Nintendo Switch: Non-Gaming Software Isn’t Detrimental To Games

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When it came to light that the Nintendo Switch won’t have a web browser on day one I imagine some people probably started asking if it even really needs one. It’s an issue that neatly separates more hardcore gamers from general users.

I’ll go ahead and admit I’ve very seldom used the web browsers on my game consoles, but I have used them. I have a phone with a web browser and I have a full-blown Windows PC hooked up to my television, so I have very little use for web browsers in say, my PlayStation or my Nintendo machine. That said, I can’t agree with people who complain about too much non-gaming software on game consoles.

I don’t think adding a web browser or streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu — which the Switch also won’t have at launch, hurts a machine’s ability to play video games. It’s all just more software. It’s not much different from adding more games to a system’s library, they’re just… not games. A platform’s software selection isn’t really a zero-sum situation.

The real issue though might how the Switch might stack up against more general-purpose portable devices like tablets. I’ve written before that the Switch’s biggest obstacle with audiences outside dedicated gamers is going to be the fact that it mainly just plays games. Gaming-only devices are losing the mainstream audience to devices they use every day that happen to play games. One might be able to argue this has been a missed opportunity for Sony’s and Nintendo’s portable gaming devices for more than a decade now.

People might not remember that the PSP actually had a lot of the iPhone’s main appeal points before the iPhone. Sony hyped up the mp3 player, it had a podcast subscription manager I used a lot, it could play digital videos in a limited range of formats, it could sore and display photos, and with some trickery you could even read books on it. I knew people who used its web browser quite a bit. The PSP was actually my main portable media device before I got an iPhone. Sony’s problem was it focused too much on those UMD discs and not enough on digital distribution until later in the PSP’s life cycle. The whole thing was a bit before its time.

Sony pushed things a bit more with the Vita, but I always wondered if Sony could have pushed it as a cheap tablet that could play more advanced games than other tablets. I still think it should have had an e-reader and some more utility apps, though I imagine Sony would never be able to get an app store like Android or iOS. The Switch may face the same questions about its potential.

Sure, the people who are there for Zelda on day one won’t have much use for that web browser or Netflix on the Switch, but that Wii audience Nintendo thinks it can get back might compare the Switch to other portable devices that do have a lot of non-gaming software.

I’m not saying the Switch could actually be a real killer in the portable computing market, but adding more software functionality might divert some customers to it and wouldn’t take anything away.

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