The Switch has only been out a little over five months, but in this helter-skelter world it already seems to be settled into the market. General buzz and demand remain high, there are major retail games due regularly for the rest of the year, and Nintendo is still in a continuous battle to ensure that supply meets demand. For many that are early adopters, meanwhile, attention isn't solely on the big-name games coming to stores. The Switch eShop has continued to grow its library, and it seems that the floodgates are opening for more developers to bring their projects to the system.
We now seem to be entering what has been informally referenced as 'wave 2' by some familiar with publishing (or trying to) on the Switch eShop. At launch Nintendo made it clear, publicly, that in the early days it would be employing a policy of curation, and we saw a slow but steady influx of games. There were some quiet weeks, however, and the months that built up to that launch curation period led to some disputes and growing pains. In the process of researching that linked feature on some problems with the way early eShop publishing was handled, I was certainly given the impression that after the initial controlled period the leash would be loosened on developers and publisher of various sizes.
That appears to be the case, and we're seeing good and bad sides to that process. To start with the good, I think we're getting to the point where the eShop is not only delivering some fantastic quality, but also plenty of variety to its games. Though arguments can be made for and against the curation that led to a very structured first few months on the store, one area where I believed it fell slightly short was in variety. Don't get me wrong, there were some top-notch titles early on that offered different experiences and genres, but it still felt like a 'gamer-heavy' line-up.
To clarify further, my parents are both Switch owners, and my father in particular plays less console-style games than most. Yet he enjoys certain styles of games, namely point-and-click adventures, puzzle games, and titles that put the emphasis more on smart play rather than fast reflexes. He gave me a different perspective on the early line-up - I thought it was rather good, but he pointed out the excess of action and reflex-based titles and a lack of games for those that nevertheless could find plenty to enjoy on DS / 3DS in particular. For the longest time the only game he bought was Snake Pass, which is tricky but importantly doesn't pressure players into rapid reflexes. Now, however, the store is broadening out nicely with the kinds of games that suit that kind of player - recently he's picked up Death Squared and Bulb Boy, for example. The Switch eShop is starting to cater a little more towards a more chilled-out, relaxed demographic, and is more accessible as a result.
From my point of view, I'm becoming a bigger believer in the store week by week. It seems that barely a day goes by when new games aren't announced or dated, and in many cases they look exciting. There's some terrific variety, with the past week alone highlighting upcoming titles like Lumo, Dimension Drive, This is the Police (which may also have a physical release), Chess Ultra, Gear.Club Unlimited and various others being confirmed. In the next week or two some potentially good 'uns are due to actually arrive, the likes of Slime-san, Retro City Rampage DX, Ironcast, Sine Mora EX and Phantom Trigger. The list is getting impressive, on top of the many gems previously confirmed for 2017, and of course the E3 reveal of Rocket League. The key to all of it is diversity - there are puzzlers, shmups, platformers, action games, driving games, point-and-click, adventure titles. Some are exclusives, most of them aren't, but they're all welcome.
The Switch is a great way to play a lot of these games, too. Naturally anything that puts a focus on local multiplayer can flourish, and we've seen quite a few games already that shine once you hand over a Joy-Con and play with a friend. Because they're indie games plenty run and look great on the TV, with most (but of course not all) smaller developers getting strong performance out of the hardware. The portability is important too - a number of games that were previously only on PC or other consoles can now be played on the go, which in some cases is fantastic. We also have a few solid cases of mobile titles that are nice to play on the system, with VOEZ being an early example. A few cases of sloppy optimisation aside, plenty of download games play wonderfully on Nintendo's system.
All of these factors have me excited about the Switch eShop, hence the headline that I believe it's looking like the 'real deal'. It's not all sunshine and roses, though; it never is. For starters, the eShop itself is still lacking as a platform. Some improvements have been made in updates, such as the ability to 'browse all' games and a slightly improved UI, but I still feel it's actually a weaker interface than on Wii U. There are multiple demos but there's no obvious 'demo' category, in fact we're mostly lacking categories. Early on the simple design was acceptable due to the small library, but it's not fully fit-for-purpose now that the library has grown. I still feel it needs clearly visible categories and 'windows' to direct shopper's attention to games older than a month. As it stands you scroll through recent releases, browse the chart or look at a long and dull list of games released. It's not very Nintendo-like, frankly, as it's lacking in personality.
The Nindies Showcase, above, showed that Nintendo is keen to make a success of the Switch eShop
Visibility for games is limited, then, and on top of that we have a few games that I'll charitably call "low-end". Not many, they're the exception to the rule, but it's going to happen more if curation truly takes a back seat. An impression I had earlier in the year was that Nintendo was trying to curate for the launch window without necessarily having a team big enough for the task, and the fact is that some would argue curation isn't needed anyway. After all, platforms like Steam and even the PS Store on PS4 don't curate much at all, they simply require developers to meet relatively simple requirements for certification. If you decide to look, terrible games can be found on most download stores.
At the peak of the Wii U's shovelware phase I did shift towards wanting some form of quality control, but it's not a simple argument to defend. If you curate the process requires resources, and it scares off some worthy developers that don't feel like enduring long waits and jumping through excessive hoops. Perhaps the 'market' must ultimately decide, gamers determining which content they support and what they don't. I think 90%+ of Switch eShop content to date has been 'not bad' or better; some of it is fantastic. That quality helps to set standards, and when game pages for low-quality games pop up they frankly stand out like a sore thumb. If 'bad' games flop, then they surely won't be profitable and will drift away.
Beyond a better layout and user interface for the Switch eShop, I think it's ultimately shaping up very nicely. Nowadays I find myself eyeing a purchase or two pretty much every week, even if I still try to be sensibly picky - I try not to 'hoard' game purchases that I'll never play and finish. The test for Nintendo (and of course the many Indie devs using the store) will be attracting buyers, luring in the growing Switch audience. The eShop, and the sorts of games it can attract, can be a major asset if enough owners are persuaded that their shiny system isn't just there for high-profile first-party retail games.
It'll be interesting to see how the store develops - at this moment I'm certainly optimistic that it'll continue to be an invaluable part of the system's offering.