The Nintendo Switch console has been officially available for a month and a day, so the time has come to study how the latest entrant into the console wars has done.
Well, the console has been “available” for a given meaning of the word, at least. Demand has been so high that Nintendo announced two weeks ago it would double production. As it takes time for a manufacturer to ramp up its physical capabilities, there are still ongoing worldwide shortages. Even so, according to some reports, Nintendo sold 1.5 million Switches in the first week, although that can’t be confirmed until the company’s FY17 earnings release due on April 27, 2017.
Console Deals shared some relevant data based on their own sales figures. The online retailer noted that the Switch was their third biggest selling console for the month, which would hardly be astonishing except for the fact that the Xbox One only sold 2% more than the Switch, even with all the Switch shortages. More interestingly, during the one week in March when Console Deals had a decent supply of Switches, Nintendo’s console outsold both the Xbox One and the PS4.
More worrying for Nintendo is that Console Deal’s data reveals that the Switch outsold the 3DS more than ten to one. The company has said that the Switch won’t replace the 3DS, and production continues on the handheld, but consumer behavior rarely cooperates with corporate business plans. If consumer behavior demands it, then the Switch could become Nintendo’s default handheld console, dictating the retirement of the 3DS and a headache for Nintendo as they try to figure out how to make it work.
With numbers like that, it’s clear the Switch launch was a success, but now comes the hard part: the future. Nintendo has already given a glimpse into their line-up of first-party Switch games, including Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (release for April 28, 2017), ARMS (Spring 2017), Splatoon 2 (Summer 2017), Fire Emblem Warriors (Fall 2017), Super Mario Odyssey (2017 holiday season) and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (sometime in 2017). The success of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild suggests that Nintendo’s games are as popular as they ever have been.
At launch, Nintendo said that the Switch had received some support from third-party publishers, including Activision Publishing Inc., Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Bethesda Softworks, and major Japanese publishers like Sega. The company said gamers could expect major franchises like EA SPORTS FIFA, The Elder Scrolls, NBA 2K, Minecraft, Street Fighter, and Sonic the Hedgehog to grace the console. The question is whether or not those third-party publishers will actually stay committed, given the notoriously chilly relationship Nintendo has had with the rest of the industry for decades. There’s also the age-old harping about how Nintendo refuses to homogenize along the lines of Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s XBox, which increases costs of development… for those who intend to pimp out their games across every viable medium in order to achieve the greatest amount of profit for the least amount of effort possible.
On the flip-side, Nintendo has been relatively aggressive in making itself look like a good prospect for indie developers. The developer kit only costs $450, only 50% more than the console itself. More than sixty indie games are confirmed for this year, including Blaster Master Zero, Pocket Rumble, Yooka-Laylee, SteamWorld Dig 2, and Runner3. While at the start, Nintendo intends to be selective with the indies they partner with, according to those who have already developed games for the Switch, it is “the least demanding Nintendo console” to develop for yet. Given the large investments into indie games from companies such as Xsolla, flaregames, and iDreamSky, it is entirely possible that a Nintendo Seal of Quality-style approach combined with the creation of an ecosystem for indie developers could easily allow Nintendo to continue its traditional adherence to quality and innovation over AAA gaming’s preference for standardization and homogenization.
Ultimately, the success of the Nintendo Switch comes back to the games. The Wii U suffered from a scarcity of quality titles, the same problem that has stalked new consoles for decades. So long as Nintendo can deliver a steady pipeline of high-quality games, the company will be able to maintain its niche and avoid a painful decline into a third-party developer. The industry itself would be at a loss in such circumstances, given that Nintendo is alone amongst big developers in attempting to avoid the lack of innovation in the industry.