Yesterday, Nintendo announced their newest gambit in the gaming hardware market. The Nintendo Switch looks to be a convergence of Nintendo’s portable and console businesses, providing gamers the realization of the age old promise of taking your console games on the go, as well as the fabled device with the entire might of Nintendo’s first party unified behind it, as well as third party support. Importantly, it also looks to have a whole lot of third party support, surprisingly clear messaging indicating great marketing, and it seems to have won rave acclaim everywhere. In other words, it looks to be doing everything right, especially, and perhaps most importantly, the things that the Wii U got wrong.
So the question of Nintendo fumbling this as badly as they fumbled the Wii U isn’t necessarily an admissible one, one would think. The Switch is already off to a better start than the Wii U, and unless Nintendo drive it into the ground by purposely pricing it too high, giving it no marketing whatsoever from here on forth, or simply by not putting any games on it, it looks set to reclaim at least some of the turf that Nintendo lost with the Wii U.
But as long time Nintendo fans probably know, Nintendo have been known to take a sure thing, and sabotage it with a string of bad decisions- just take a look at the 3DS. Upon its unveiling, it won rave reviews everywhere, only for Nintendo to systematically sabotage its launch by pricing it absurdly high, giving it no games for launch, and marketing it poorly or not at all. Nintendo managed to turn the 3DS around in the end, and it sold well- but it never recovered from that poor start.
"The Switch is already off to a better start than the Wii U, and unless Nintendo drive it into the ground by purposely pricing it too high, giving it no marketing whatsoever from here on forth, or simply by not putting any games on it, it looks set to reclaim at least some of the turf that Nintendo lost with the Wii U."
So as much as the Switch seems to be a sure thing at first glance, the trouble is, it’s a Nintendo device, so it isn’t. Nintendo’s work doesn’t end here. In order to ensure that the Switch avoids the missteps made by the Wii U, the Wii, the Gamecube, the N64 (… noticing a pattern here?), Nintendo will need to work diligently and consistently. Otherwise, the Switch risks fading into irrelevance like the Wii U. Here are some things that we think Nintendo need to do with the Switch, in order to ensure a fair shot at success for themselves.
THIRD PARTY SUPPORT
Yes, yes, yes- the Switch has third party support. It actually has great third party support. The list of third parties interested in supporting the system is almost five times bigger than the list of third parties that were announced as supporting the Wii U. And I’m not going to downplay that- getting all the Japanese third parties, like Square Enix, Capcom Konami, Atlus, Sega, and Bandai Namco is good, but that was always somewhat expected. Getting western third parties on board like Ubisoft and Warner Bros. was more impressive, but again, these two companies had openly been on board with the Switch since before it was even revealed. Getting Activision and EA on board is far more laudable, especially considering the bad blood between the latter and Nintendo. And getting third parties like Take 2, Bethesda, and From, who make some of the biggest games on the market, and have previously had little to nothing to do with Nintendo at all, on board? That deserves some mad credit.
So the list of third parties supporting the Switch is great, and kudos to Nintendo for that. But the important thing here is, Nintendo needs to ensure that that list stays that way. Over time, the only changes to that list should come from more names being added to it, not from third parties fleeing supporting the system. The Wii U had a paltry list of third parties interested in supporting it to begin with, and a year or so later, none of them were supporting the system- they had all fled, and the Wii U was left to die a slow, agonizing death, subsisting solely on Nintendo games that couldn’t come fast enough. Even the 3DS, which started out with more third party support, steadily bled third party games over time.
"The list of third parties supporting the Switch is great, and kudos to Nintendo for that. But the important thing here is, Nintendo needs to ensure that that list stays that way."
That cannot happen with the Switch. The Switch is fighting three battles for Nintendo all at once- it is Nintendo’s entry into the console market, their entry into the handheld market, and also their entry into the world of portable smart devices, like tablets. Nintendo cannot afford to fight these battles alone- they need help and support, especially since the Wii U has already established that not many people are willing to buy a machine just to play Nintendo games and nothing else. So, they need to do whatever it takes to keep third parties around. This means, on some level, ensuring that third party games on the system sell- as long as they do, third parties will be willing to put up with a lot more limitations on the Switch, including any hardware or online service deficiency it may have. So, Nintendo need to take it on themselves to market third party games, they need to feature them prominently in their messaging, they need to bundle them, they need to take a hit and sell them at reduced prices so they appeal to a larger portion of the install base… whatever it takes, Nintendo needs Bethesda and EA and From and everyone else around on the Switch in 2017 and 2018 and beyond.
They’re off to a good start, with how prominently Skyrim and NBA 2K were featured in yesterday’s reveal- but they need to keep doing that. For the Switch, third parties need to be equal partners for Nintendo, not subordinates who have to fight to get attention and sales on the platform.
This goes without saying, but Nintendo need the Switch to be priced appropriately. They cannot afford to price themselves out of the market again, like they did with the 3DS and with the Wii U. The Switch needs to be at a price where it is immediately appealing to everyone who sees any value in the system or its proposition- so Nintendo cannot afford to price it too high. We’ve said this before and we will say it again, Nintendo do best when they don’t make themselves too expensive and high end. This is because a lot of their market is younger kids, but also because Nintendo systems are often dicey as far as value propositions go, with basic things like media support, third party games, and hardware capabilities not necessarily a given. Even if the Switch does all of that right, which it looks like it does, people have been trained to not buy an expensive Nintendo system.
And yet, the Switch can’t be too cheap for Nintendo to make- it’s a super high end portable, an extremely impressive console, and it has some unusual components owing to its hybrid nature. Nintendo also does not like to lose money on hardware sales- so there’s that to counter the previous point to a degree.
"Keep it priced low, drop the price in response to market conditions, and Nintendo shouldn’t face any resistance from the audiences on this front."
Really, the sweet spot for this thing is probably going to be $299 at the most. I can see people wanting a $249 version (Nintendo’s most successful console ever launched at $249), but I also think that’s a bit unrealistic- the Switch looks too technically sophisticated and advanced to be that cheap. I can also imagine that Nintendo will want a $349 SKU out there, maybe one that comes with a Pro controller bundled, but the standard SKU will probably be $299.
Really, though, as long as Nintendo don’t price the system higher than $299, they’ll be good to go. Keep it priced low, drop the price in response to market conditions, and Nintendo shouldn’t face any resistance from the audiences on this front.
Arguably the one thing that killed the Wii U the most, especially in the all important launch period, was the marketing. There was very little of it for the system to begin with, so that most people weren’t even aware that the Wii U existed, and the little marketing that did exist was terrible and muddled in its messaging- so that people who did know the Wii U existed weren’t even sure if it was a new system, or a peripheral for their existing Wiis, now gathering dust in the closet. The extremely few who did get that it was a new system were still alienated by the marketing, because it seemed to be targeting no one in particular- Nintendo’s pitch for the Wii U attempted to market the system to casuals, families, mainstream, and core gamers alike, and it ended up appealing to exactly none of them at all. Finally, the negligible amount of people who got that it was a new system, and felt that it may be targeted at them still didn’t find the system appealing, because the marketing did an awful job of selling the merits of the system at all.
It was a disaster on all fronts, perhaps best exemplified by the name of the console itself- ‘Wii U’ is a branding and messaging nightmare.
"If the Switch reveal is indicative of what Nintendo’s marketing for the system is going to be like, then really, all I have to say is- keep this up, Nintendo. Keep this up, and half your battle is already won."
With the Switch, Nintendo have reversed everything that they got wrong with the Wii U’s messaging. The reveal video yesterday was surprisingly clear on all fronts- right away, it establishes that this is a new system, it sells the main hook of the platform, along with its capabilities, it establishes who might want this system, and why, and it establishes the brand, look, and feel of the new system thoroughly well. Incredibly enough, all of this is done without a single word uttered, or indeed, even shown on the screen (barring the ‘Nintendo Switch’ branding, that pops up now and then). The most impressive thing about the Switch reveal, and perhaps the biggest reason that everyone is on board with the new system, is just how well it was done. Indeed, I don’t actually have much, if any suggestions for Nintendo on this front. If the Switch reveal is indicative of what Nintendo’s marketing for the system is going to be like, then really, all I have to say is- keep this up, Nintendo. Keep this up, and half your battle is already won.
The Switch looks to be a very promising system. It looks to be a true evolution for gaming, and a genuine and legitimate step forward. After the staleness that pervaded the Xbox One and the PS4 (and the Xbox One Scorpio and PS4 Pro, which are literal incremental improvements), the Switch is a breath of fresh air, and a stunning return to form for Nintendo- at least seemingly. I want this system to do well- not just because I want Nintendo to do well, not just because the premise of this system appeals to me, and I’d like to see more of it, but also because the Switch is daring to do something different. Again. It’s daring to push gaming outwards and forwards, while PlayStation and Xbox are largely content to keep gaming as is, but make it shinier. There’s something to be said for Nintendo’s audacity, and I think it should be rewarded. By all accounts, it looks like it will be with the Switch- as long as Nintendo don’t sabotage themselves.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.