The Nintendo Switch: On or Off?
"It's a me, Moneymaker!"
The Nintendo Switch (watch here) was just recently officially revealed, having previously gone by the project title NX, and with it the Internet was quite divided. Fans rave and stock prices plummet (ouch!). With a new console comes the chance for great new experiences and innovation but given Nintendo's history a lot of potential problems. So given the three minute or so trailer, Nintendo's current strategic position and the state the gaming industry is heading lets decide - Is the Nintendo Switch: On or Off? Also this will come across as anti-Nintendo. I never grew up with Nintendo (because they sucked at marketing in Australia) however I've greatly enjoyed the Wii, 3DS and Wii U. I want Nintendo to succeed as ultimately more competition just means we get better games, consoles and innovation. But yeah if you're a Nintendo fanboy, especially a vocal one, please take a few breaths and prepare to be Falcon-Punched in the nuts.
'Switch' the Name
It's dumb. Obviously something like a name is subjective however the name itself seems more like it is what would be known as a feature. Seriously did they just pull a Brick from Anchorman and just take the name of the first object that they saw? Now it is an improvement on the disaster that was the Wii U which led many consumers to believe it was just an extension of the Wii (and this was also due to poor marketing). Switch doesn't exact scream 'game console' to me, or I imagine anyone. Let's look at Nintendo's console history - Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Gameboy, Gamecube - these all easily symbolise they are a game console or at least connected to gaming. The Switch? That's something I turn on when it's getting a bit too dark in the room (also I don't want to claim ownership of this but what will they call it when they release the Lite version? The Lite Switch). Just uttering the name to any non-gamers or casual gamers will make you sound like an idiot. Plus if anyone says "it'll make a great tagline Nintendo cause use the phrase make the Switch" well yeah the thing about switches it they tend to go both ways. Which leads to...
You know there will be jokes about this name for years. Maybe we can forget about the Xbone now? Please.
Who is the Switch for?
The trailer showed a bunch of millenials using the Nintendo Switch at home and in places where they could be instead doing other fun stuff, like ya know, karting, because Nintendo totally understands the youth of today. Okay I get it - children weren't included because they don't really watch trailers especially for something coming out in five months. But then that brings up the question; who is this console for?
Let's knock this obvious segment out of the luigi park first of all - it's for hardcore Nintendo fans. You know the ones that praise Shigeru Miyamoto as a god and can do no wrong (ha Wii Music!). They're probably writing hateful comments right now about this blog post. But seriously who else aside for them is it for? Most 'casual' to 'hardcore' gamers would have a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One or both (or a PC but let's just focus on consoles okay?). What new stuff can the Nintendo Switch provide at this point in time? Sure there will be some awesome games made by Nintendo (How good was Splatoon!) but you could probably already buy the non-exclusive games on one of those two aforementioned systems. Is it really worth shelling out a few hundred dollars to spend on a system just so I can play it in the park outside for about three hours? Most people would say no. Speaking of price...
They don't even know who will buy it (aside me)
Admiteddly there are a lot of unknowns right now. Price would be a major issue, especially since it will be competing against two consoles that have already seen price drops. But there are also other factors like hard drive space (more on this later), graphical and processing specs, storage, battery life, weight etc. All of these are issues for consumers and Nintendo have openly spoken about not revealing any more information until 2017. Now understandably they are probably trying to make last minute improvements and finalise details but instead Nintendo have left themselves wide open for speculation, such as this blog article (which I'm sure is meta on some level). However we can assume where they will be focusing their efforts...
I said unknowns not unowns.
Nintendo focuses too much on Japan
Nintendo has always been pretty Japanese centric, which makes sense because it's a Japanese company (no duh). I have much love and respect for Japan but the whole gaming industry over there is clueless and making mistakes (hello Konami, Capcom, Square...). As a result Japan's power in the gaming industry has been sliding for some time now (don't worry China will probably have it soon enough) and it is important to focus more on the world environment than just your home turf. That makes sense right? That's why Nintendon't do that. Nintendo makes smaller consoles because the physical space in Japan is much less than here in the West (and is partially why the handhelds have always boomed... well except that one, but we don't talk about that). The Wii U was made in mind that most households in Japan have just a single TV, so they created the Wii U gamepad so the could continue to game in their bedroom. The streetpass features of the 3DS are almost pointless in the West unless you live in like a major city whereas in Japan with its high population density would make it more used. Nintendo has also followed a philosophy of using withered technology - with the benefits that it is cheaper and easier to maximise console potential, which works for handhelds and maybe for home consoles a few generations ago. But the Switch is a handheld console...
Nintendo executives as all their strategic planning meetings
The Switch is not a handheld console
Yes I know, I saw the trailer. Yes the Switch is capable of being taken to the park, or a basketball game or heck even your toilet (please don't). However there is a very high chance it will not replace Nintendo's handheld series. I really, really, really want to sit on my couch and play Pokemon (the proper games) on the big TV however chances are it won't happen - at least soon. With the rumours of a three hour battery life (and let's not get started on if those controllers are rechargable or need seperate batteries for each one) it is not that feasible as a portable console.
Much like with the Wii U the most common use of the portable Switch will be to take it to your bedroom for a couple of hours of playing before putting it back on the dock. Handhelds don't require a powerful system - the DS and 3DS are proof of this that (although PlayStation's PSP and Vita were specs-wise superior). In fact part of the success of Nintendo's handhelds is that people don't expect high visual fidelity, and that allows game developers to make games at a reduced cost. However if you put nearly any 3DS game onto the Switch people are going to be angry about how low quality it is. So then that leaves developers to either jump to just the mobile market (let's face it Sony, Vita is dead, well in the West at least) or to increase costs. Which leads to...
Don't worry kids, there will be a new one of these coming out. Probably 2018.
The Third Parties
Ah Nintendo and third parties - they go together just like peanut butter and jawbreakers. So with the Wii U, Nintendo didn't have much third party support, and this is in part because of how different it was to the competitors (PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One). With it's unique gimmi... er features (seriously don't make me blow on a gamepad again) developers couldn't simply port the games easily on the Wii U - you had to make it with the system in mind. Of course when the system wasn't popular or lacked the power of the Xbox One and PS4 it was quickly forgotten about from third party developers. Chances are the same will happen with the Switch.
Yes, Nintendo was very quick to list the developers currently working on titles for the Switch (which was a very good and very important move) however if the system doesn't see success then it will be forgotten soon. The Nintendo Wii was successful and popular (third best selling home console of all time!) which then saw a lot of third party support and they would make games especially for it (some were even surprisingly good like Dead Space; Extraction). But even if we go further back Nintendo has always had a poor relationship with third parties. Notice how they are all chums with Namco and Sega now (Bonus fact: Namco, Nintendo and Sega made an arcade system board together called the "Triforce", seriously).
However it wasn't always this way. Just check out how many games Namco made for the NES (49), then the SNES (9) and then the N64 (4). With the SNES in order to contain quality Nintendo restricted the amount of games publishers could release in a year (or they just made a secondary company to shovel their B-grade onto) and then when Sony's PlayStation was released in 1994 nearly all third parties jumped harder than Mario squashing on a Goomba. The PlayStation had a larger market, was easier to create games for and the discs allowed more storage and bigger games (wooo obligatory Final Fantasy VII reference). Except for a few exceptions the Nintendo 64 only had good games made (or published!) by Nintendo and Rare (who Nintendo chose to not made a bid for and was picked up by Microsoft *doh*). Since then Nintendo has really struggled with third parties... well unless they make a popular console (DS, Wii etc.) and then the third parties come to say hello. Although Nintendo can make some amazing games the success of the console hinges greatly on third parties and the software library available. Which leads to...
We'll probably see Final Fantasy VII Remake on it... well maybe just the first episode.
The Switch is coming out in 2017
The five-ish year cycle of home consoles was kind of broken with the seventh generation of consoles (Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3). The Wii, which launched in 2006, saw great sales (as mentioned before - third best selling home console to date) however by the time the Wii U came out it was seen as a relic and there was a large period of time where it was a ghost console (let's call this the 'Nintendo Gap'), especially since the PS3 and Xbox 360 game libraries had greatly grown and improved with the consoles had becoming more popular. This was in part due to them being specs-wise stronger and therefore having a longer system life (I have huge respect for the Wii - it bought new people into gaming and it knew what it wanted to do, and it did it well) but also because they added extra functionality (Kinect was alright, Move... yeah move outta the way more like it) but they had a strong online and digital presence (more on this later).
So between the Wii and the Wii U there was the Nintendo gap (which is currently being repeated by the Wii U and Switch *doh*) which cost sales and lets them lose consumers to a competitor. Nintendo is clearly finding it hard to transition from one generation to the next, they even struggled initially with the 3DS. So right now we have two major home consoles - the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, both which have great sale figures and fairly huge libraries. Plus PlayStation just recently launched the PS VR (should I get one?) and on the horizon there is the Scorpio and Pr... (Sorry PlayStation, you done goofed with the Pro) to try and fill in the void towards the end of a console generation when PC starts to become more appealing. So how can Nintendo possibly convince us, the consumers, to purchase a new console for a few hundred that will presumably have a much smaller games library? With great difficulty! However imagine if you could play Wii U games on it...
We wish we could time travel after the Switch is released. Also we need more Chrono games. It's not backwards compatible
Whaaaat?! Something that was kind of forgotten about the Wii U (which was due to the aforementioned Nintendo gap) is that it had a great library of past games. If you didn't play Super Mario Galaxy or Raving Rabbids you could on the Wii U! Plus with the Wii you could play old Gamecube games. Plus the 3DS could play DS games. If you've already made a monetary investment into a brand then it is in the brand's best interest to keep you in their chain. When old mate Phil Spencer (legend) announced backwards compatability for the Xbox One (not true backwards, just the ability to download and play selected xbox 360 and xbla games) it was met with great reception. It was very smart. Many consumers who didn't own an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 but did have a Xbox 360 would be swayed towards the Xbox One because it allowed you to play your old games on a modern system easily. Now at the moment Nintendo haven't gone into huge details about backwards compatability but it's safe to assume that your Wii U discs won't fit into the little GameCard slot (please don't try). There are also rumours that it won't be able to play 3DS games. However the big question is what will happen to all of your downloadable games and DLC? Nintendo could possibly allow you to play games that you have downloaded from the eshop (most likely not), however with the single screen experience (which was confirmed) a few games won't stand a chance (goodbye Nintendoland). There is also some speculation about whether the footage of Mario Kart and Splatoon shown were either sequels or future rereleased Switch upgrades. Personally I think Nintendo needs to made a HUGE effort to try and make it back up to the loyal Wii U players - rereleasing the same games they've bought previously is a bit of a sting and at the moment Nintendo should be concerned about maintaining loyalty. For example if I bought ten pieces of Smash Bros dlc and they offered a relative discount on a digital copy that could work. However this doesn't alleviate those that bought physical copies. Speaking of digital...
Goodbye to all that Mario Kart, Smash Bros and Hyrule Warriors DLC you bought. Sucker! (Side note: I accept donations of Mario puppets)
Nintendo sucks digitally
They have improved their eshop, in my opinion, since the Wii days however it is behind the Xbox One and a long way off the PlayStation network. Their sales and promotions are pretty weak (props to having their My Nintendo program, but it needs better integration) and overall they are lacking in the digital space. Plus don't even get me started with their dumb Youtube policies (in which they are deterring people from free advertising their games *doh*). I really must admit it was nice they include the allusion to a more esports scene in the trailer, and personally I think the Nintendo World Championships at E3 '15 were an amazing marketing piece that showed the spirit of Nintendo - Fun.
Although we haven't reached the pure digital age, yet, we are drawing ever closer to it and Nintendo just isn't ready. Not even close. They showed this last generation by the Wii U having severely small hard drives (which sure cuts costs but also deters people from making online purchases) such as with Xenoblade Chronicles which needed around 20gigs maximum, which far exceeds the 8gb basic model and is over half of the 32gig deluxe model. This also brings up another unknown of the Switch - hard drive space - will Nintendo repeat their mistake and go for something small?
Probably yes, unfortunately. While we are talking about hardware...
Just picture that says "Nintendo Eshop". You can't because it's too unrealistic.
It's a tablet with controllers
Let's not beat around the mushroom here. It's a tablet with controllers. Like cool controllers that can attach and be used sideways and stuff, but still it's a tablet. You know what else is a tablet? A tablet. You know who else owns a tablet? A lot of the consumers Nintendo are trying to sell their Nintendo tablet to. Let's picture this, a child walks into a store and tells their parent (who chances are have no clue what a Nintendo is these days) they want a Nintendo Switch. They pick up the box. Here's how the conversation goes down... "it's a tablet Jimmy, you already got one of those, you play Minecraft on it all day. Let's buy one of these things (PlayStation 4) that looks like a console that plugs into your TV". Like we haven't seen the packaging yet but they are going to have to work really, really, really hard to convince people (regular people, not you or I who read gaming blogs) to buy their tab... console.
It's not even that much of an innovation, China has already made a console with a lot of similarities to the Nintendo Switch (wait... isn't that normally the other way round?) and really there is nothing stopping Valve and their Steam juggernaut from releasing their own version of the Switch. At best Nintendo only have a bit of a head start in Japan and the West before a lot of other tech companies move into the future of gaming.
Nintendo Switch: Comes with floor co-op. Nintendovation!
The future of gaming: Consoles are dead
Predicting the future of gaming can be pretty tricky. After finishing Final Fantasy X I never thought to myself "wow what a great story, characters, music and graphics. I wish in the future they take that all away and make a game where I make houses out of square dirt and punch trees" and here we are with the cultural phenonemon that is Minecraft. What we can assume is that there is a great possibility that physical consoles as we know it will be over, perhaps in as little as five years. PlayStation has titles that can be bought and played on both the PS4 (or PS3) and Vita. Plus the Vita has remote-play connection to a PlayStation 4. Microsoft at the recent E3 2016 revealed their efforts to be able to buy titles for both Xbox and PC and play on either with cross save support etc. . Plus with the core spirit ideology of the Switch it's pretty clear we are coming nearer to a time when we will be able to play our games on almost anything or everywhere (seriously don't game on the toilet). This will have a massive shift in the way games are created, played, sold and marketed. We've seen PlayStation have their rental service (not available in Aus, boo) with PS Now and they have acquired Gaikai, a streaming service. EA has their EA Access service available on Xbox One with a yearly subscription model and Ubisoft are trying to do something with UPlay. Meanwhile Square Enix is trying to get all friendly with the indies (go rewatch their 2015 E3 presentation with the mindset they are advertising to indie developers not gamers). Ultimately all these companies will transition into providing services, much in the same vein as Netflix, Crunchyroll etc. which will shift a great deal of power and control back to the publishers - something they miss greatly. Then again Valve could just make their own tablet and curb stomp everyone (Edit: I've been informed that with the way chipsets work that it's not that easy or likely short term from Valve, still they could do something in the 'play anywhere' realm) or China could shake up the whole game. Either way all these companies are doing something while Nintendon't seem to be doing much. Most likely Nintendo will combine with Sega and Namco to become their own powerhouse service with their focus on classic and arcade games and finally the console wars will end. Then it's time to overthrow that PC master race!
And then we can start fighting about the game services we subscribe to. Written by Kaydos.
He still resents Target for selling the Gold Mario Amiibo online 7 minutes too early and him missing out. If you like amateur game design stuff check out his Youtube channel Game Mage or if you want to talk video game marketing hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org