Is Switch Just a One-Off Gimmick?

By Sean Michael-Patrick Thompson
September 21, 2018

Recently a discussion was sparked on the Two Guys Playing Zelda Discord (which you should totally join to discuss all things Zelda) about the potential longevity of Nintendo Switch in the console market. As Zelda fans, I’m certain we all want Nintendo to do well into the next generation and beyond, so I’d like to give my take on Nintendo’s current place in the console market.

To begin, I will reiterate the primary arguments against Nintendo for this generation, and basically why I think that these arguments are incorrect and/or irrelevant. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

Argument number one; Gaming on the go is a gimmick:

Of course, nobody wants to play games away from the house, it’s a niche market who buys handheld consoles! Okay, most of the world isn’t quite that critical of the market, but I’ve heard this argument from so-called “hardcore” gamers who think playing a greater amount of games somehow makes them better than us filthy casuals. I’ve heard it time and time again about every dedicated handheld up to and including the Switch.

I barely want to acknowledge this argument because of how absurd it is. If mobile games are just a gimmick and nobody likes them, then how have Nintendo DS and Gameboy/Gameboy Color lines each sold over one hundred million units? Two of the top four best selling consoles of all time are handheld lines and still it’s regarded as a niche or gimmick market.

Even discounting the handheld console market, gaming on the go has truly integrated itself into daily life to bring games to as many people as possible. Within its first year, Pokemon Go was downloaded over one hundred million times, and those downloaders liked it well enough to generate two-hundred sixty-eight million dollars in revenue. Handheld games are accessible by anyone anywhere, and whether the “hardcore” crowd likes it or not, they are at a minimum an equal section of the gaming market.

Argument number two; Nintendo should just make a big, powerful console:

This has been repeated like a broken record since the last time the Big N focused on power like their competitors, but honestly power is not everything, and I feel like I can prove it. Even just looking at this generation, Xbox One X is touting its title as the most powerful home console of all time, but still having a hard time scratching the sales figures of Playstation 4, and Switch is quickly gaining the momentum needed to surpass it in sales over the next few years. I’m no expert, but Nintendo sold around half as many Switch units in one year as Xbox One has since its release in 2013.

As for raw power being the forefront of design philosophy, during the early 2000s, Nintendo GameCube was the most powerful dedicated gaming device on the market. Despite this, they were outsold not only by the enormous success of the Playstation 2, but also the fledgeling Xbox, which was Microsoft’s first turn in the home console game. So the last time they did focus on a beefy machine, they were still behind in the global sales race.

Directly following the lackluster sales of the GameCube, Nintendo found its biggest home console success story thus far. Based on the gimmicks of motion controls, party games that you could play together with anyone, as well as a smaller price tag than the competitors, Wii took the market by storm, and brought more games to more people than either of its competitors, and with about eighty-four million units each, that was no small task.

The next generation was a bit strange, and I’m not going to ignore the Wii U’s underwhelming sales figures, so let’s go, why did gimmick system one succeed while gimmick system two did not? Well I can’t pin it down to one thing, but selling consoles is a careful balance of advertising and steady content releases, and Nintendo kinda dropped the ball on both. I won’t give you a history lesson, but the important thing is that the Wii U’s lack of relative power was not the only factor that made it a flop, even if it was a contributing factor.

So that’s that, power matters, but only to an extent. Now I’m going to flip this argument upside down. Nintendo Switch is a powerhouse. Comparing it to the Playstation 4 and Xbox One is only half the battle, as Switch’s hybrid nature means that it fits in both markets, and in case you were unaware, it is the most powerful handheld console of all time. I just don’t understand how anybody would argue Nintendo doesn’t care about power when this is the case. With the technology we have available today, a console simply cannot be the most powerful home console and handheld console. With that in mind, I believe Nintendo Switch is the best possible combination of both that we could have right now, and its place in the market was established by its twenty-million unit selling launch year.

Now I’ve said my piece, and I believe that with continued software support from Nintendo and some big third-parties that we could very well see Switch surpass the seven year goal the developers have set for it. It might take an upgraded system in a few years like a Switch XL or something, but that’s the way most technology goes these days. I believe that this will establish itself as a mainstay of the gaming market and in ten years or so we simply won’t know life without it.

Is there anything I forgot? Do you find a major plothole in one of my arguments? I would love the discussion, so by all means, fire your comments at the bottom of the page or on Twitter, and we can keep the conversation sidling!

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