Nintendo is facing one of the most important moments in its three decades in the video game business. It has given up on the Wii U, a console that sold far less than any other main Nintendo system, and shifted its focus to the Nintendo Switch, which it plans to release in March 2017. It’s no exaggeration to say Nintendo’s place in the industry hinges on how successful the Switch is. If the device sells, it will let Nintendo continue to do what it does. If not, there’s a good chance investors will urge the company to make games for other more successful platforms and give up on hardware entirely.
Success will require Nintendo to make the right moves at the right time. Here’s how the Switch can succeed where the Wii U failed.
1. Accept market realities
Nintendo seems to be on the right track in terms of adapting to a changing market. The biggest problem it has is the rise of mobile gaming, which eats into a big portion of Nintendo’s target market of casual gamers.
To deal with mobile, Nintendo is taking an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality and releasing a handful of mobile games of its own. It all started with the middling social app Miitomo, which was followed up with the ultra-successful game Pokémon GO, a franchise in which Nintendo has a partial stake. Nintendo plans to keep putting out mobile games based on its properties in hopes of drawing new fans to the Switch. So far, those plans include launching Super Mario Run in December, plus mobile games based on Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem next year.
The other market reality Nintendo seems to have accepted is that it can’t compete with Sony and Microsoft in terms of power. The Nintendo Switch will be a handheld device you can plug into a TV, but there’s no chance it will approach the latest PlayStation and Xbox machines in terms of horsepower. That’s fine, but it’s also nerve-racking; no underpowered console has been successful since the original Wii, and that was years ago. Is there still a market for a device like the Switch? We’ll find out soon.
2. Bring lots of great first-party games
One of the major contributing factors to the Wii U’s demise was a lack of games. Sure, it racked up some great titles over the years, but many months would pass between releases. There’s no way to maintain a happy, growing user base when games only come out once in a blue moon.
For the Switch, Nintendo has two big advantages. For one thing, a long list of third-party publishers has agreed to put out games on the system. There’s no guarantee they’ll stick around, but they should help at least get the system off the ground.
The other advantage is that, for the first time since the launch of the Game Boy in 1989, Nintendo will only have one device to focus on. While Nintendo will continue supporting the 3DS into 2017, there’s little chance it will continue to do so beyond that, seeing as the Switch is a handheld device in addition to being a home console. There’s no reason for Nintendo to support two handheld devices going forward, even if the 3DS has a sizable install base of nearly 60 million units.
What that means is that all of Nintendo’s development teams can focus on the Switch, which should result in a steady stream of games coming out on the system even if third-party developers turn away. The Switch will still face stiff competition from mobile devices as well as Sony and Microsoft. But with Nintendo focusing on bringing its games to a single piece of hardware, it has the best possible chance of succeeding.
3. Maintain strong messaging
One of the biggest hurdles Nintendo faced with the Wii U was its inept messaging around the console. After Nintendo announced the Wii U, many people weren’t even sure it was a new system. They thought it was a peripheral for the original Wii.
Based on the reveal video Nintendo released for the Switch, it looks like the company’s messaging is straightforward and clear this time around. While there’s still a lot we don’t know about the device, we have a good idea of what it is, what it does, and why it exists. That’s something Nintendo never seemed to figure out for the Wii U, so the Switch seems to be off to a better start already.
4. Low price
If the Switch can’t compete with the Xbox One and Playstation 4 in terms of power, it will need to compete with its pricing. One of the reasons the original Wii was so successful was because it only cost $250 at launch. That was significantly less than the competition, and it lined up with the expectations of its more casual target market. If gaming isn’t a primary pastime for your customers, they’re not going to spend a bundle on a gaming console.
For the Switch to succeed, it will need to appeal to gamers of all kinds, from hardcore gamers to casuals alike. A low price will go a long way toward that goal.
5. Online features
The Wii U offers a much better online experience than the Wii did, but Nintendo still has a long way to go if it wants to catch up to Sony and Microsoft. The Switch is going to need a strong online component if it wants to succeed in 2017 and beyond.
Nintendo has taken some steps in this direction already by introducing a unified Nintendo account and a reward system. But the list of missing features is long and includes things like a unified friends list, achievements, voice chat, and the ability to share screenshots, videos, and live streams. If Nintendo can make strides in any or all of those categories, it will help make the Switch considerably more appealing.
6. Virtual Console
One of the things Nintendo has always been good at is celebrating its past by keeping its classic games available on its Virtual Console marketplace. There’s little doubt that the Switch will have a Virtual Console, but it would be fantastic if we could carry forward any Virtual Console games we bought on Wii U and 3DS.
This is unlikely because Nintendo can always count on its biggest fans to keep buying their favorite classics on each new piece of hardware. But we can dream, can’t we?