The reaction to Nintendo Switch since its presentation has been mixed, it's fair to say. In terms of metrics such as 'Likes' on YouTube and vibes among my own acquaintances, family and friends there's been a positive response. Yet to browse some specialist sites and similar channels on YouTube (or even comments sections on Nintendo videos or Tweets) can tell a different story, with videos and articles on 'everything wrong with Switch' bouncing around. It's hard to distinguish between concerns shared by a majority, and those yelled by a vocal minority.
When it comes to the reality of broad public perception around Switch, widely-held opinions are likely somewhere in the middle between 'everything is awesome' and 'Nintendo is Nintendoomed'. On a personal level I've been frustrated by some of the videos and articles exclusively espousing the latter perspective, ranting about the trend to colleagues in our chat room. There are genuine issues with Nintendo's early presentation of the Switch, pricing and perhaps with the confirmed launch window games, but there have also been positives and there are people excited about it. When some commentators with a lot of influence go solely on the negative with little balance to their arguments, I can't help but feel irritated.
When it comes to the launch library, my opinion is "it's a game or two short, but it's not bad". Some people must have very short memories, because there have been previous console launches that have been truly dire, from Nintendo and - I have to say - also its rivals. Volume doesn't always equal quality, either, as the 3DS line-up was stacked with games that largely under-performed. The Switch has The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as its tentpole release, and some other interesting games of different types; when you add 'March' and 'Spring' into your thinking, there are some solid games there. One significant missed opportunity is the lack of a concept pack-in, an argument I made in my 1-2-Switch first impressions article.
I'm not going entirely off topic there, though, as it brings me to what I believe is an undeniable problem with the system. I think a lot of the teeth-gnashing around the Switch has been amplified (and perhaps triggered) by a core problem, which is the fault of Nintendo and some third-parties - pricing. The Nintendo Switch is expensive, and I want to consider why it's considered to be rather pricey not only by some vocal critics, but inevitably also some quieter individuals interested in the system that are nevertheless hesitant about the cost.
Now, in the great Nintendo playbook of console releases, all of the pricing, accessories and strategies are right there in Chapter One: How to Launch a Console. Nintendo is a company that does not sell hardware at a loss, and considers its content to have sufficient prestige to command premium prices. I remember when the Wii launched, and though the system was a bargain compared to its rivals - because it was no doubt pretty cheap for Nintendo to manufacture - it was expensive to build up a collection. Sketchy games fell into bargain buckets, sure, but first-party titles were steep. Accessories, too, were tough to acquire if being careful with disposable income - until Wii Play came around I would scavenge controllers from my brother, as Remotes were quite expensive in the early days. As for Wii Fit, that board cost a decent chunk of change too.
I recall it being expensive for the first year or two, but then the initial virality of the system faded and its sales dropped to more sensible levels; games and accessories gradually slid down in price or appeared in bundles, and the market softened to make it more affordable. Then Wii U came, and I remember cringing at the initial cost, appeased by the fact my old Wii Remotes would at least work out of the gate.
The point is that systems are expensive at launch, and accessories can be too. Yet Nintendo, in sticking so rigidly to its playbook, has made a key error; it's behaving like it's 2006. Back then the Wii sold out as fast as stock arrived, add in the skyrocketing momentum of DS and Nintendo was top of the tree - it could charge premium prices and people would pay them, because it was a hot brand.
By the time 3DS came that had changed, and a disastrous post-launch sales window led to a dramatic price cut just months into its life. Again, Wii U was also expensive, but when it flopped there was no 3DS-style rescue, so it kept bombing. With that history in mind, Nintendo should have seen the hubbub about its pricing coming from a mile away.
When it comes to the numbers, across the board the systems and accessories are right at the top-end of what seems sensible in terms of pricing. When the recommended US price of $299.99 was given in the Presentation it was certainly an 'oh no' moment for me, because that would always be an issue when many had expected $249.99. Then came the interest in the fact that the Joy-Con Grip in the box wasn't the one that also works as a charger, but that it'd be an extra accessory.
Prices for Joy-Cons and the Pro Controller then emerged - about $80 for a pack with 'left and right' controllers, or around $50 for a single side, rather like buying a Wii Remote 'back in the day'. In the UK some of the prices feel particularly brutal, such as £60 for a Pro Controller (£65 at some retailers), while games have also been a bit of a hot topic. Games some expected to be budget titles at launch are hitting the $60 mark, while the brief sight of games at £60 on UK retail sites sent fans in the country into a bit of a meltdown, albeit retailers are competing and now backing off to around the £50 mark. In the UK this is part of a broader trend of some imported and online goods starting to cost more as a result of the pound's value, what some are calling the 'Brexit tax'. I'm not going to get into that in detail, but suffice to say things are getting more expensive than we're accustomed to in the UK, and the Switch prices are right up there.
A problem is that when something like 1-2-Switch is $49.99, on top of all the potential extra costs, many people need to then be picky and make choices on what they buy. In going right at the top-end of feasible pricing Nintendo and early third-parties are also gambling on early adopters to lump the costs, and often that is what happens. Consoles, as I've said, are always expensive to start off.
This is all conventional, by the book stuff from these companies, with Nintendo leading the way. The problem? The playbook is arguably out-of-date, based on market realities a decade old. The technology and entertainment industries are now dominated by a more-ish consumerism in which we can get so much for relatively little money. So much has slid down in price, driven by streaming in the likes of TV and music industries, that to be asked to stump up can be a shock, unless the brand happens to be Apple. If there's even a whiff of a product being a step or two short of meeting stringent and high expectations, along with having a premium price, the internet will make the point vociferously. Stepping outside of Nintendo remember No Man's Sky on PS4, a game that failed to deliver on some promises and expectations. If it had been a $20 game I suspect more would have shrugged off the disappointment, but it was priced and marketed as a retail game; vocal critics dragged out every conceivable criticism as a result.
With Switch, some of the criticisms and concerns are absolutely valid, but the whole pricing angle adds volume to that noise, amplifying it. For those that want a single game and perhaps an extra controller at launch the price is going beyond $400, so questions are asked. Is it good value? Is this device worthy of that sort of investment?
Nintendo and some third-parties have failed to step back and consider the consumer angle at launch, which as I've said is pretty much the norm. The difference now is social media, so early adopters or those turned off from being day one buyers voice their displeasure at the perception of being fleeced. It becomes a narrative.
It's clear that Nintendo's decision makers in these areas, sadly, either can't escape their bubble or choose not to. When you get the likes of Reggie Fils-Aime focusing on the financial perspective with the lack of pack-in games, you see timidity and strict internal policies at work. On paper the pricing is no doubt absolutely sensible - take manufacturing cost, the extremely clever technology in Joy-Cons, all of the baseline numbers, and you likely arrive at a $299.99 end-user price. Yet that inflexibility is the problem. The entertainment industry is now driven by subsidised hardware and services designed to drive user numbers. With a userbase comes support and solidity, and profits follow. The aggressive bundling and pricing of the newer 'slim' PS4 and Xbox One S models speak to this, and this is a world of cheap tablets and a number of devices and services at affordable prices, as driven by companies like Amazon and Google.
Whether you agree with the race downwards in prices or not, that's the market Nintendo is in. That's where it has to compete. Yet it's tackling the launch like it would in years gone by, with little regard for current realities. In a New Year's Resolutions article I hoped for a bold Nintendo that would be ambitious with the Switch, from pricing and bundles to producing plenty of stock. After a few years with some notable mistakes, I wanted the company to look at its impressive cash-rich resources and think, "let's go for it". Follow the aggressive tactics of other entertainment companies and draw in people on the fence, make Switch unmissable.
What we have instead, I think, is the standard Nintendo. Stock quickly became an issue in markets like the US with pre-orders selling out, pricing and bundles are a problem in terms of public perception, and the company is trying to charge at cost with a premium sheen.
I hope, as a Nintendo fan, that it will all ultimately pay off. If the launch sell-outs (which happen as standard with Nintendo hardware, whether it's successful long-term or not) lead to a strong sense of momentum, driven by releases like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 into the summer, then great. More surprises are inevitably going to be revealed, so if the system gets to the Holiday season on a high and then has a great festive period with the likes of Super Mario Odyssey, even better. After the successful rescue of 3DS but the failure of Wii U, I suspect the vast majority reading these pages treasure the presence of Nintendo in the industry and want it to succeed with Switch.
Right now, though, it's hard to call. As I said at the top, discerning broad public opinion is tough, as positive metrics are offset by legitimate concerns and the somewhat hysterical expression of those worries in some quarters. It's difficult to figure out whether Switch will be in a good place after 1-2 months on the market, or whether it'll endure a 3DS / Wii U-style fall in post-launch momentum. If that slump comes, it's also uncertain whether Nintendo will take the necessary steps to save the situation or not.
I'm hoping for the best, personally, while being aware that the worst is a possibility. It's a pity, though - in sticking to its old rules Nintendo has banked on its prestige and brand power with premium pricing. What that's achieved is a backlash, and it feels like an own goal that was entirely unnecessary.