Nintendo has been having a momentous year following E3 2019 back in June. The company laid out an aggressive and exciting lineup of games during their E3 Direct, and with the announcement of the Nintendo Switch Lite and the upgraded Nintendo Switch console, Nintendo has laid down their ambitions for the remainder of the year. That ambition is to dramatically increase the install base in the lead up to the holiday season. The Japanese game company fully realizes that this is their year with Microsoft and Sony shifting their respective attention towards that 9th Generation of consoles due out Holiday 2020. As a result, this fall and holiday season are pivotal if Nintendo hopes to maintain the Switch’s success when the next generation consoles arrive.
Nintendo has gone above and beyond with its games lineup this year. Super Mario Maker 2, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Pokémon Sword and Shield are all out in 2019, and this does not include exclusives, third party titles, and indie games. Just recently, Obsidian confirmed that its expansive RPG title, The Outer Worlds, will be releasing on Switch. This announcement follows in the wake of the inevitable reveal of the Witcher 3 during the E3 Direct. There are many more titles such as Dragon Quest Builders 2, Astral Chain, and Dragon Quest XI S that are coming to the system and all of the games listed here are even more enticing with the portability aspect of Nintendo’s hybrid console.
Super Mario Maker 2 and Pokémon Sword and Shield are system sellers in their own right, and while each may not rival the first year launches of the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, each game accompanies an already staggering library. Nintendo has simply found the right balance of first party titles with third party releases, which was a major criticism of the company in the past. For all the excitement surrounding the Switch at the moment, there is a major storm looming in the not too distant future that could stymie the Switch’s success if Nintendo is not careful.
Nintendo has not been known for developing consoles that provides cutting edge graphics. Not since the Nintendo 64 has the company once been lauded for its graphical prowess. Instead, Nintendo has chosen to focus on the “fun factor” of its platform, and while that sounds all well and good, that can only get you so far. This departure from a directly competing with the other systems is no longer a viable strategy. There is an abundance of mediums for entertainment vying for our attention. Many consumers must choose and the idea of having two or even three game consoles is not always an option. Thankfully, the Nintendo Switch Lite is attempting to give that option in the form of a cheaper price at the expense of the hybrid feature choosing to focus solely on portability.
As of now, the Switch can barely handle intensive ports of current generation PS4 and Xbox One titles. The Witcher 3, which came out in 2015, looks to be the true test of the Switch’s hardware capabilities and points towards the need for further innovation on the current hardware. The trailer for the game looked significantly downgraded even though a solid frame rate could provide for an enjoyable experience.
Even though Nintendo must be concerned and are already planning a response with upgrading the Nintendo Switch’s capabilities, the company is clearly focused on bringing together the Nintendo 3DS’s already large player base over to the Nintendo Switch. In particular, the arrival of Fire Emblem Three Houses and Pokémon Sword and Shield are representative of this convergence. Pokémon has only ever had its main line titles on Nintendo’s handheld systems. Yes, the Let’s Go games released in 2018 for the Switch, but did little to pull the series’ most ardent supporters over to the platform. Instead, the newest generation of the Pokémon franchise is expected to do so. Fire Emblem, while a huge franchise in Japan, never found solid footing in the West until the release of Fire Emblem: Awakening on the 3DS. Since then the support for the franchise had grown exponentially, and its movement to the Switch is the culmination of Nintendo’s efforts to bring the storied franchise into the mainstream.
As seen in the past, Nintendo can only rely so much on first party titles, which the company is not lacking in terms of unique IPs. The emphasis on third party support is what ultimately aids in keeping a console afloat as first party projects remain in development. In this category, Nintendo’s time might be running out. Right now, many third party publishers are able to put some extra focus on Switch ports while the next generation home consoles await their release, but once they do these publishers’ priorities will shift. The rise of companies that specialize in ports like Panic Button might time prolongate that time frame. Ultimately, it will be increasingly difficult to port over titles, and even companies such as Bethesda, who have been at the forefront of Nintendo’s third party support, will have trouble bringing its games over.
Thankfully, with Nintendo’s recent quarterly results concerning hardware and software sales, the company has sold close to 37 million Switch units. That is an impressive install base in a market where more powerful consoles are increasingly becoming less expensive and more casual gamers prefer to game on mobile devices. Nintendo has afforded themselves the opportunity of patience in its approach to iterating on the Nintendo Switch. The company does not need to come out with a “Switch Pro” next year, although it wouldn’t be a surprise if it did, and can really focus on trying find that right balance as to not alienate third party developers with inferior hardware. The commercial success has allowed third party companies to continue to bring over titles that consumers might have thought would have been impossible.
For all these reasons, the fact that Nintendo should be expecting a profitable and exciting Fall 2019 is invigorating and reassuring to any one that might be questioning the Switch’s future. The addition of the Nintendo Switch Lite, while not offering anything particularly unique to the hardware’s lineup other than a decrease in price thanks to numerous concessions, will help attract strictly handheld gamers as well as younger audiences. The dramatically increased battery life to the base Nintendo Switch thanks to the upgraded Tegra chip does help the industry remain confident that Nintendo understands the need to keep improving the console.
Nintendo are in for the long haul with the wildly successful Switch. Regardless if the next Nintendo Switch is called the Switch Pro, Switch 2 or even the New Nintendo Switch, the company will improve the capabilities of its hardware. It will be unlikely that even future iterations would get anywhere close to the next generation offerings from Sony and Microsoft, but they might not need to worry if they can find that right combination of the odd third party port here and there, consistent indie releases, and their own first party titles. Even though the future may be filled with uncertainty, Nintendo has been able to show the industry that there is no need to be concerned.