Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Not Once or Twice, but Thrice

It looks like the Switch is turning into a real success story for Nintendo.  One might be tempted to chalk it up to the originality of the concept.  However, the Switch isn't a piece of engineering that sprang forth out of the eather.  In fact most of it's features have existed in previous iterations of gaming hardware, the Wii and WiiU being two of the most obvious comparisons.  Even the concept of a system that can be played at home or on the go was first, albeit half-heartedly, attempted by Sony with the PS Vita.

Like many gaming enthusiasts, I never got my hands on a Vita in part because there wasn't that killer app, or "system seller," as it's sometimes called.  The hardware was great, but it lacked the software supported needed to draw my interest.  In a broader sense piracy was another issue and, in some ways, exacerbated the problem of insufficient third-party support.  Sony could only do so much with its first-party lineup.  It's a problem Nintendo doesn't have so much, especially since they can now merge their handheld and home console development teams under one platform.  In theory this should significantly boost the first-party output of Nintendo-themed games.  It also helps that Nintendo doesn't have any real direct competition.

The PS4 and Xbox One are definitely aiming at the same demographic, namely males in their 20s and 30s, but the Switch is kind of doing its own thing.  That's not to say people who own a PS4 or Xbox One don't play video games on the Switch...rather it has to do with a certain kind of appeal Nintendo games offer.

"Kid Friendly" might be the first quality that springs to mind though it's not an entirely accurate thing to claim.  Sure, most Nintendo games shy away from sexual themes and gratuitous violence, but the same doesn't hold true for the challenge.  The term "Nintendo Hard" exists for a reason, namely the unforgiving nature of one's experience on higher difficulty settings.  Mario Kart 8 might feel like a total breeze at the 50cc level, but crank it up to the 200cc mark and even veterans of the genre are in for a serious challenge.  The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild also has it's own hard mode in the form of speedruns.  Speaking of Breath of the Wild, if there ever was a system seller it's that game.  According to released sales figures it has more than a one-to-one attachment rate.  I'm not sure why any Switch owner would want more than one copy of the game (or a copy of the game and no system to play it on), but there you go.  In order to make up for the usual slim pickings that happen during a console's launch window, Nintendo is drip-feeding new titles to keep players invested in their machines.  It's actually a smart move from a business standpoint, which is saying something for a company known to not necessarily make the best decisions outside of game development.

Portability is another advantage the Switch has that only smart phones can match.  Here too though Nintendo isn't going head-to-head with Apple or Android, mostly because the kind of games coming out on the Switch have a lot more meat on their bones (plus they don't go the free-to-play route).  Again, different audiences although not necessarily mutually exclusive.

So, allow me to reiterate in the form of two video game axioms:
  • A console is only as good as its games
  • Better to make a great game a few people will love, than mediocre game a lot of people will think is just okay    
For both of these truths, Nintendo has it covered.  The switch already has a critically acclaimed exclusive out of the gate and, while their style of games aren't as big sales-wise as say GTAV or the Call of Duty series, there's definately a subset of their playerbase who absolutely love the games Nintendo makes...sometimes to the point of toxicity (but that's a subject for a different time).  You've done well so far with the Switch, Nintendo.  Keep up the good work.  

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