We are, slowly and surely, exiting the 'silly season' of game releases. From late September to mid/late November each year all of the biggest companies push out their premium games, hoping to capitalise on the tendencies of many to spend big ahead of the festive period. It works, too, and every year we see familiar names - FIFA, Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed / Far Cry and more. Nintendo joins in too, with this year's notable arrivals including Super Mario Odyssey on Switch and Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon on 3DS.
In the past couple of years Nintendo's role in this chaotic period was relatively muted in terms of sales and broader attention from the public. In fact without Pokemon Sun and Moon we'd be struggling to look for big hitters last year, especially as the big N had scaled back its Wii U support. Nintendo was having to do the majority of the lifting on its own, too, with 3DS having a distinct library and Wii U being put out to pasture, meaning that most (read: practically all) notable multi-platform releases passed Nintendo systems by.
To an extent that's continuing with Switch, with the likes of Assassin's Creed Origins being too beefy for the console. Yet it has been a busy time with the system - beyond Super Mario Odyssey there was the September release of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and we've had a little glut of pleasing third-party games led by DOOM, L.A. Noire and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Big name games, with the angle being that they're portable for the first time.
There's more to come yet - this week will bring Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Resident Evil Revelations Collection (separate downloads only in Europe), and we still await the final DLC for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Yet from a non-Nintendo major retail perspective, we've had the silly season burst. The question is, where does it leave us?
We still await detailed sales information on DOOM, L.A. Noire and Skyrim, a triumvirate of ports that were exciting in theory but tougher purchasing decisions for some. Undoubtedly an audience eagerly snapped them up, some from the eShop, but early evidence from the UK charts showed a hesitant userbase at retail. The reality is simple - we live in a world where many gamers have multiple systems.
One reason the Switch is doing well, among various factors, is the temptation for some to pick it up as their Nintendo / portable gaming fix for the generation, typically alongside a PC, PS4 or Xbox One. Yes, there are a number that game exclusively on Nintendo hardware, but it's likely that a large part of the audience that enjoy the likes of DOOM and Skyrim have another console or PC, a legacy of Nintendo's decade+ policy of putting concept above power - a philosophy that was a huge success with Wii, let's not forget. With these being ports, plenty will have already played them in some form on other hardware.
That was the case for this scribe, with copies on PC or PS4 of all those games prior to their Switch arrivals. For those in that boat it's then a question of double dipping - how much do you want to play these games on the go or with their Switch-specific features? All three of those big-name games are tempting for different reasons, but it is a lot of money to buy them again. Take DOOM and Skyrim, for example - full price games on Switch, easily found at a discount on other platforms. For those with limited budgets tough decisions are made, and perhaps games that are desirable are nevertheless left behind.
The question, then, is whether releases like this trio will sell enough to keep their notable publishers interested; perhaps, even if they struggle, those companies will take the long view. We already have suspicions and fears that EA will be put off by FIFA 18 Switch sales, but will Bethesda and Rockstar be more pragmatic, will they be realistic with their sales expectations? You have the challenge of selling pricey ports on a young system with a userbase around the 10-12 million mark - surely numbers are expected to be modest.
At this stage we have to rely upon the positive reputation and momentum of the Switch continuing to draw in major publishers through 2018 and beyond, regardless of successes (or otherwise) in this launch year. In some cases there'll be scaled back ports, but there could also be scope (if we're lucky) for unique titles, be they spin-offs or standalone titles developed as notable side projects. Think, for example, of when we had a game like Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on DS, a top-down spin-off to the big budget 3D series entries. If the Switch continues to thrive, primarily off Nintendo's releases, projects of that nature could be an interesting route for big studios to take alongside ports / remasters.
One thing is for sure - right now the future is uncertain. With a lot of the biggest studios considering 4K and graphical fidelity as priorities for big-budget titles, the Switch won't be a fit for them all. Yes, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is coming, but not every graphical engine is that scalable and flexible, and let's not forget how far Doom had to be squeezed using the same technology.
Taking the optimistic angle, considering the continual good press and positive vibes around the Switch we could see a fascinating generation from third-parties. Ideally it'll be a mix of ports and multi-platform games - such as Ubisoft's Starlink: Battle for Atlas - with some unique titles thrown in. The future could be bright.
Time will tell.