Nintendo is once again looking to reach beyond the core gaming markets with an innovative new console. However, this time it’s doing so by drawing on all its experience to create a true hybrid platform.
“Nintendo Switch is a unique gaming and tech product that’s a home console, a handheld console and a product that invents new ways to play,” UK general manager Nicolas Wegnez tells MCV.
Nintendo’s recent record with home consoles reads a bit like the Star Trek movies, with every smash hit being tempered by a less successful successor. When it comes to portable devices, though, Nintendo’s scorecard is unblemished across both the Game Boy and DS eras.
Combining the two, then, is both a clever and risky strategy. With Switch, Nintendo is putting all its Yoshi eggs into one basket.
“We consistently feel the need to innovate and be different by offering ways to play only possible on our platforms,” explains Wegnez. It’s a sound strategy, too, and one that’s reaped dividends before, most notably with the Nintendo DS and Wii platforms.
With Switch launching in the middle of its competitors’ hardware cycles, however, it can’t compete in terms of either software support or price. Instead, it plans to offer something fresh: “Nintendo Switch is a completely different proposition to other products out there in the market,” says Wegnez.
It looks to be a canny move, especially given just how similar Sony and Microsoft’s offerings are for this generation. The pair are primarily fighting over the same turf: the dedicated 20-something gamer with lots of time to sit in front of their TV and a passion for the big games in popular genres.
Switch is looking to sidestep all that by appealing to those who often struggle to find time to play games, Wegnez continues.
"We have a huge point of difference for a very broad audience"
“Nintendo Switch offers [gamers] the ability and freedom to ‘switch’ how they play their favourite games anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. We have a huge point of difference for a very broad audience.
“Out of the box, it includes a home console that you can also play on the go, and it comes packed with two high-tech motion-sensing controllers for multiplayer gaming that include innovative features, like the shape-sensing IR Motion Camera and impressive HD Rumble, that allow for new experiences.”
There’s no doubt, then, that the Switch also has something to offer gamers who already own one or both rival platforms, and Nintendo is courting those who traditionally buy new hardware right out of the gate.
“We, of course, will initially try to convince the early adopters of new technologies, the Nintendo fans, the multiplatform gamers,” Wegnez says. However, Nintendo’s aims also include its traditional heartland, adding: “[We] won’t forget the kids and family audience as we move forward.”
That family audience has stuck with Nintendo through the Wii U years, thanks to the success of the 3DS in general and specifically Pokémon over recent months. If the company can transpose its handheld fans onto Switch, it could eventually eliminate its handheld platform altogether, potentially doubling the number of titles its internal studios could produce for Switch each year.
LINING THEM UP
Nintendo has consistently innovated in hardware over its illustrious history. However, the Wii U couldn’t follow up on the Wii’s incredible success in shifting hardware. That said, it’s no secret that both consoles struggled with third-party support, leaving owners and retailers scrambling between big first-party launches.
Wegnez is bullish about the Switch line-up announced to date, though, and with Breath of the Wild, Nintendo arguably has its strongest launch title in years.
"FIFA, Minecraft and Skyrim anywhere, anytime on one device"
“As always, we have a strong line-up of exclusive Nintendo titles with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2 and Arms all releasing this year, but also the knowledge that you’ll be able to play other key third-party IPs like FIFA, Minecraft and Skyrim anywhere, anytime on one device – that is something that is only possible and which Nintendo Switch can ultimately deliver.”
Addressing the issue of support for the console going forward, Wegnez comments: “One of the key things we really want with Nintendo Switch is to have a great roster of games coming out consistently for the platform both from a first-party and third-party point of view, step-by-step throughout this year and beyond.”
It could also be said that the Wii U’s relative failure will prove a boon for Switch’s early years, with flagship titles from the previous generation resurrected for a (potentially) wider audience on the new platform - and as more than just straight ports as well.
“Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an example of a game that many think they know, but will show how Nintendo Switch offers many new ways to play. On top of adding a revamped battle mode, Nintendo Switch will allow people the freedom to experience this game in many new fun ways, and that will show how the Switch offers something completely new from what has come before with Wii and Wii U.”
Another way that Nintendo looks to round out its launch schedule is by putting a greater emphasis on smaller, digital titles. We’ve already seen a number of indie titles announced for Switch - so just how important will the digital side of Switch be, compared to previous Nintendo platforms?
"...the Switch offers something completely new from what has come before with Wii and Wii U"
“I think every new generation of hardware clearly gives more importance to digital versus the previous one, and Nintendo Switch will not be an exception to that. It has also been shared previously that the Switch makes it easy for developers of any size to create content on the platform.”
It’s not just going to be ports of titles seen elsewhere, either, with Wegnez noting the additional possibilities that the Switch’s hardware provides: “There are many independent developers working on games for Nintendo Switch already and we can’t wait to see what they will create using the unique features that [the] system offers.”
It may be an intriguing offering, but Wegnez isn’t quite ready to back up his claims with any hard figures when we ask about pre-orders, saying instead:
“[Pre-orders are] very strong, which is obviously a very encouraging sign, but as we all know this is not a sprint but a marathon, which is why we are so busy preparing strong plans for the months following the launch.”
"We still expect Nintendo Switch to be available at
some retailers on Day One"
Companies are usually pretty canny about hardware at launch. Too little and you restrain supply; too much and the console can lose desirability. So we ask if the console will sell out and how quickly the UK will see further hardware shipments:
“It’s true pre-orders are very strong but we still expect Nintendo Switch to be available at some retailers on Day One. We do expect shipments to steadily come,” Wegnez replies, which sounds like good news for retailers, who are always happy with a steady supply.
Given the unusual nature of the device, we wonder how Nintendo is supporting retail in explaining the Switch to consumers?
“Firstly, point-of-sale and literature are still a very powerful communication tool for those retail partners who have stores, and where there has been appetite, we have produced a suite of vehicles to help them communicate the unique features of Nintendo Switch.”
We were particularly taken with certain aspects of the Switch that were hard to get over in text or even with video, such as the HD Rumble feature.
“We have seen that having hands on with Nintendo Switch really does help people to understand its appeal. This is even more true when you can experience how to switch between gameplay modes, use the Joy-Con in different ways or, yes, feel that surprising ‘HD Rumble’ feature.
“For all the above, we are working on sampling plans to try and get Nintendo Switch into as many people’s hands as possible. However, living in this digital era we recognise the significance of online tools, therefore we have a comprehensive range of online assets for all our e-commerce partners to embrace.”
Speaking about the UK more specifically, we ask whether the console is particularly suited to the home market? Wegnez starts by saying: “We will do our best to help the UK population understand and experience what makes Nintendo Switch different and unique, as we truly believe this product can help Nintendo continue on its mission to expand the video game population.”
That’s a bold mission statement that Nintendo’s making there, but over the decades a Nintendo console has been many gamer's first real console, so if anyone can grow the gaming market, it’s Nintendo. The Wii was hugely successful in this regard, as were many of the company’s handheld products.
Coming back to the UK, he continues: “Having only been living and working in the UK since June, I am obviously still learning about the people in this country, but I am aware they are tech lovers who usually adopt new technology faster than their European counterparts. I also think people in the UK live fast-paced lives, moving around a lot, and I think Nintendo Switch’s mix of versatility with its three modes will be welcomed, offering various options for people to adapt the way they play.”
More specifically, we ask why he thinks Switch will be big in Britain? “The consumer reaction we are observing when people touch and experience Nintendo Switch in the UK is the biggest reason,” Wegnez responds. “We can’t wait for more people to experience it, especially in the comfort of their own home in console mode, or on the go in tabletop or handheld mode.
“We strongly believe that when people experience the console itself in conjunction with the games launching for the system that the proposition of what Nintendo Switch has to offer will resonate strongly.”