The Nintendo Switch: What It Needs To Succeed
The future of Nintendo is here, will it be a success or a failure?
For more than a year and a half, analysts and fans were left to speculate about the nature of Nintendo’s mysterious new hardware. Rumors spread across the internet like wildfire. Many hypothesized that the next Nintendo machine would be a hybrid device that blended the handheld and console space. Despite the massive amount of rumors that sprung up, Nintendo remained silent on the subject for an extremely long time.
On October 20th, Nintendo open the flood gates by posting a 3 minute video that introduced their newest hardware: The Nintendo Switch. In their video, Nintendo revealed that some of the rumors were true. The Switch was a device that was designed to bridge the gap between the handheld and the home console space. The main part of the device is a tablet like device seen above, which is attached to two “Joy Con” controllers which have buttons and analog sticks. The device can be played “on the go” with the tablet, or docked and plated on a TV. Nintendo promoted their product as a new way to play, combining “the mobility of a handheld” with the “power of a home gaming system” (Nintendo Official).
With the reveal of The Nintendo Switch, new discussions have sprung up across the internet: is this a good direction for Nintendo to take, what are specs of the console, what additional features will it have, and most importantly, what will it take for the Nintendo Switch to succeed? Here are 7 key areas that could make or break the Nintendo Switch.
7. Battery Life
Despite the many intriguing details that Nintendo revealed about the Switch, the company has yet to reveal information about one of the most important questions: how long will battery life per charge be? As a high-powered console/handheld hybrid, the battery life of the Switch will be critical to its success. Regardless of the sophistication or power of the Switch, if its battery life is poor, than it could handicap the console. The Wii-u suffered from a poor battery life, which lead some gamers to play with the GamePad almost continuously plugged in and charging or to buy a more powerful battery from Nintendo. With the Switch being an even more powerful device than the Wii-U, the battery life of the hybrid will be a HUGE factor that could contribute to its success or failure.
Recent rumors have emerged that suggested that the console could have “a maximum battery life of three hours” per charge (Dale). If this is the case, it could be a serious roadblock to the device’s success. Three hours is enough for a bus ride or train ride, but if you are playing the system on the go a lot, then three hours is not that long. If the Switch is able to reach a more stable battery life of 4-5 hours per charge than taking it on the go would be much easier. Being tethered to a wall outlet or running out of battery in the middle of a play sessions are issues that could harm the Switch. For better or worse, the Wii-U was never meant to be a device you took on the go, so the issues related to the battery life were frustrating, but not a deal breaker for the machine. However, if the Switch has similar battery life issues, then it could be a deal breaker. If it is reported that the Switch has a poor battery life, then these reports would handicap Nintendo’s messaging marketing campaign, focused on taking your games “on the go”. If the Nintendo Switch is being advertised as a console you can take “on the go” then it needs to be able to deliver on this promise.
6. Third Party Support
Third party support remains a huge issues for Nintendo. For anyone who is not familiar, a third party developer is a a hardware or software developer independent of the primary product or platform (Xbox One, PS4, Wii-U, etc…) that the consumer is using. Primary examples of third parties include EA, Activision, and Ubisoft. Some people argue Nintendo doesn’t need third party support, others say it is a must. Make no mistake, Nintendo needs it. In the image above, you can see a host of third parties have pledged to support the Switch, but only time will tell if these developers actually make good with this promise.
One of the main issues that the Wii-U faced was the lack of titles coming to the gaming system. Sure, Nintendo’s first party line-up served up some amazing gaming experiences but the droughts between the releases were often excruciatingly long. This continued to be an issue throughout the Wii-U’s life cycle and was often exacerbated by delays in Nintendo titles. For example, Star Fox Zero slipped from a November 2015 launch window to April 2016 and Zelda: Breath of the Wild slipped from 2015 all the way to 2017. These types of delays happen all the time in gaming, but that’s where third party support comes in. When third party developers are publishing games on your device, then they are helping to prevent dry spells where no big games are coming out on your console. Sony and Microsoft can afford not to have the best first party line up during the holiday season because third party developers are releasing games that can be played on their systems. When Nintendo had to delay a game during the Wii-U era, they had tough decisions to make about what their holiday games would be, or if they even would have nay big games available during the holiday season.
It should be noted that the Wii-U did launch with some third party support from companies like Ubisoft and EA, but their support quickly dried up as it became apparent the system was not going to be successful. When this happened, Nintendo was left to support the console by themselves. The Nintendo Switch needs a steady flow of games to avoid repeating the Wii-U’s failure, which can only be achieved with help from third-party developers. Even if it builds up momentum going into launch, a drought in software could still derail the Switch. That isn’t to say that the Switch needs to have all the same experiences that Sony and Microsoft are offering, but it does need other developers supporting their hardware with games that people want to play or games that offer experiences unique to the switch.
5. Power Level/Hardware
In many discussions related to Nintendo, the power level of their consoles is a big talking point. With the Wii, Nintendo made the decision to forgo creating a more powerful machine, instead Nintendo worked to offer the unique experience to consumers. This decision paid off big with the Wii, but when they tried a similar strategy with the Wii-U, it failed. Many gamers and critics argued that not enough games used the GamePad effectively or in ways that justified its existence. Many third parties were hesitant to develop on the system and when the launch was unsuccessful, many third party developers chose not to develop for a system that they likely wouldn’t field a profitable return on their investments.
The power level of a console is not absolutely tied to third parties but it is closely related to the debate. Third Parties are currently developing games for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. These platforms were far more powerful than the Wii-U was and porting to a weaker system can be difficult, time-consuming, or just impossible for developers. In the Nintendo Switch trailer, a big surprise was the video of Skyrim (whether this is intended to be remaster or the original) that was included in trailer. While Nintendo and Bethesda have remained coy on the implications of this footage, the statement Nintendo seems to be making is that this new hybrid machine is powerful enough to run impressive games like Skyrim on the go. This is a potentially huge statement as the idea of running a game like Skyrim on a portable is unheard of. If this system is powerful enough to run games like Skyrim on the go, then it is possible that it could support current generation games on it. This idea could also be a huge selling point for the Switch. Sure, you can play games like Skyrim and Dark Souls on your PS4 and Xbox One, but with the Switch, you can take the same games “on the go” anywhere in the world. That’s a potentially powerful statement to make.
The question that remains is this: as Sony and Microsoft release new, more powerful iterations of their consoles, will third party develops still be willing to develop for the less powerful Switch. If the Switch is relatively easy to port to or as powerful as the base model Xbox and PlayStation models then it could open the door for third parties to develop these game on the Nintendo Switch.
4. Online Network/Features
Nintendo has been more than one step behind both Sony and Microsoft in terms of the online support and the additional features that they offer their players. The Wii, though successful, was an anomaly. It was a console with limited online in an era where online quickly was becoming the norm. In the Wii U era, Nintendo’s lack luster online features hurt the company. It was obvious that Nintendo had far inferior online network, features, and infrastructure compared to its competitors. Throughout the Wii-U era (2012-2017), Journalists and gamers have been critical of Nintendo for the “baffling lack of competitive online or account-based features” which made the Wii U feel like a “prior-generation console” (Kuchera).
Nintendo is missing features like Voice Chat, where you can talk to your friends/teammates during online gaming. A voice chat option is standard in most online team-based games. Voice Chat is a feature that many gamers take for granted in 2016, but remains missing from Nintendo hardware. Not only is this feature expected by many, it could be argued that Nintendo’s lack of voice chat has negatively effected games like Splatoon, Nintendo’s fresh take on the third person shooter genre, which requires cooperation and communication to succeed. While Splatoon was extremely successful for a new IP (4.57 million), the lack of voice chat was brought up by many reviewers and fans at launch. While Nintendo has been wary of video chat in the past (letting children talk to stranger online has always been a concern) these features are now a given in the current climate. Nintendo cannot afford to leave these features out of their future gaming devices.
3. Mainstream consumer perceptions of the Switch
We now know what many people within the video game industry and community generally think about the idea of the Switch, as articles and comments have exploded over the internet, but many are still unsure what mainstream consumers will think of the device. These are the people who are not reading every article about the device or watching the reveal trailer live.
Nintendo bumbled the marketing for the Wii-U, not making it clear enough whether the console was an add-on to the Wii or a new device. While the Wii-U had many problems, this confusion definitely hurt the console out of the gate. Additionally, Nintendo’s consumer base has been steadily eroding (if you look at the sales numbers for their consoles, all of the consoles besides the Wii have sold less than their direct predecessor). Nintendo needs to make sure that they are clear about what the Switch is. Mainstream consumers need to be able to understand what the product is and why its different (or better) than a smart phone or tablet device. The smart phone has been steadily collapsing the handheld market for years, but if Nintendo can get consumers to buy into the idea of a “console experience on the go” then they could regain a larger share of the video game market.
Additionally, it should be noted that the Switch has a lot of moving pieces to it. With two removable Joy-Con Controllers, the main tablet, and the docking station, there are a lot of different set ups and options available to owners of the product. The Nintendo Switch reveal trailer did an excellent job showing the different ways the switch can be played, but Nintendo still has a lot of work to do to inform consumers about their product. The Switch will need an especially clear marketing campaign to ensure that consumers will understand what the Switch is and what it has to offer.
2. A Strong First Party Software Line-Up
Nintendo is known for their incredible first party software, which was the saving grace of the Wii-U. Nintendo needs to bring their excellent software to the Nintendo Switch throughout its life cycle in order for the hybrid to succeed. Zelda: Breath of the Wild, many critics E3 game of show, will be a Nintendo Switch and Wii-U title. Despite the excitement surrounding what is shaping up to be a game-changing Zelda experience, it is still unknown how much better the game will look or play on Switch compared to Wii-U. Beyond Zelda, we do not know what other games will come to the Switch early in its life cycle. In their video, Nintendo showed footage of Mario Kart and Splatoon, will these games be ported to The Switch at launch. If these massively successful games were ported to the switch, it could bolster the new device’s game line-up.
Rumors surfaced earlier this year, that Nintendo would bring Zelda, Mario, and Pokemon to the system within the first six months of the NX’s (now the Switch’s) launch. This could be potentially huge for the game developer. These three franchises are probably the most high profile (besides Mario Kart and Super Smash Brothers) that the company has, and getting them all on the Switch within six months would be an impressive feat. Pokemon is one of the most successful franchises that Nintendo has in its arsenal and has largely remained dormant on Nintendo’s consoles (the mainline games are on handheld). If Nintendo unleashed a new Pokemon game, or a port of Pokemon Sun and Moon on the Switch, it would be a huge draw for the system.
Lastly, many Nintendo’s development teams have been quietly working on software. For example, Retro Studios, developers of the Metroid Prime Trilogy and Donkey Kong Country has been silent since Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze launched in early 2014. Will the Nintendo Switch herald the return of Metroid, or will the studio be working on a new IP? Additionally, from the footage revealed in the Switch trailer, it appears that a new 3D Mario game is in development. When will Nintendo drop their legendary Mascot on the switch? If Nintendo has learned anything from the Wii-U’s difficult life cycle, they will bring Mario to the system sooner rather than later.
The almighty dollar will have a lot to do with the success or failure of the Nintendo Switch. Finding the right price point will be critical to its success. It could prove to be risky to price the Switch at the same price of the more powerful PS4 Pro (out Nov 10) or the future Xbox Scorpio (out 2017). Hitting a more reasonable price point (ideally somewhere between $199 and $299) could help the hybrid succeed. It will be interesting to see the final price point of the switch as President Kimishima has publicly stated that Nintendo is “not thinking of launching the hardware at a loss” (Grubb).
More details about the Nintendo Switch, including the launch line-up, additional features, and price will allegedly be revealed on January 12, 2017. The console tentatively set for a March 2017 release. What issues do you think will make or break Nintendo’s newest device?
Dale, Laura. “A Deep Dive on LPVG’s Nintendo Switch Reports and Info.” Let’s Play Video Games.com 21 October 2016. Web. 26 October 2016.
Grubb, Jeff. “Nintendo won’t sell Switch at a loss; plans to ship 2 million units in March.” Venture Beat.com. 26 October 2016. Web. 27 October 2016.
Kuchera, Ben. “In the face of recent wins, Nintendo’s lack of online functions is no longer forgivable.” Polygon. Vox Media. 23 July 2014. Web. October 27 2016.
“Nintendo Switch world premier demonstrates new entertainment experiences from a home gaming system” Nintendo.com. 20 October 2016. Web. 27 October 2016.
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