Making the same mistakes.
The recent deluge of information surrounding the upcoming Nintendo Switch has a lot of people talking about whether or not Nintendo has learned from its past mistakes. The company is making the same mistakes that it made when it released the Wii U, proving that they haven’t learned much since the release of that console more than four years ago.
First, what is Nintendo doing right with the Switch? They’ve distanced themselves from the Wii brand, making sure that consumers know that the Switch is an entirely new product. They’ve also made it very clear what the console does, clearly demonstrating how the system switches from the TV to portable mode. But other than that Nintendo is still making mistakes they’ve been guilty of for years.
The Wii U launched with 34 games, and while this is much larger than the 6 games currently shipping with the Switch, it was almost entirely comprised of third party releases. But almost immediately after launch, the third party support died out. This was largely due to the fact that any game released for the system had to take advantage of the Wii U’s gamepad. The console’s poor sales didn’t help matters. Publishers didn’t want to support a platform that wouldn’t sell many games. This that those interested in releasing games for the Wii U had to impliment extra features for any game that was ported to the platform. The Switch doesn’t have anything quite like the gamepad to adhere to, but its multiple control modes mean that every game developed for it needs to run properly in multiple play styles and power outputs.
The Switch does have a fair number of third party titles lined up, but the majority of them are ports of older games like Skyrim (and it isn’t confirmed if the Switch is getting the Special Edition or the original release) and smaller indie titles. It looks like recent, major blockbuster titles won’t be making their way to the console, however. Just last week it was confirmed that Titanfall 2 and Borderlands 3 would likely never come to the system. A Respawn designer stated that the reason for this was that porting the game just wasn’t possible, remarking “No. F*** no. No you’re not going to be able to fit Titanfall on it. That’s the same Zelda from the Wii U.”
Nintendo has never focused on graphical prowess when creating a new system, but this also isolates them from a lot of third-party developers who are trying to push the limits of what new hardware is capable of visually. The Wii U was home to a handful of fantastic Nintendo exclusives and some interesting indie titles that took advantage of the console’s unique two-screen setup. But there were always several months each year where next to no games came to the Wii U. And the Switch looks like it is already set up to follow the same patterns.
Reggie Fils-Aime recently spoke to CNET about Nintendo’s approach to launching the Switch, saying they are creating a “steady pacing of content that continually reinforces for the people who bought into the platform why they made a smart choice, as well as what compels people who might be sitting on the sidelines to jump in.” So the Nintendo Switch’s launch lineup is sparse so Nintendo can save some of its bigger titles for later in the year, ensuring that those who want to pick up the console in 2017 will always have a brand new title to play. But this pacing of content is also what led to the downfall of the Wii U. Third party support quickly dried up and Nintendo was forced to singlehandedly support the platform with a carefully paced lineup of releases.
The Switch’s unique setup isn’t the problem, though. The problem is that Nintendo hasn’t shown any concrete methods of using the Switch’s features that take full advantage of the portable/console hybrid. 1-2-Switch is a smart way to illustrate the many uses of the HD Rumble technology built into the Joy-Con controllers but these controllers are being marketed as the heart and soul of the switch. What makes them such a pivotal part of the system’s ecosystem other than the fact that they allow for multiple play styles? If Nintendo doesn’t do a better job of marketing these new devices and why they are such a game changer, it’s likely that very few developers will take advantage of the technology.
Nintendo has existed in their own ecosystem for the last several years. They’ve been underpowered compared to their competition since the GameCube. They’ve continually focused on creating new styles of play with systems like the DS and Wii. While this ingenuity has helped them stand out, it has also placed them behind the industry as a whole. The Nintendo Switch is an incredibly unique gaming console, allowing the player to seamlessly switch from playing on a TV to playing on a handheld, but the company itself is making the same mistakes all over again. While the Switch is still an incredibly intriguing product, it isn’t poised for greatness just yet.
Maybe Nintendo can turn things around after the Switch hits store shelves. They would need to maintain third party support, and do a better job of showing the true potential of their new machine first, though. The Switch can certainly still be a booming success, but Nintendo needs to stop making the same mistakes it has made in the past and move forward with the rest of the industry.