Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In this piece, editor Dom explores the gap in Nintendo's software library and how a the need to develop third-party exclusives will only make Switch stronger in the long run.
Since it exploded onto the scene in March 2017, Nintendo Switch’s growing library of software has subdivided into three very distinct camps. We’ve got our first-party exclusives, (the big hitters that will almost always shift units on brand recognition alone), myriad multiplatform ports (a mixed bag of robust sports sims and seemingly impossible to fathom cult classics) and, finally, the consistently vibrant indies that keep the eShop buzzing with new IP.
There’s no denying each one brings something positive to Switch’s continued success - not to mention the wonders it’s doing for Nintendo in an increasingly cutthroat industry - but that doesn’t mean we or Nintendo should expect another year of strong performances based on the exact same strategy. The Big N needs to mix things up for 2018 and evolve its tactics, adding a much-needed fourth pillar that’s been noticeably lacking thus far: the third-party exclusive.
So far we’ve only really had one title that just about fits the criteria, and even then said game had the safety net of first-party association. Yes, I’m talking about none other than Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle - the game that seemed like an elaborate April Fools' joke before revealing itself to be one of the most surprising and engaging games of 2017. It even made its creator cry with joy upon reveal!
There’s no denying the association with Nintendo’s biggest and most recognisable export certainly helped elevate Mario + Rabbids’ profile, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it was - and remains - a Ubisoft game through and through. From the unique personality infused by Davide Soliani and his team at Ubisoft Milan to its primetime unveiling at Ubisoft’s keynote at E3 2017, it effortlessly combined a set of timeless Nintendo mascots with its own and somehow pulled it off with aplomb.
Its success is proof positive that Switch can support exclusive titles that aren’t developed or published by Nintendo, whether they're a brand new IP or an offshoot of something more familiar. Yes, porting recognisable licenses can be a lot safer when it comes to the risky venture of developing for a new console, but Switch already has plenty of multiplatform titles and will add countless more in the years to come. Now is the time for Nintendo to start treating the console's third-party exclusive content with the same breadth of respect we’ve seen from other platform holders.
Look, I get it; exclusivity is a delicate setup that requires a great deal of faith and a considerable financial investment to lock a game on one platform, but it’s a vital ingredient to include when building a platform’s legacy in the here and now. Nintendo needs to invest in the right developers and right IP to give Switch a sense of identity that extends beyond its core franchises.
Let's look beyond Nintendo's green pastures for a moment. Just look at what Sony has done with its own third-party exclusives. Take the Yakuza series, for instance - it's featured on PlayStation consoles ever since PS2, a close relationhip that's seen characters such as main gangster hero Kiryu become as synonymous with the brand in Japan as any other mascot. Then there’s the Persona series, and its charismatic anime roots; or Nier: Automata and its bizarre yet compelling world-building. Then there's Bloodborne, a title which, while being partly developed by Sony's Japan Studio, is really FormSoftware's gig and part of the stunning Souls series. Even the mind-bending chaos of Danganronpa feels fundamentally linked to Sony's hardware without actually being first-party.
This is exactly what Nintendo Switch needs, and the console is in the exact place it needs to be to make this happen. Switch is selling at such a pace it’s outselling some of the biggest unit-shifting hardware in our industry’s history; Nintendo’s PR profile and mainstream presence is the strongest it’s been in years and publishers around the world are seemingly flocking to the platform to release their games. You could argue that this is already happening, with the confirmation that Nintendo is bankrolling the production of Bayonetta 3, a welcome Switch exclusive developed by PlatinumGames, a studio which recently had to endure the disappointment of having Microsoft pull the financial plug on Xbox One title Scalebound.
But this sudden influx of attention doesn’t always lead to good things. No one quite expected the motion control craze Nintendo Wii would incite in 2006 - not least Nintendo itself - so every publisher worth its salt started throwing exclusive titles at the unique USP of Ninty’s mainstream mega hit. Unfortunately, that rush of software saw the quality of Wii’s game library plummet as the desire to capatilise on a craze turned exclusivity into a bog of forgettable games. We don't want another Ninjabread Man, do we?
Whether publishers choose to follow Mario + Rabbids example and use a familiar licence to help sell a new experience on Nintendo Switch, or go all out on an exclusive that sells the unique selling points of the hybrid console, it’s finally time for the third-party exclusive to stand up and be counted in 2018.
What do you make of Dom's take on third-party exclusives? Does Nintendo Switch need them, or is Nintendo doing just fine as it is? Let us know below...