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 today's article, editor Dom mulls over Nintendo Switch's big sales milestones and how Nintendo needs to adopt new tactics to stay relevant in the months to come.
So there it is, another brilliant milestone reached as Nintendo Switch overtakes Wii U’s global lifetime sales. It’s an amazing achievement, surpassing in a mere 10 months what it took Wii U to reach in five whole years. That success comes off one of Nintendo’s most successful quarters, selling 7.23 million Switches, bringing the current sales total ot 14.86 million units thus far. Nintendo has had its quarter results since 2009, and its stock has soared as a result. Its market value has grown a staggering 175%, effectively healing wounds suffered during the dark ages of Wii U.
Nintendo Switch is the success story that keeps writing its own subsequent chapters. It feels less like a bubble in danger of bursting and more an organic progression, one where a piece of hardware’s success is based off industry confidence and user adoption. It’s a progress chart more akin to PS4’s early years than Wii’s - a console with a future rather than a gimmick with legs. The question is, what does Nintendo need to do once it’s passed most of the major sales milestones? How is it going to make the rest of 2018 as big a success, and how will Nintendo adequately quantify that success to the mainstream?
These are big questions, and ones that are becoming more and more apparent as we wrap up from the honeymoon period that’s been Switch’s first year. Now we have to consider how Switch remains the major player in an industry so passionately enamored with processing capabilities and VR support. Switch is an anomaly, to a certain extent, so it gets to operate outside the rules that govern its competitors (mainly because it isn’t trying to compete), but there are still some key boxes the console needs to tick to keep itself heading upwards and onwards.
Ports are going to become an issue. Not the sheer number - unlike other consoles, Switch is benefitting from having older or more familiar games, mainly because any game that’s never been ‘portable’ is instantly elevated by simply being on Switch and supporting handheld mode. It’s the equivalent of the early days of the ‘HD remake’ on Xbox 360 and PS3, where getting collections of old PS2 games actually made sense (at least until it started taking over release schedules).
The issue ports bring are the triple-A, multiformat ones. Nintendo Switch has so much innovation built into its DNA, but in the end it’s not a piece of hardware that can compete with Xbox One or PS4 in terms of raw processing power. When it comes to annual sports releases, having regular Switch versions gives the console a special brand of authenticity, but it’s one that defeats itself if those ports are always launching in bad shape. NBA 2K18 might be working now, but it was a mess when it first arrived on Switch. WWE 2K18 is still a burning car wreck, and it’s yet to put out. Even if developer Blind Squirrel manages to get it working properly, the stain of a borked port stays in the air like a bad impression, and it damages the console’s reputation in the long run.
Which brings me quite neatly into the next area that Nintendo needs to invest in: Switch-specific licenses and IP. Sure, there’s no reason why we couldn’t have an Assassin’s Creed, a Call Of Duty, another FIFA, a Madden, a Fortnite, whatever. It just needs to built with Switch’s capabilities in mind. And that doesn’t mean just HD Rumble, and motion controls and split Joy-Con co-op. It means developing games with its processor and GPU in mind; building online experiences with Nintendo’s online infrastructure (something I’ll get to in a sec) and creating something that feels intrinsically linked to the console.
It’s a risky investment. That kind of development is expensive, and not the throwaway turnaround times we saw taking prevalence during Wii’s era, where every Tom, Dick and Harry was throwing together any old tosh with support for motion control. But we need to see innovation and investment from double-A and triple-A studios and publishers. We need to stop seeing PS4, Xbox One and Switch announcement and more exclusive to Switch reveals. E3 2018 could well be the platform for this shift, but as I said, it’s a risky one and if there’s one thing publishers hate in games, it’s leaving money flapping in the winds of fate.
Then there’s one of the biggest issues Nintendo needs to address, and one I believe is damaging Switch the longer it goes unsorted: online infrastructure. We know that the Nintendo Switch Online service is coming in 2018, but it’s something the Big N needs to hit the ground running. Requiring users to pay for the privilege of playing online isn’t going to down the console - it's an expected part of the modern gaming experience that’s so commonplace you couldn’t even call it ‘premium’ anymore. The question comes down to how robust this infrastructure is.
Online play needs to become a more important part of how Nintendo Switch operates. Local ‘couchplay’ is a wonderful thing, but retains a niche aura that could stunt Switch’s mainstream persona in an industry ruled by online experiences. Games such as Overwatch, PUBG and League Of Legends continue to remain relevant for a reason and Nintendo needs to recognise this. Local multiplayer and online play can co-exist quite comfortably. It’s the need to give developers a framework that enables them to build online experiences that work on Switch. Leaving these building blocks to developers isn’t the way forwards.
In short, Nintendo needs to have faith in its hardware, in the involvement of the industry’s biggest players and embracing the modern characteristics of gaming. We need more Nintendo craziness, but for every Nintendo Labo we need something just as tangible for the mainstream. Ports that work; IP built with Switch in mind; online support that suits what gamers want in 2018 and beyond. This is the year for the console to continue to soar, but it needs to do so with a new playbook.
So that's Dom's hot take on Nintendo Switch's 2018, but what do you think? Clearly Switch is riding high, but where does it go next and how does it stay a success? We want to hear you take on this...