The Nintendo Switch is officially a half-year old. Despite launching in the Spring (completely opposite of the usual winter/holiday release strategy) and sporting a very unorthodox hybrid design, the system has been a smash hit. Both gamers and non-gamers are happy with the Switch and it’s been finding success worldwide. While it’s great to see Nintendo back in action, the question still remains—will this be a long-term success or a flash in the pan?
Nintendo has been in the console race since the 80s. It basically saved the gaming industry after the infamous ‘Atari Crash’. The Big N spent a good amount of time as the industry leader before Sony swooped in with the PlayStation, which has been leading the charge ever since.
The company had a renaissance when it launched the original Wii in 2006. The little white system became a worldwide phenomenon and totally blew past the sales of its competitors. To date, it’s Nintendo’s most successful home console and one of the best selling game systems ever. Despite the Wii’s impressive sales performance, it wasn’t a total home-run for Nintendo. The consumers who made the Wii so popular faded away by the time the Wii U came around. In a way, the Wii’s success was false.
That’s my main motivation for writing this article. The Wii was a huge deal for a few years, but its popularity evaporated towards the end of its life. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to doom the Switch. But, I do see this as being a matter of concern.
The Wii was a massive hit, but its following diminished over the years. Can the Switch avoid a similar outcome?
Right now, the Switch is enjoying a lot of time in the limelight for a similar reason the Wii did—it’s different. People were enamored with the Wii’s motion controls. Not to mention so many of its titles were family-friendly. As a result, the Wii invited people of all kinds to pick up a controller and start playing. I’m not sure why this never stuck with people, but I guess there’s a reason why the majority of the Wii’s user base was referred to as being ‘casual’ gamers. These are people who typically just see games as being nothing more than fun distractions, so the thought of hanging on for the long-term isn’t really there. This can’t happen with the Switch.
So far, the Switch seems to be doing a good job at establishing a user base with a solid variety. By that I mean that there appears to be a decent mixture of core and casual gamers. If this continues to be the case and the casual gamers fall way again, there will hopefully be a solid community that’s still sticking around for the long haul. During the Wii days, Nintendo put a lot of effort into pandering to the casual crowd with incredibly simplistic games. So far, that hasn’t really been happening with the Switch. Take away games like 1-2 Switch, Just Dance and Snipperclips and you’re left with a growing library of full console quality experiences from first and third-party studios along with valiant indie developers.
Another solid improvement from the Wii is that the Switch is a multi-functional console. While it shares its senior predecessors’ trait of having lack of horsepower compared to the competition, the Switch is still a capable machine. Unlike the Wii and even Wii U, the Switch has the power to support modern-day engines. Many developers have beamed over how easy the system is to work with. To top it off, Nintendo has made sure not to overstep the boundary between ‘unique’ and ‘traditional’. The Wii was all about being unique, straight down to its unorthodox control scheme. This made things rather complicated for some developers because they had to make their games specifically with the system’s ‘different’ design in mind. While the Switch is a hybrid, it still has the DNA of a home system. That even applies to the Joy-Con controllers; while similar to the Wii Remotes, they still offer a ‘traditional’ control scheme which makes things simple for developers.
Unlike the Wii, the Switch’s unique design doesn’t get in the way of developers. This should definitely help it in the long run.
The main point is, unlike the Wii, the Switch has what it takes to appeal to just about anyone. A lot of people were put off by the simplistic and ‘kiddie’ nature of the Wii. That’s not present with the Switch. Nintendo has found a way to set itself apart from the competition while still targeting a similar demographic as those other systems. The biggest problem that faces the Switch is that Sony and Microsoft are continuing to push the envelope in the graphics department with the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. While these systems are still being accompanied by their ‘standard’ counterparts, developers may eventually decide that it’s necessary to tap into the extra power of these systems exclusively. That would, of course, leave the Switch behind. But, that’s just a scenario.
As a hybrid system, the Switch fills the role of both a home and handheld console. No system has ever been able to pull this off completely like the Switch is doing right now. This functionality is a big benefit to gamers with busy schedules as well folks who prefer handhelds over home consoles. This gives the Switch some potential long-term momentum since its unique functionality is a continuous plus to consumers on top of not being an obstacle for developers. The only thing I worry about with it is that people just may stop being interested.
I recently wrote an article with the main point being that the Switch is only selling because it’s a hybrid system: It probably wouldn’t have made a big hit if it were a ‘traditional’ system. Nintendo needs to make sure that it establishes the Switch as a solid platform and not just a one-trick pony. In addition to providing solid releases, the Switch also needs to be bolstered with a feature-set that’s similar to the competing systems (proper social functionality, entertainment options, etc.) The company also needs to make sure that the upcoming premium Switch Online service is good enough to stand up to the already well established Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. All of this is a lot easier said than done, but Nintendo already has a solid foundation.
Nintendo seems to be very confident with its handling of the Switch. While there was doubt as to how successful it would be initially, a lot of effort was still put into making sure that the system made a grand entrance. Nintendo has done a great job so far at keeping the momentum rolling, but it can never grow complacent. As evidenced by the Wii U, the Big N can come tumbling down despite the grandeur surrounding its reputation. Now, more than ever, Nintendo needs to make as many good decisions as possible. If the Switch fizzles out prematurely, I’m not sure what the future will hold for the company.