Does Nintendo risk getting drowned out by the next generation onslaught?
There will be no new Nintendo hardware this year. That’s the message Nintendo’s President Shuntaro Furukawa delivered to shareholders at Nintendo’s last financial meeting loud and clear. And through them, to everyone else who has been waiting with bated breath for a Switch Pro (or whatever other manner of Switch revision) for a while now: it’s not happening. At the very least, it’s not happening this year.
Now, we’re going to put aside the notion that this statement may not necessarily be truthful for now (because even if Nintendo were introducing a new, better Switch later this year, why would they confirm that now? That would just kill its current sales momentum). Let us, for now, take this statement at face value, and accept there will be no new Switch model this year. Now what?
From Nintendo’s perspective, this has to be a tough choice. On one hand, the current Switch is on fire. It’s outsold the entirety of Xbox One’s lifetime sales in less than three years on the market, it’s host to some of the best games ever made, and even third parties (barring a usual suspect) are back on board. It’s pretty clear that the current Switch hardware is a home run, and that, even if in terms of raw hardware grunt, it’s not on par with the competition, that hasn’t stopped games from coming to it, and doing well.
But the problem is, the Switch does not exist in a vacuum, and later this year, Sony and Microsoft are preparing to launch their next generation systems, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X respectively. Is that a reason for concern?
In the here and now, Nintendo has no reason to worry about those systems, for a variety of reasons: they’re going to be launching at pretty high prices, they’re going to have thin lineups for a while now, and they simply won’t be produced in enough volume to pose any threat to the Switch for now. Even with the PS5 and Series X, the Switch will probably be the bestselling system of the year again.
This, I think, is at the crux of Nintendo’s decision: while the Switch seems to be complementary to the PlayStation and Xbox ecosystems, it is bound to eventually be affected by spending patterns being diverted towards the new consoles instead. However, whatever impact that may have will not be immediate: consider, for instance, that the launch of the Switch in 2017 didn’t slow the PS4 down at all (and the PS4 in fact went on to have a record breaking 2017 and 2018). The Switch, like the PS4, is successful enough on its own merits that the presumed success of the PS5 and/or the Series X will not affect it, especially since the Switch, now a mature platform going into its fourth year on the market, will presumably start selling to customers on the lower end of the price bracket, a demographic that new cutting edge technology simply cannot reach at launch.
Nintendo is probably smart enough to realize that if not this year, or maybe not even next year, eventually the Switch is bound to be impacted, however. That impact can be mitigated by a new Switch model, such as a Switch Pro. A more powerful Switch can also help the system keep getting third party games, as a matter of fact (not that the presence or absence of those contributes much to the Switch’s success, though). Much like the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro revitalized and reenergized their respective consoles, a Switch Pro could do that for Nintendo’s hybrid. In fact, this is a strategy Nintendo themselves have leveraged to great effect multiple times before, with the Gameboy Color, Nintendo DSi, and New Nintendo 3DS. It’s not even new for them.
Viewed in this light, the decision to not launch a new model this year starts to make far more sense. The current Switch is selling well, so there’s no immediate impetus there. Whatever anticipated effect the new launches will have is expected to be belated, so that removes any pressing need there as well. In that case, why go to the effort of putting new hardware on the market?
An easy answer to that question could be, to help the Switch stand out in a year where its competition is launching new hardware, so the Switch doesn’t find itself drowned out in the conversation. And that’s a valid point. It’s also, however, completely missing how Nintendo operates. If Nintendo’s concern is to keep the Switch in the spotlight and not have it stolen by the PS5 or Series X, they are not going to go about a new Switch model to ensure that, they are going to look at launching games that hopefully achieve the effect. It’s like how the PS4 was able to stay in conversation even when the Switch launched: because it was getting amazing games such as Horizon: Zero Dawn and Persona 5 at the time.
Nintendo’s strategy is going to be along those lines. A new acclaimed game, along the lines of Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which can sell in volumes rivaling those games, is probably what Nintendo will be looking at to sell the Switch. The question, of course, is, what those games might be, and that’s a discussion for another time. But in terms of needing new hardware, no, Nintendo really doesn’t need a new Switch model right now. And I say this as someone who really wants a Switch Pro.
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.