On Thursday January 12th 2017, Nintendo divulged a lot information regarding the Nintendo Switch including its official launch date, the price, a (lengthy) bit about the hardware, and the games developed by both first and third party developers. In spite of overused Switch puns and the very formal nature of the presenters, all news was met with a mix of hype, excitement, and healthy doses of criticism.
With all said and done, did Nintendo rally forward a strong enough showing (and post-reveal) to put Switch in a stronger place in this contemporary market?
A HARDWARE DISCUSSION
For starters, it’s not a strong machine. The processing power is nothing to tout, nor is the touchscreen display pushing new boundaries that current hardware is already capable of. The core unit has a screen that displays in 1280×720 pixels when used as a handheld, and projects up to 1080p when docked and projecting into the TV through an HDMI cable. Its handheld battery life is heavily vague (2~6 hours? Really?) and the 32GB Storage is frankly an embarrassment at this day and age. For the most part, Nintendo’s competitors provide stronger machines for less. And yet, without a doubt, the Nintendo Switch is a remarkable machine.
The incorporation of previous Nintendo ideas and technologies in their latest machine was impressive and strange. Everything from the heavily featured JoyCon controllers, Nintendo’s detachable motion controllers, to the handheld functionality of the Switch has been a mishmash of technology used in previous console iterations. The capability of going between all three of the presented modes (TV Mode, Handheld, Tabletop), allows for a unique experience with the core system that Nintendo’s competitors don’t provide.
Be it for traveling, or flexibility on who is using the TV at the time, Switch allows for players to play in a variety of situations. The nature of the JoyCon controllers takes advantage of gaming with others. Its Handheld mode allows for those that desire a portable experience, but the option to immediately switch back to TV if they choose. That kind of versatility for a gamer is highly appealing, allowing for diverse methods to enjoy games. Looking back to the success of Wii, Nintendo has been at the forefront of bringing revolutionary experiences through hardware and software (Wii Sports comes to mind).
You can see the JoyCon controllers draw inspiration from the Wii motion controllers, while maintaining a smaller controller appearance. Though smaller in design, they are nonetheless intuitive for the gaming machine it was created for. Their multitudes of features are not for lacking either.
Yet for all the praises that can be sung for the hardware, Nintendo missed the mark in regards to the accessories that would accompany the Switch. Information posted by Nintendo after the presentation revealed the prices of Switch accessories, and it was met with shock and heavy disbelief. Individual JoyCon controllers (Left or Right) would be sold on market for $50 USD separately, JoyCon grip chargers for $30, Switch Docks would be sold for $90 each, and Pro Controllers would be sold for $70 each. Alongside Switch’s $300 price tag and the lack of a game bundled together at launch, costs to support a Nintendo Switch ecosystem builds up quickly. It is clear to see Nintendo missed their mark at attracting their audience to ‘share the joy’ with prices of add-ons and accessories costing more than the software they’re releasing. That’s also still not including the likelihood of consumers replacing their 32GB SD cards with ones that have more capacity.
Are the games enough?
Alongside the discussion of hardware was Nintendo’s games line-up, featuring a diverse array of first party and third party announcements. Usual suspects such as Mario and Zelda appeared, alongside some third party presence. Ultimately, the launch line-up for Switch appeared thin, resembling much of the Wii U’s early line-up (Wii U actually had more games at the time). First Party games were few and far between, with Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and 1-2-Switch being the console’s first-party launch titles and Arms and Snipperclips: Cut it Out, Together! releasing sometime in March. Other Nintendo games such as Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8, Splatoon 2 and Fire Emblem Warriors were also announced to appear at a later dates (Holiday, April, Summer and Fall 2017, respectively).
While the amount of first party titles available appears to be strong, it may not be the case. Mario Kart 8, slated to release on Switch in April, is already available on Wii U and Splatoon 2 is a slightly upgraded version of Splatoon, with new maps and new game modes, but again already available on Wii U. The new Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, will also be available for owners of the Wii U on March 3rd, when the Switch launches, leaving Super Mario Odyssey the only Switch exclusive title.
First party software and a strong line-up of other titles are what help to generate console sales at launch. While Switch will launch with a Zelda title, 1-2-Switch is a shorter experience that may not hold out for the early adopters of the new device. Arms, another Switch title, will not be out until later in March. Dedicated Nintendo fans who already own a Wii U likely count Splatoon and Mario Kart 8 in their gaming libraries. This leaves a wide gap for a first party presence that Nintendo isn’t filling, with early adopters and general Nintendo audiences out in the cold until Holiday 2017 when Super Mario Odyssey will presumably release.
Third party developers at the presentation, instead of showing enthusiasm, displayed a vague sense of bewilderment and uncertainty in Nintendo’s new console. Sega’s presenter had revealed that a new ‘No More Heroes’ title, a series made popular during the Wii life cycle, was in the works for the Switch. However all that was shown was a piece of artwork of Travis Touchdown, the series’ main protagonist, and no information regarding the development timeline or release window. The presenter struggled to explain the relevance and vision of how the game would look like or play, only furthering the perception of Sega’s meek curiosity of the new console. What should have been a brief announcement in the post-reveal was instead given an on-stage announcement during a crucial time for Nintendo to relay a message of strong third party support for their new device. Sega’s brief moment on stage set the tone for the remainder of the night – Developers are only passing by.
ATLUS, now also owned by Sega, revealed a new flagship Shin Megami Tensei title in a reveal trailer during the presentation as part of its 25th anniversary. Also to note was ‘Project Octopath Traveler’ by the same developers that made Bravely Default on the 3DS making a very early appearance with official release date. Dragon Quest Heroes I & II, Dragon Quest 10, and 11, also announced for the Switch. All games not necessarily exclusive to Switch. All games proving Switch had nothing to show besides ‘potentially coming Nintendo Switch.’
The decision to bring EA’s executive vice president Patrick Soderlund to announce FIFA coming to Switch was the most baffling. As a publisher, EA holds hundreds of IPs at their disposal, with many studios working on a vast number of titles. Not many other publishers have the same varied catalogue to work with like EA does. Yet Nintendo’s choice to bring Soderlund, who leads EA development studios around the world, to Japan for a single announcement of FIFA is mystifying! EA’s presence and actions at the presentation summarized the intent and rationale of all third party developers. They are cautious and unmotivated to support Nintendo Switch.
Another key moment was the port of Bethesda’s acclaimed title, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which would be coming to Switch sometime in Fall 2017. The impact of the announcement would quickly lose its luster as it was later confirmed it would be the 2011 version of the game, rather than the recent Special Edition that came out for PS4, Xbox One, PC & Steam in 2016, with fully remastered visuals and upgrades. The trend of ports would continue, as other titles announced for the Switch release window included I Am Setsuna (2016), Lego City Undercover (2013), Disgaea 5 Complete (2015), all games that released to smaller success on other platforms. Given their availability through other platforms, most consumers wouldn’t be picking up these games on Switch unless they part of a dwindling Nintendo ecosystem that had not experienced these games on other platforms.
The distinct lack of first party releases alongside the myriad of older ports from third party studios leaves the Nintendo Switch with a weak launch window and generally lackluster library. By continuing forward with a lack of definitive first-party support through defined release windows and more titles, Switch will lose consumer support and fall behind in sales before its lifecycle can reach a major milestone. The already doubtful third party developers will see the console’s struggling growth as a sign to drop support, leading Nintendo Switch down a similar path as the Wii U as one of the weakest Nintendo consoles in terms of lifetime sales.
The Newest Online Service?
In a decision to provide a similar service as Sony and Microsoft does with PlayStation Plus and Xbox Gold Membership, Nintendo introduced a new online service that would require its users to pay a fee to access online features and other benefits. And yet again Nintendo falls flat compared to its competitors.
At the base of the service, as stated above, Nintendo’s new online service would require a fee in order to access online features such as online multiplayer, voice-chat, a monthly game download and exclusive deals. Other services such as access to Nintendo’s eShop, adding friends, and sharing screenshots remain a native function for all users. Where the service begins falling apart is when you examine two key paid features: voice-chat and monthly game downloads.
Nintendo’s new Online Lobby & voice-chat service requires an app to be downloaded on a smart device to be used in conjunction with your Nintendo Switch. In other words, voice-chat is not a native function to the Switch itself. For a console released in 2017, voice-chat has been a native feature since PS3 & Xbox 360, and going as far back as PS2 with some games offering voice chat with the right accessories. That Nintendo does not offer this service natively on the console is an unusual and outright surprising decision, considering the Switch is competing in a modern market.
Monthly game downloads have become a standard for online services, where users are given free access to a game as decided by the service provider. Where Nintendo differs from Sony and Microsoft is the approach of what games are available and for how long they can be played. Nintendo will offer one NES or SNES download a month, with SNES games having some form of online functionality. However once the month comes a close, users who downloaded those games will no longer be able to play them past the date, and will be required to purchase them for continued access. Sony and Microsoft’s service allows for players to continue enjoying the content so long as their subscription remains valid. In essence, consumers are renting outdated NES and SNES games for a month and asked to pay for their continued use once the month is over.
Nintendo’s online service is quite backwards in its offerings. While access to online multiplayer functions has become the norm for paid services, the benefits comparatively to Sony and Microsoft’s services are considerably hindered by limitations. Nintendo’s new online service is free from launch until the beginning of Fall 2017, allowing players to acclimate to the service. Although given the sparse line-up of games available at launch, not many games truly take advantage of the service to begin with. Many of the paid features will not be available either until the Fall of 2017.
The Nintendo Switch Presentation showed the world an insular Nintendo that is out of touch with its audience. A lack of strong first party presence, reluctant third party support, and questionable services and pricing for hardware and software is ultimately hurting Switch’s chances to succeed in the modern market.