Twitter Twitter RSS Feed Youtube

Behind the Line: Nintendo Switch Reveal

The gaming is abuzz about the Nintendo Switch reveal, and rightfully so. It’s a new console, not one of these half upgrades that Microsoft and Sony have done. It’s also Nintendo, and anything Nintendo does commands attention. Sure, their fortunes have been mixed, and their consoles haven’t really been a destination for the core gamer for many years, their IP is iconic, and their execution is still almost always excellent. So what can we take from this reveal? Sure there’s Super Mario Odyssey and Zelda and so forth, but games are games, which are rarely about the hardware. Anyway, plenty of people are already talking about all of that.  So, let’s try to dig deeper in our usual Behind the Line fashion.

 

Accessibility

Now we see a lot more of the controllers, or Joy-Cons.

Or, is it “Joycon”? I actually don’t care. Nintendo has to make me care for me to call it that.

The controllers retain the motion control option that the Wii and Wii U had. This tells me something right off the bat. There are those who have said that the Switch is intended to move away from he approach of the Wii. I don’t agree, and see the Switch trying to retain the accessibility of its predecessors, and even adding to it with its portability. On the other hand, there are indications to take from the advertisements. The Wii was shown with so many different people playing. The switch was shown being played in many different places and ways. Looking at it like that, I still think the goal is to improve accessibility.

This would fit into what I suspected was the purpose of the system, trying to make a console experience more accessible, which includes portability. But that focuses on the core audience. Nintendo learned with the Wii U that relying on the casual audience that it was able to grab with the Wii isn’t sustainable. However, it’s also not good business to ignore that customer base, even if they may be fickle.

On top of this, it’s been stated that the Switch’s tablet screen will be a touch screen. This makes it the only console that is accessible to the younger players who have been brought up with touch devices. These are the kids who get confused when swiping a computer screen doesn’t do anything.

(other than smudge the screen that is)

 

Bundle?

Nintendo is always going to Nintendo. They are what they are and they will do things their way and for their own reasons. Sometimes this leads to innovation that reshapes the games industry. Other times it’s just confusing as all hell. There are plenty of aspects with the Switch release that have raised eyebrows, from ending Miiverse to their digital subscription model…

Especially since it’s just a rental. C’mon, I want to pay to have access to games, but making the barrier so high, I’ll stick with an emulator!

But what makes me wonder the most is the decision to not bundle in a game. Reggie Fils-Amie explained some of the thinking behind that with Gamespot.

The first decision that we make is, where do we want to be in terms of the hardware price point that’s going to be approachable and hit the marketplace we want? And from a US price point, we wanted to be at $299 […]

Obviously the inclusion of the two Joy-Con, critically important; all the right cables, the dock, critically important. We also have to do this from a financial perspective as well. Once we got to that bundle, it really needed to be at $299 without a piece of software.

Particularly odd was the fact that he also talked about 1-2 Switch as a great title to show off what the console could do.

I would say, though, that 1, 2, Switch has many more experiences–it’s a wider pallet of experiences, potentially more akin to Wii Play than to Wii Sports. And, again, from that standpoint, Wii Play was a standalone piece of software both with a controller at the time and without, so that’s probably the better analogy.

 

Nintendo’s Gotta Nintendo

Nintendo can’t make the price lower than $299 while including a game? That sounds like Nintendo is sticking to their formula of having the hardware generate profit on day 1. For those who don’t know, console hardware is usually sold at a loss. Makers will subsidize their own platform to make it more accessible to consumers so that they will buy more games. The licensing on the games is where the console makers usually make their money.Perhaps the hardware sales can turn profit later on, but at first in a business sense it’s just to allow you to buy games. Nintendo, on the other hand, keeps their hardware profitable from the get go.

It seems that they think the value provided by 1, 2, Switch is too high to make it a bundle. Reggie compares it against Wii Sports and Wii Play, implying that Wii Sports was small enough to justify it being bundled in. Wii Play, being larger, would have to be a “standalone piece of software”. The obvious followup question then should be, why not make a smaller version of the game to bundle in? At least include something to get people to be familiar with the capabilities of the console?

There’s talk about being able to play without looking at the screen… and that’s been mocked by some as that undermines the concept of a video game. I will admit that I am intrigued, though. I can’t say if it’s a good idea or not, but I want to see what they can do with it. If this is something that can put the Switch’s best foot forward, then Nintendo should ABSOLUTELY DO IT!

Perception

Perception is reality, and what’s included in the bundle shapes perception. The Wii was overtaken by shovelware because it was perceived as having a primarily casual customer base that didn’t know how to identify a quality game. The promise that the console had for new experiences was never fully realized because that perception stuck. And don’t kid yourself, there was more that the Wii could have been mined for… (yes, it’s this again.)

The Wii U, on the other hand, failed to be perceived AT ALL, as it was routinely confused for the Wii. The idea of the game pad was never utilized in any intriguing or innovative way that would show people what this configuration was capable of. That mean it never excited the imaginations of the customers, OR THE DEVELOPERS.

With the Switch, 1, 2, Switch seems to be ideal for showing off what the console could give people. Just seeing the cow milking game makes me curious about what more you could do. How does the idea of playing without needing the screen work? I want to see more, but Nintendo is the one bringing us this, and it’s their job to point out the possibilities. This is something they did an adequate job with on the Wii, but not well enough to really sustain it. This is something they didn’t do with the Wii U, and it suffered for it. If there isn’t anything out there for the Switch to be a ubiquitous experience (like Wii Sports) that demonstrates what the hardware can do, and can get imaginations working, then the Switch may have tough days ahead.

 

Miscellaneous Warnings

There’s a report that only 50% of developers think that the Switch will outsell the Wii U. This headline is a bit misleading as it implies that 50% think the Switch will flop. It’s based on a GDC survey that also says 14% of the developers think that it won’t sell as much as the Wii U. The rest weren’t sure. Given the fact that in the games industry, 95% of the time, or more, any given project will fail, this seems like a pretty healthy ratio of opinions.

Nintendo’s stock value dropped some after the official reveal. Don’t put too much weight into that. Stocks make short term adjustments based on a lot of things, some of which are not substantial. When you hear this, you need to check the longer term trend. Looking at that, the price has been somewhat level for the past 6 months (give or take)

Man, those controllers look really uncomfortable when you’re only using one of them in the sideways configuration. I have long fingers, and that looks like a hand cramp to me.

Possibilities

This has been a bit more doom and gloom than I expected, as I am still quite intrigued by the concept, so let’s wrap up with some pie in the sky possibilities.

Since the switch has a touch screen, that brings up a question. Could the Switch become another platform for the Nintendo mobile titles? These could be souped up versions of the mobile games, or that have tie-in functionality. This is highly doubtful. Nintendo’s behavior would lead me to believe that they would think of this as cannibalizing one market for another.

If Nintendo can get their marketing right, this really could become THE party game system. It makes for better multiplayer than phones, doesn’t require you to be heads down in your own screen, the motion controls can make for silly group fun, and so forth. Maybe that shot in the teaser commercial of a roof party isn’t that far-fetched.

The parental controls are a good idea. The particulars of the execution may need some refinement, but it’s good to let parents know what their kids are playing. I like the mention of helping parents talk with their kids about their games. I’d suggest that the daily timer should have something between “alarm” and “nuke the session”. Something like “15 minutes after the alarm, the game shuts down at the next save point, or end point”. That’s something that might be able to be added later. Well see. In the mean time, the intro video is just too amusing.

 


Kynetyk is a veteran of the games industry.  Behind the Line is written to help improve understanding of what goes on in the game development process and the business behind it.  From “What’s taking this game so long to release”, to “why are there bugs”, to “Why is this free to play” or anything else, if there is a topic that you would like to see covered, please write in to kynetyk@enthusiacs.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *