we're once again seeing an earlier-than-usual console transition. This time, though, Microsoft is being more subtle. Project Scorpio will be in many ways a brand new console, sporting native support for 4K displays and a much more powerful processor. But rather than replace the Xbox One, it will exist alongside it, with games developed for the Xbox One being compatible with Scorpio, and vice-versa.

It will fill much the same niche that PlayStation 4 Pro is now filling with the PlayStation 4, effectively copying Apple's Macbook strategy with light, standard, and power models. It's not a perfect comparison—the Xbox One S is actually superior to the original Xbox One, for example—but it offers some insight into Sony and Microsoft's approach going forward. In effect, they will be selling gaming laptops that can connect to your television.

The shift in strategy by Microsoft and Sony is an acknowledgment of both the constant churn of technology as well as the problem of diminishing returns. There's no question that PS4 games are more attractive than PS3 games, but we're a long way from the days when console transitions could actually wow you. That makes brand new consoles that require a new library a tough sell, especially with mobile and PC providing so much competition. The PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio are Sony and Microsoft's way of working around that little problem while ensuring that the current generation of consoles doesn't abruptly become stale.

As for the Nintendo, they're in the midst of a console transition of their own, though it's more traditional than the one offered by the PS4 Pro and Scorpio. The Nintendo Switch will be a brand new console that effectively consolidates Nintendo's handheld and console businesses into one machine. Following on from the disappointing Wii U, the Switch will be an important test of whether Nintendo can continue to compete in the current era of gaming.

With that, here's what to expect from each console:

Project Scorpio

We know precious little about Project Scorpio outside of the fact that it exists and that it will be more powerful than the original Xbox One. Microsoft is touting its "six teraflops of GPU power" and 60 hz rendering, and promising that it will be in "native, true 4K." While nothing has been announced, many observers have speculated that the Scorpio will be used as a platform for high-fidelity VR gaming. No word yet on pricing, but some are predicting that it will be $399. Ultimately, it should be similar to the PS4 Pro in that it will offer more attractive graphics and better load times for high-end users, though not necessarily better framerates.

PlayStation 4 Pro

The PS4 Pro launched last November and reportedly sold reasonably well, with Famitsu and GameSpot both reporting sizable jumps in PS4 sales after its release. It caught flak for not supporting 4k Blu-ray playback, as well for not being powerful enough to render many triple-A games in 4K, but it nevertheless received relatively positive reviews. At around 4.2 teraflops, it won't provide the graphical punch of the Scorpio, but it will nevertheless offer a nice upgrade over the standard PS4 going forward. First-party developers will most likely offer PS4 Pro-exclusive features, though third-party developers may be more circumspect. What will be really interesting to see is whether Sony pushes out a more powerful PlayStation VR to take advantage of the PS4 Pro. It may not be this year, but it could happen soon...

The Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch has generated a lot of positive buzz since its official reveal late last year. Even questions about graphical powerful haven't been enough to diminish interest in Nintendo's hybrid portable, which looks to match the best of the 3DS and the Wii U into a single unit. It's buoyed by the fact that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be coming out in its launch window, which should help to drive interest. Unlike the Wii U, which was hard to explain to lay-people, the Switch has a simple and compelling hook: It offers triple-A quality gaming at home or on the road. A strong reveal has generated early momentum for the Switch, but much will depend on whether it can secure enough games in the early going to avoid one of Nintendo's dreaded content gaps. We'll know a lot more when Nintendo formally reveals the Switch's release date, price, and launch lineup in a couple weeks.

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Each of these consoles will ultimately accomplish something different for their respective platform holders. For Sony, it will be an opportunity to jump on the 4K train and keep their momentum going through the end of the generation. For Microsoft, it will be an attempt to regain the technical edge over the PlayStation 4. And in the case of Nintendo, the Switch will simply be about staying relevant in a market that is more competitive than ever.

But in a larger sense, each console is an attempt to grapple with the rapidly changing gaming market—one in which, despite all the talk about teraflops, power is actually less important than ever. This isn't the beginning of a new era of annual console updates, but it does suggest that consoles will be more like PCs than ever before. You could say this is the culmination of the process that began when Microsoft essentially built the Xbox with off-the-shelf PC parts.

We'll see how it plays out, but it's fair to say that times are changing.

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Comments 13

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  • Avatar for thewonps #1 thewonps A year ago
    the faithful will show up in droves to snap up the switch just like they do everytime a new ninty console launches, so it'll be 1.5-2 years in before we know what impact it will have. as for the scorpio, it can only improve upon the ps4 pro's launch. gotta say tho, this is shaping up to be an extremely short and protracted console cycle indeed.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #2 Kat.Bailey A year ago
    @thewonps That sure wasn't the case with the Wii U
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  • Avatar for TerryTrowbridge #3 TerryTrowbridge A year ago
    I'm curious on how the Switch is going to exist in the family setting. If me and the kids want to play the next Pokemón game am I going to need more than one switch? Can I buy 1 dock and 2/3 handhelds?
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #4 jeffcorry A year ago
    I look forward to the Switch, but can't help feeling nervous about it. The Wii U was such a great little machine. I really enjoy it still, but I feel that there were so many missed opportunities. The Virtual Console was one of the major misses for me. It is sad when you have to travel back to the Wii Shop to find the best games for SNES.
    Despite that, I am hoping that Nintendo shows some forward thinking. I can't stand to think that they will continue their trickle of Virtual Console releases...even worse that they may start over and follow the almost same pattern of releases for Wii, Wii U, and 3DS. It is such an aggravating "roll-out" system. There are so many games that could be made available.
    Speaking of old games...PS4 and PS1 classics. One of the reasons it took me so long to adopt PS4 was the fact that the PS3 played more games. Especially for this retro-gamer.
    Regardless of popular opinions, being able to access a back library on a new system is a selling point for me. If the Switch handles this well...I'll be ready. Mix the old with the new. I like it all.Edited January 2017 by jeffcorry
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  • Avatar for thewonps #5 thewonps A year ago
    @Kat.Bailey i felt that it sold fairly well within its launch window but it became apparent as we rounded into Christmas 2013 and on that it wasn't reaching anyone else but the core diehard Nintendo crowd. i guess the million dollar question is, just how big is that core Nintendo audience at this point? will switch's concept be enough to shift units before zelda arrives with a presumed launch lineup of multiplats everyone already owns like nba2k and skyrim and rejiggered "1.5" versions of all the great first-party wii u games that no one played? and will zelda be enough to move units on its own? so many questions!
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  • Avatar for link6616 #6 link6616 A year ago
    @jeffcorry I'm still amazed Ps1 games aren't on ps4. (admittedly. I probably wouldn't buy any because of my vita...)
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  • Avatar for Vanderdulpp #7 Vanderdulpp A year ago
    I'm beyond excited for the Switch presentation on the 12th. Stoked to see more of Super Mario and the rumored additional levels in MK8. Honestly, a massive backlog of upgraded Wii U games that hardly anyone got to play would be so worth it- my biggest hope is that we see a DKC Returns HD collection in the launch window.
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  • Avatar for himuradrew #8 himuradrew A year ago
    I didn't feel anything for the Gamecube, Wii, WiiU but I most certainly am very excited for the Switch. I've never been this excited for a Nintendo console since the Super Famicom back then. Even with the confirmation that Yakuza 0 and P5 are not coming to the Switch hasn't dampened my excitement one bit.

    I'm mot buying a PS4 Pro (happy with my OG PS4) and there aren't enough reasons to pickup an XB Scorpio.
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  • Avatar for himuradrew #9 himuradrew A year ago
    Deleted January 2017 by himuradrew
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #10 SuperShinobi A year ago
    I'd point out that the current PSVR already takes advantage of the PS Pro's power. Many PSVR games are "PS Pro enhanced", meaning that they have significantly better visuals when played on the PS Pro. Robinson the Journey and PS VR Worlds are good examples.

    I hope there's going to be a PSVR 2.0 headset fairly soon. The current model is quite good for a Gen 1 model, but they could improve the field of view and resolution and make it lighter. And wireless, some day.

    For me a 4K HDR TV is increasingly looking like a must-have purchase and I'm now actively looking for one. 2017 games like Horizon, Days Gone, GT Sport and Forza 7 are going to be just phenomenal experiences with the new TVs.
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  • Avatar for Thusian #11 Thusian A year ago
    I think there are still some issues with enthusiast expectations on the Switch. I hear some that are talking like if its not a portable PS4 its a failure and well if that's the case I expect it to fail. What I see it as is a very competent handheld.

    The 3DS library was not connected to that of home consoles, and I see the Switch as more of a follow up to that. My hope is its library will be different, with games like Etrain Oddessy and Bravely Default with slightly higher production values. A place where if you don't want to make a bleeding edge game, but one that needs more classic input methods, you can go ahead and put it there. I expect a lot from when Ninendo can put both its portable and home teams on on platform will make even the periods when its just N putting out games more full. Just my feeling.
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  • Avatar for Thusian #12 Thusian A year ago
    @thewonps I feel like most of them just decided to go 3DS as the better bet for a Nintendo fix, especially after the price drop. This having elements of being a follow up to both U and 3DS (I don't care what PR says its the successor to both) If the price is right it could be huge.
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  • Avatar for Thusian #13 Thusian A year ago
    @TerryTrowbridge I have similar concerns, hell issues could rise up even if they have streetpass stuff.

    Honey, I'm going out

    Is that the switch?

    Yeah I was going to get some streatpasses

    Well I was going to play it

    We are at an impasse
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #14 LBD_Nytetrayn A year ago
    If the demand is there, I wonder how many Switches we'll see in the first few months. 200,000, maybe? 250,000 even?
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