What happens to the Switch once it’s no longer the newest kid on the block?
Currently, Nintendo is flying high, riding on the success of the Switch, which continues to be one of the most successful consoles of all time. Switch hardware and software sales continue to impress, third party support for the system is the best Nintendo has seen since at least the GameCube days, if not since the SNES, and the console commands the industry’s attention, simply by virtue of being the newest technology on the market, with the PS4 and Xbox One, now both about to enter their seventh years, nearing their twilight.
Of course, all of this is true right now. The flip side to this is that the PS5 and Xbox Scarlett are just a year away. In fact, they launch next Holiday season (even though I maintain Xbox should try to launch earlier than that to get a bit of a headstart). Once the Switch is no longer the newest kid on the block, once the shiny, new, next generation consoles are on the scene, once the baseline for development has been lifted from the current standard, further widening the chasm between the Switch and its contemporaries… then what? What exactly does Nintendo do to keep the Switch relevant after the PS5 and Xbox Scarlett hit the market?
On one hand, this is a conversation that it’s a bit premature to have, given we don’t even know what the PS5 and Xbox Scarlett are right now. For all we know, they are so expensive they pose no threat to the Switch (as an example). But on the other, given that the Switch is Nintendo’s sole platform on the market, and they no longer have a handheld to fall back on should their console start to underperform, it is a pertinent question: how does Nintendo keep the Switch going after the next generation consoles hit?
By the time the PS5 and Xbox Scarlett hit, and based on the Switch’s current trajectory, it will be well over 50 million units sold. At that point, the Switch will have had a new 3D Zelda, 2D Zelda, Mario, Mario Kart, Smash Bros., Animal Crossing, Pokemon, and Fire Emblem game. It will have had a cheaper revision out in the guise of the Switch Lite. Put simply, it would appear as though a lot of the bullets in Nintendo’s chamber which they could use to stimulate sales will already have been fired. And then, what? Super Mario Odyssey 2? The Breath of the Wild sequel? Another new Pokemon game? Would those sell you on the Switch if you aren’t sold on it already, now, when it has highly acclaimed games from those franchises already?
And what of third parties? The Switch has seen a surprising amount of third party support – surprising, because Nintendo usually fares poorly on this regard, and because the Switch is so much weaker than even the Xbox One (which in turn is weaker than the PS4, PS4 Pro, and Xbox One X). Clearly third parties have seen the utility in putting their games on the Switch – the console even has a port of The Witcher 3! But porting from the Xbox One and PS4 to the Switch, while presumably difficult, is clearly possible. But how much more difficult, or less possible, would porting from the PS5 to the Switch be? The Switch would be almost two generations behind in terms of raw hardware power. Would third parties even bother with continuing to put games on it?
The way I put all of this, it sounds dire, but there are actually ways for Nintendo to keep the Switch going along for another few years after the PS5 and Xbox Scarlett are here. The first thing to consider is that the Switch will be almost four years old by this point, which means it will have peaked, and will be entering the home stretch of its own bell curve. Put simply, the Switch will be in a position analogous to where the PS4 was when the Switch launched in March 2017. This means some sales slowdown is to be expected, and Nintendo is probably already prepared for that.
Another thing to consider is the Switch’s inherent appeal. Whether it is because of the system’s versatility, or because of Nintendo’s handheld heritage, or the novelty of playing current generation games on the go, the Switch sells itself. Inherently. This is proven by the remarkably high sales the console enjoys even when there are no new major releases. The hardware, as well as the strength of its back catalog, keeps the Switch appealing. That is not going to change in a year, and in fact, the back catalog will be stronger by then, with a mainline Pokemon game and Animal Crossing joining the fold. In general, you are not going to not buy a Switch (as a handheld or a portable) because of a more powerful console on the market—if that were the case, Switch wouldn’t be selling right now
A very easy way to keep sales stimulated is a price drop. The Switch has, surprisingly, not had a single price drop yet, even though it is almost three years old. There is the Switch Lite, a cheaper, less capable model that retails at $200–but there has been no true price drop for the flagship model. Nintendo could easily drop prices to $250 and $150 for the Switch and the Lite, or even lower if they are feeling particularly aggressive, right ahead of the Holiday season next year. At that point, families and budget conscious gamers will start picking the Switch up, compensating for the loss in sales that the system would otherwise have. Plus, ongoing first party support, and releases such as, for example, Metroid Prime 4, will continue to keep interest in the console alive as well.
In terms of third party support, we might see ports of current generation games start to dwindle, owing simply to the power gap between the Switch and the PS5/Xbox Scarlett being considerable. However, the bulk of the Switch’s third party support is mid tier games, Japanese games, indie games, and ports of PS3/Xbox 360 games (or older). The existence of more powerful consoles doesn’t make the Switch incapable of running those games, and it should continue running those without issue even then. Yes, we might not see Cyberpunk on the Switch – but were you ever going to buy Switch for Cyberpunk anyway?
I’m not even accounting for the possibility of a Switch Pro launching right alongside the next generation consoles, presumably with the Breath of the Wild sequel as its launch game, which would keep the Switch on an even footing somewhat in terms of being “new”. But what I’m trying to say is, Nintendo actually has a fair number of moves left to keep the Switch competitive and selling once the PS5 and Xbox Scarlett hit the scene. The Switch should continue to sell very well, no matter what.
It’s the Switch 2 we should be worried about, given how Nintendo historically bungles generation transitions. But that’s a discussion for another time.
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.