Who Will Actually Play The Nintendo Switch?

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Nintendo this week finally revealed its next video game platform — Nintendo Switch, and it’s pretty much confirmed all the main points people had speculated and leaked about it for months,  and really, years. It’s a console you can take with you, it’s a handheld you can  connect to your TV.

Because of this, the speculative blog posts I’ve made in the past based on those rumors pretty much still hold. Check out the ones I wrote this past August. It’s certainly an interesting prospect to have the same library of games on the go and at home. My chief concern remains however: who is going to buy this thing, and who is going to make games for it?

The second link I posted above is pretty much what I’ve been thinking over the whole day after seeing Nintendo’s debut video of the Switch. Gamesindustry.biz put up a really nice article with a bunch of analysts asking the same question. The reveal video seems to be marketing the platform to western young adults, but if you look at trends of where people are going for their video games, it becomes kind of hard to see where the Switch fits in.

To be honest the Switch looks like a middle ground between PlayStation or Xbox-style console gaming for the hardcore crowd and tablet gaming for the casual crowd. But is it going to attract parts of both audiences, or will it grab neither? That all depends on the games, which depends on what developers and publishers are going to support the Switch.

Sure, Nintendo gave us a chart showing a lot of logos for game companies, actually a lot more than the one it showed us after revealing the Wii U. This is par for the course for Nintendo when revealing new platforms though. I tend to think of it as Nintendo telling us which companies have expressed interest in shipping games for their platform, not who actually has something in development.

I’m going to go ahead and say something pretty crucial here: I don’t think the Switch is going to be getting the big western 3rd party games that PlayStation, Xbox, and PC are getting. I’m not holding my breath for the likes of BattlefieldCall of DutyAssassin’s Creed, TitanfallDestiny, or what have you. I said this before, and Nintendo’s reveal changes basically nothing about my expectations.

For starters the Switch almost certainly won’t reach PS4 and Xbox One levels of hardware power — probably not close enough for developers to easily port blockbuster games. Gamesradar has a good article on what we know about the chips inside the Switch. It’s going to be the beefiest dedicated handheld system ever, but it’s not a PS4 on the go. I don’t wanna go too deep into this discussion, but even if Nintendo did make a new platform more powerful than any console ever, I still think its cool relationships with western third party publishers would hold them back from porting a plurality of their games to it. Nintendo simply still hasn’t proven its platforms can hold the audience that normally plays a Battlefield or Call of Duty.

On the flipside I don’t see how the Switch will grab everyone who’s playing games on iPads and iPhones. It’s still a device that you’ll only buy or turn on when you intend to devote time to a video game. It’s not an essential all-purpose device that happens to play games, which is one of the main draws of mobile gaming.

What I think we’re going to get, at the very least, is a consolidation of the users and publishes that supported the Wii U, the 3DS, and if we’re lucky, the PlayStation Vita. The Switch looks tailor-made for the Japanese developers who are currently making their games for PS4 and Vita because the console market in Japan is collapsing. Really, it looks like a souped-up Vita with a TV connection and Nintendo games on it. A game like Dragon Quest Builders would only have to be developed once to get the full range of appeal the two PlayStation versions are trying to get. On the other hand, Japanese portable games which people in the west have begged to have on consoles will probably finally reach consoles with the Switch, like Monster Hunter. One of its biggest killer apps is probably going to be what will effectively be a full-blown console Pokémon game. In essence, the Switch might be the ultimate last platform for Japanese games, at least the ones that haven’t either slid onto mobile or hung on to the blockbuster PlayStation sector.

If you want a preview of what your Switch library will look like, I suggest you take a look at your 3DS library and imagine the graphics turned up. When I look at mine I see Nintendo games and Japanese RPGs.

However, I think the Switch has potential to be an interesting host for some more mainstream third party games. A notable game shown in the reveal trailer was The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which some might put up as proof of western third party support. Remember however that Skyrim came out five years ago. It’s getting an enhanced version but it’s still basically an Xbox 360 game. More importantly though, it’s one of those mega hit games that’s a safe bet pretty much anywhere you can put it, and the Switch presents the first ever portable version, so that could draw some people who wouldn’t normally buy Nintendo consoles. The shot of what looked like NBA 2K also presents an opportunity for the Switch to be a unique place for sports games. I wouldn’t be surprised if EA tried to support it with at least one Madden and one FIFA game. You’d possibly get portable versions of those games that are close enough to the console versions and much better than the mobile versions. Playing two-player NBA 2K anywhere could be a big draw for mainstream western audiences. Portable local multiplayer on one unit might actually be one of the best new gimmicks of the Switch when applied to games like MaddenMario Kart, and Super Smash Bros. It could be a good fit for fighting games too.

I really hope indie and some mobile developers flock to the Switch. What I’m hoping is that they flock to it the same way they did to the Vita. PlayStation attracted the developers behind games like Axiom Verge partly because those developers wanted to see their games on consoles, and partly because many of them are reminiscent of GBA games and thus perfect for the Vita. We’ve seen limited indie support for the Wii U and 3DS, much of it I think because of the respect those developers still have for Nintendo, and I hope the Vita’s appeal transfers over to the Switch because it seems like the perfect environment for another Shovel Knight or Nuclear Throne. Hopefully some of the more popular mobile developers hop on too. Maybe a developer whose game might get buried on the Apple App Store might find more exposure on the Switch’s incarnation of Nintendo eShop.

In summation, I think the Nintendo Switch could end up being the middle class platform for middle class games. That’s pretty much where most of the Japanese game development on the 3DS and Vita is. It’s a weaker but portable platform for mainstream AAA games. It’s a stronger and more dedicated platform for mobile games. It just remains to be seen if Nintendo is actually going to be able to find a place in the middle of the market or if it’s just going to be squeezed from both sides.

BULLETS:

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