Nintendo’s Bid for Mindshare: The State of the Switch

           Nintendo had a monumental challenge on its hands with the launch of the Nintendo Switch, its new crossover handheld/home console, when it released on March 3rd. Nintendo had to prove that it could appeal to a general market while still re-capturing its target audience.

Core gamers have moved over to the stronger and sleeker Sony Playstation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and gaming PCs. With the advent of mobile games, casual gamers have slowed the purchases of dedicated handheld consoles like the Nintendo 3DS and Sony Playstation Vita.

           Two major questions linger around the legacy of the Nintendo Switch. Can the Switch revitalize a Nintendo struggling to find an identity, and what can Nintendo do to build the third-party relationships to drive engagement?

           The Switch’s success out of the gate is undeniable.  In a press release, Reggie Fils-Aime, President of Nintendo of America reported sales of over 906,000 Switches. Making it the fastest selling Nintendo console ever. Nintendo’s gamble of holding The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as a Nintendo Switch launch title paid off massively. In that same report from Reggie Fils-Aime, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sold over 925,000 retail units an unprecedented attach rate of over 100%. This goes to show how powerful that decision was for Nintendo.

So how will Nintendo maintain that momentum?

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Unlike most games promises, you can go to any of these places.
During the press conference officially unveiling the Switch, they made a strong case from their first-party studios. The usual suspects of Legend of Zelda, Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Odyssey were all shown off (and did look great), but they also showcased some third-party projects from studios like Monolithsoft’s Xenoblade Chronicles 2, 2k Games’ NBA 2K18 and Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei 5.

           Nintendo followed up the event several weeks later with what they’ve affectionately referred to as their “Nindie” (independent games for Nintendo Switch) event. Sensing the hesitation at the number of confirmed releases for 2017, Nintendo stepped forward and showed their interest in bringing the fast growing indie scene to their console. Major announcements like Yacht Club Games’ retro platformer Shovel Knight, Chucklefish’s charming farm-sim Stardew Valley, and classic-styled 3D platformer Yooka-Laylee from Playtonic Games.

Where does Nintendo go from here? We could learn more during the E3 conference, but until then we are left to infer potential success from their previous consoles.

First party titles have formed the backbone of Nintendo’s success ever since the Super Nintendo. The Nintendo 64 and Gamecube saw the departure of large franchises and developers to other consoles. Final Fantasy left Nintendo and made a huge mark on the Playstation, and developers like Konami went on to have huge success with other platforms.

In the absence of these franchises and developers, Nintendo relied on it’s first party studios to keep interest in their hardware. The issue of course is one developer cannot keep the pace of the numerous developers. Nintendo needs a steady stream of fresh ideas to compliment their strong first party line up. Mario, Link and Samus alone are not enough to feed a group hungry for more content.

The power of the Nintendo Switch is also going to be a small roadblock when it comes to attracting third-parties to their console. Hardware power has never been the single point that determines success but it does play a role. Porting between consoles has been a relatively easy process for some time. You could still release a third party game on both consoles without too much extra work. For Nintendo, however, you have so much more than graphics to take into consideration. Nintendo’s special Joy-Con controller and ability to play on the go create roadblocks forcing developers to make hard decisions whether or not to port a game over.

           The “Nindies” program Nintendo rolled out will prove to be a significant boon for the console. By targeting and helping fund strong indie titles Nintendo can secure some strong talent to their roster of exclusives.

While not as influential as the next Call of Duty, the Playstation Vita and Playstation 4 have found a great deal of success making key deals to bring these games to the console either first or exclusively. There’s no denying the appeal of having an experience like 2016’s The Witness from Thekla Inc or the conversation that broke out thanks to Playdead’s Inside. Nintendo needs to keep a lookout for a potential breakout success that could provide a great asset to the console.

           Nintendo needs to make major moves to take a seat at the table. They could drive sales by making the Switch their home for both in-home and handheld games. Nintendo has been walking a tightrope ever since the reveal of the Switch, claiming that the Switch is not a replacement for the portable-only Nintendo 3DS. For Nintendo, it’s time to let the 3DS go. With their new focus on mobile titles in the vein of Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes, Nintendo can continue to have that handheld presence on the millions of mobile phones across the world. This would be an opportunity to unify their presence on one device.

Image Credit: Nintendo
           Bringing the titles that were planned to be exclusive to the handheld would be an incredible boon for Nintendo. Having one console where you can get Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda and the newest Pokemon games will drive sales for the Switch. With higher adoption comes more opportunities from third-parties who are seeing a surging Nintendo platform on the market.

Nintendo is in a unique position to capitalize on people’s nostalgia. Look at the madness that was and continues to be with the NES Classic, Nintendo’s throwback console. And I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve paid hard earned money on Earthbound across various Nintendo platforms!
No need for an NES Classic when you can buy a new Nintendo Switch and have access to not only those games, but hundreds more via their Virtual Console. This is a prime opportunity for Nintendo to continue to expand their presence and re-enter the public conscious.

           The final piece Nintendo needs to really double down on is itself. Sony, at the advent of the Playstation 4, made a bold statement that didn’t make much sense at the time: “This is a console by gamers for gamers.”

           They built and marketed a console that didn’t have too many fancy features. It didn’t help you watch television or get you off your couch and into shape. It simply played video games and ultimately gamers identified with that and it showed. Sony’s Playstation has been a success since the console’s release. If Nintendo can stay focused with its own first party titles (which in my opinion are among the best in all of gaming), and keep them coming at a regular pace then they will have success.

           Nintendo has a long road ahead to regain that past glory, especially given the competition; but it’s not insurmountable. Nintendo has the assets and the tools to continue being a relevant force in the hardware race. Everybody knows the face of that pudgy Italian plumber and that star power can and will continue to drive the Nintendo Switch. If Nintendo can continue to play its cards right. Who knows, maybe they won’t need to release an updated Power Glove, despite “how bad” it makes you look.

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