2016 was a year of uncertainty and concern for Nintendo. The Nintendo Wii U had failed in meeting sales expectations, but was predominantly considered a critical success. The Wii U represented what many saw as a final nail in the coffin for Nintendo has a home console maker. After the massive success of the Nintendo Wii, a failure to the extent of the Wii U would be hard to bounce back from. However, behind the scenes, Nintendo continued to plug away at their next iteration in the home console market. They knew that their next console had to be a success. The company could no longer rely on the success of the aging Nintendo 3DS. With skepticism and anticipation abound in the lead up to the announcement of the rumored Nintendo NX, on October 20, 2016 Nintendo finally lifted the curtain on what they had been working so diligently on, the Nintendo Switch.
A Jack of All Trades?
Once the world finally got the opportunity to diligently analyze the newly announced hybrid console, fans and journalists alike were left with both excitement and trepidation. Excitement in the fact that this Switch offered a novel approach to gaming. It’s hybrid nature finally attempted to truly meld the handheld market and the home console market in one device. Trepidation in the fact that this console would have a difficult time competing with the Xbox One and the successful PlayStation 4. With the recent increase in mobile gaming was there really any desire for a gaming console that offered portability? After all, the Nintendo 3DS was a successful portable system for Nintendo, but was beginning to show limits in the hardware’s capability. Mobile devices were also becoming more advanced and offered similar if not better graphical fidelity than the 3DS. The only difference was in IPs.
Nintendo has never truly mastered the home console market. Besides its first two systems the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the Japanese company never truly found commercial success. Yes the Nintendo Wii was its bestselling console of all time, but that system’s selling point was a novelty, which its competitors later tried to cash in on. The Wii was not a bad system at all, and it provided Nintendo the financial flexibility to pursue other interests. It is the success of the Wii that enabled the company to devote such resources to developing the Switch and endure hardships along the way. During the Nintendo Switch Presentation in January, the company acknowledged all of the inspirations and ideas from its previous consoles that led them to develop the Nintendo Switch. It was a passion of love by the company. It wanted to bring true gaming back to the masses, but also bring back its older fans who may have left their hobby of video games behind. Nintendo also hoped to entice the younger audience but did so with a foolproof and effective way.
Marketing Stroke of Genius
The first scene from the reveal trailer presented the audience with immediate insight into Nintendo’s marketing strategy. It was not a scene of a young child playing with his Switch amongst family members, which was done all too often during the previous generation. Rather, the opening scene was of an adult, probably in his late twenties, playing The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild. His dog alerted him of his responsibilities, but fear not because the Switch is a hybrid console. The man did not have to stop playing his Switch, he simply had to take it with him.
This bried opening scene presented a clear direction for how Nintendo wanted to approach this generation. It actually tapped into a common and sometimes under appreciated psychological trick. Nintendo did not need to devote all of its attention to marketing towards a younger audience because the older generations would naturally do it for them. Kids love to do whatever the older ones are doing. If a child saw an adult playing with a Nintendo Switch, they would naturally want to join in on the fun. This has happened to me on many occasions, much to the chagrin of their parents.
Nintendo quite frankly missed the mark with its marketing strategy for the Wii U. Why would an adult, who is not solely devoted to Nintendo, want to purchase a system that they see being used by children in the commercials? The natural thought would be that this product must be for a child, it is just not for me. With just one marketing move Nintendo isolated a large portion of its intended audience. They did not need to worry so much with the Wii since that system practically sold itself through word of mouth. The novelty of motion controls was innovative during its time and everyone wanted to try it out. The Wii U on the other hand failed to signify what made it different from its predecessor.
Instead of focusing solely on what Nintendo was unable to accomplish with the Wii U, it would be better to turn the attention towards how brilliant it approached its marketing for the Switch. The name itself, while not exactly an inventive name for a console, did something that it so desperately needed to convey. The name told its customers exactly what it was. Yes, it was clearly a video game console, but it was one that you could “switch” into different configurations to match your lifestyle. If you were someone who traveled often and never found yourself drawn to the Nintendo 3DS, then the Switch would provide you with the home console experience with some minor graphical sacrifices. It created a culture of sorts, which followed the trend in other technological fields. Our technology should be fitting into our daily lives not the other way around, and the Nintendo Switch extended this trend into the world of video games.
Take Your Pick
The Nintendo Switch did not have the most extensive of launch titles, but it did have the ace in hole. Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild will go down in history as perhaps the best launch title of any console. It also just so happens to be one of the best video games of all time. The first year included mainstay titles such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, Super Mario Odyssey, Arms, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. There was something for everyone within the first year. Nintendo made sure that there was a big game release for each month lending itself to guarentee that the install base would continue to grow.
Third party support quickly jumped on board with Bethesda, Ubisoft, and Capcom bringing titles by the end of the year. Bethesda released Skyrim and Doom, with Doom being a surprise announcement. Ubisoft worked alongside Nintendo to bring a third party game which featured first party characters. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle so elegantly blended the mechanics of XCOM with the light hearted nature of the Mario IP. Capcom released Ultimate Street Fighter 2 within the first few months of launch. Other third party developers quickly jumped on board with either announcements of future titles or quick releases of ports from the other consoles. Sports franchises were also brought onto the Switch, and for the most part, were not scaled down versions of their counterparts. NBA 2K18, while taking up the largest amount of storage from any game on the Nintendo EShop, was a marvel in its ability to scale so well to the Switch’s limited hardware.
It would be remiss of me to not highlight how important indie support was in filling gaps in bigger titles releases. The support given by indie developers as well as Nintendo itself brought success for all involved. Indie titles have sold remarkably well on the Switch, and in some cases has even outsold the other consoles combined. Highlight games included Stardew Valley, Golf Story, Steamworld Dig 2, and Overcooked among many others. There was really no better place to experience the creativity of indie games than on the Switch. Yet looking ahead to 2018, there was some trepidation as to how Nintendo could continue there astounding first year.
Taking a Step Back?
The beginning of year two for the Nintendo Switch started off with a great deal of excitement thanks to the announcement that a brand new iteration of Super Smash Bros. would be making its way to the platform. This announcement alongside more information about Kirby Star Allies and Mario Tennis Aces were included in the January Nintendo Direct. Later in the spring, Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee were announced with a subsequent release later in the year. Nintendo Labo was released which targeted its younger players and presented a unique project for the company to test out other products not offered by its competitors. However, something felt different about the games that would be released in 2018.
It would have been a difficult endeavor for Nintendo to recreate the unbelievable first year. Kirby Star Allies was received as a charming game in its own right but was shorter and easier than desired. Mario Tennis Aces was also considered a good game, but as a niche IP, it would never have appealed to the entire install base. Nintendo leaned heavily on third party and indie support, and for the most part these games did not disappoint. Square Enix developed a new IP exclusive for the Nintendo Switch, Octopath Traveler, which was a commercial success. Celeste, Dark Souls, and Dead Cells also released to bolster its EShop library. There were countless other quality games released during the year.
Ports from the Wii U had a renaissance on the Switch. Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze and New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe amongst others found a great deal of success on the new console. It was not the bravest move by Nintendo, but it was the smartest. This move filled the gap in slow months of releases and introduced quality games to an audience whom many did not play on the Wii U. However, as the Switch gets older and the amount of Wii U games that could be ported decrease, there becomes an increased emphasis on newer games.
Nintendo released the much anticipated Nintendo Switch Online, but was received with mixed results. The service was offered with a relatively cheap price tag compared to online services offered by Microsoft and Sony. Yet, the service did little in the way of incentives besides now forcing its users to subscribe to play games online. Nintendo had announced from the onset that it would be introducing an online service, but the constant delays and lackluster content with release only soured its reception. Nintendo Entertainment System Nintendo Switch Online offered games that had been included in the popular NES Classic. This accompanied with the poor online experience associated with its biggest online games, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, led to a disappointment for Nintendo with the amount of players subscribing to the service on a yearly basis. Nintendo addressed the need to further incentivize players to subscribe to the service, but has yet to detail how they plan to do so. It would be nice to see Nintendo perhaps offer free themes as part of its service or special discounts on games beyond the traditional sales. These small inclusions can aid in building a more robust service.
So did Nintendo take a step back in its second year? No, they certainly did not. While Nintendo may not have had a year as incredible as 2017 in terms of releases, the games the Japanese company did release were heavy hitters. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and a Pokémon game would make for a good year of sales for any Nintendo system. Nintendo may not have gotten all of its decisions right, particularly its online service, but the company has continued to see amazing sales numbers for both the Switch and its software. The strides the company is making now in sales will only help the company in the years to come to take more bold and inventive decisions. Nintendo continues to stick to its marketing strategy of targeting an older audience, and the decision to start the Nintendo Power Podcast further enhances its relationship with its customers.
A Bright Future Lays Ahead
As the Nintendo Switch enters into its third year, the momentum has failed to stall. While Nintendo had to adjust its sales figures for the Switch, it has sold 32.27 million units as of December 31, 2018. It is the fastest selling console of all time in the United States. As the Nintendo 3DS continues its fade into the history books, Nintendo will be able put all of its focus into development for the Switch. However, Nintendo still has some very important decisions to make in the next few years.
One primary concern is the next generation of consoles from Microsoft and Sony, which are expected to be released by the end of 2020. There is a strong need for Nintendo to rapidly continue to expand its install base before those consoles are announced. This need arises from the fact that there will be a bigger gap in technical requirements. Third party developers need to know that the investment in either porting games, developing a new game that can also run on the Switch, or creating unique software for the Switch will result in financial success. The Switch already has difficulty in being able to handle current generation software. That does not mean that it can not handle some games, but as the graphical leap is certain for the next generation, developers will be wanting to put more resources toward developing for newer consoles. This could result in a decline in third party support for the console regardless of its success.
This leads to a second need for Nintendo, hardware revisions. Arguably, Nintendo should develop two additional products in the coming years, which could see one of those new products replace the current Switch model. A Switch that will fill the gap that the 3DS will be leaving behind could help alleviate hesitancy from parents spending $300 for a young child. Nintendo could accomplish this through either a price cut for the current model of the Switch, or developing a new cheaper console.
The other console revision would be the so called “Switch Pro”, which would see the Switch beef up its internal hardware to better handle more intensive games. Some have discussed Nintendo increasing the Switch handheld screen to 1080p, but this does not make much sense. The current 720p screen is more than enough with the current screen size, a better display would demand a stronger battery. If the company were to increase the internals as well this could make for a pricey upgrade. If Nintendo could not get current and new customers to purchase the Switch Pro, then there would be little reason for a third party developer to port games knowing that only a select few would be able to handle it. Perhaps latter down the line this could be an option, but it is unwise if done within the next couple of years.
Nintendo should be firmly focused on providing the best games it can while keeping third party developers on board. Nintendo will begin to start increasing bundle options, which has been seen by its recent bundle of an included $35 EShop card for $299. Nintendo will be releasing games such as Luigi’s Mansion 3, Link’s Awakening, and a Pokémon Shield and Pokémon Sword. These first/second party games accompanied with third party ports such as Dragon Quest XI Echoes of an Elusive Age and Doom Eternal will make for a full year for the Switch.
Nintendo will also be expanding its relationship with Xbox over the coming year with Xbox Live and even Xbox Game Pass rumored to make its way to the Switch. Xbox Game Pass would be very interesting if it represents Microsofts attempt to showcase its cloud computing. Clearly the Switch could not handle Halo 5, Forza Horizon 4, or Gears of War, but if this was done through streaming then it could be successful. Nintendo should not be worried about competing against Microsoft and Sony, so why not work with them when it is prudent? This potential strategy is bold from both companies, but could create a future that sees each one benefit.
Nintendo could not be in a better position heading into its third year. There are concerns and issues that Nintendo needs to address. It’s hardware issues and the rise in failing joy cons, which I personally have experienced from my launch system, are unacceptable from a young console. It’s mediocre online service is also an issue. However, even these issues will be unlikely to halt the Switch’s momentum. The company has built an identity for the Switch, and this identity fits into our societies current lifestyle. We are now no longer tied to our TVs. We can take our movies and shows with us anywhere with no sacrifice. Nintendo has found a way to do the same with our video games with very little compromise. What Nintendo has done with the Switch is reinvented the way we enjoy our video games. The Switch is not a novelty like the Wii, but instead addresses a need in the market to make the hobby we love fit seamlessly into our daily lives.
One thought on “A Two Year Retrospective on the Nintendo Switch”
Fanastic retrospective to on the Switch’s three year unstoppable momentum. This article brings a much needed insightful and thought-provoking review and analysis especially regarding marketing approach, indie title success, and console revisions within the larger context of the new life of gaming in our changing society. Awesome writing.