News that an officially-licenced Overwatch carry case for Nintendo Switch is available suggests an announcement on the horizon that many of us have expected – Overwatch is Switch-bound. While it's not yet confirmed, it would be a cruel joke to put out licensed accessories for a console you can't play the game on.
Winner of multiple 2016 Game of the Year awards, many people want to see Overwatch on Nintendo’s handheld (including us) and Blizzard has been 'open-minded' about it for a while now. The colourful team-based FPS would certainly be a good fit for Switch; another fine feather in the console’s cap and a further example of how Nintendo’s approach to third parties has been transformed this generation. Who could have guessed that both Bethesda and Blizzard would be bringing their big guns to a Nintendo platform just a generation ago?
The fact that Switch has been a runaway success obviously helps, but the combination of a familiar, developer-friendly architecture, clear marketing and broad appeal has made a Nintendo console financially viable to those companies for the first time in a long time. We're used to the lip service and soundbites of executives and directors commenting on how they respect Nintendo’s legacy and influence on video games, but to see those easy compliments backed up with actual software is a welcome change from the past.
Since the success of Diablo III on Switch, Blizzard has had nothing but good things to say about the platform holder. Obviously, a torrent of abuse would be unlikely even if things weren’t so rosy, but on the other hand Blizzard isn’t obligated to make glowing comments about business partners, either. In discussion with Kotaku senior producer Pete Stilwell was overflowing with positive adjectives when it came to Nintendo, describing the relationship as ‘extremely positive, extremely healthy’. Incredibly, he also used the word ‘forward-thinking’, which suggests a continuing partnership that will extend beyond the next game, and likely Switch itself.
For fans used to the stock “We love Nintendo!... but we have nothing to announce”, enthusiasm like this is most encouraging. Despite a third-party track record best described as ‘patchy’ (whether we're talking about the draconian licencing terms of the old days or seeming indifference and awkwardness during the Wii era), Nintendo must be able to see the value these quality third-party ports bring to its platform. We’ve seen a dramatic turnaround in the indie space with Switch and this happily seems to extend to the bigger companies and publishers. Bethesda’s apparent gamble of porting DOOM (2016) had a knock-on effect and attracted the attention of bigger companies that have ignored Nintendo platforms for years, if only because the spec disparity that's existed since the Wii made ports impractical. As evidenced by games as expansive as The Witcher 3 coming to the console, Switch’s broad popularity offers those companies access to an audience that can be tough to find elsewhere, and one that's vital to future prosperity – namely, kids.
That’s not to say younger gamers don’t have PlayStations and Xboxes, but Switch offers a portal to a whole demographic of new potential fans getting exposed to games like Diablo, Skyrim and DOOM for the first time on Switch. For the likes of Bethesda and Blizzard, that’s at least as valuable as catering to existing or lapsed gamers who simply want to play these classics on-the-go. No, children shouldn't be playing DOOM, but that didn't stop us back in the day, and we doubt it stops them now.
Young or old, it's the person who’s just finished Breath of the Wild or Splatoon 2 or Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 and is dipping their toe into the wider gaming pool for the first time that Blizzard's really after. The twitching eSports arenas of PCs might be intimidating for newcomers, but Overwatch on Switch? That could just be the gateway for a whole new wave of future fans. Plus, existing fans can now play on the toilet! Everyone’s a winner with a quality Switch port.
It’s easy to forget that Blizzard has history with Nintendo, too, even if the results didn’t set the world alight. If nothing else, StarCraft 64 showed a desire to engage with Nintendo’s audience; the game required significant reworking to function on console and launched in 2000, long after the bloom was off the N64’s rose. With conditions on Switch being much more favourable, it’s only natural that we see Blizzard returning now that the technical barriers are lower and mobile devices force developers to consider scalability from the very beginning.
That doesn’t mean we should take the influx of ‘miracle’ ports as a sign that everything must inevitably come to Switch. Are we likely to see World of Warcraft or StarCraft? Even with the touchscreen offering improved UI options, it still seems unlikely given the investment of time and resources it would take to build a quality port of such huge games, but stranger things have happened. The chance to reach that untapped audience means the possibility must have been raised at Blizzard HQ.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. It’s easy to get carried away with Wolfenstein II and Witcher 3 arriving in fine form (despite obvious caveats), but there are still games that would be unworkable on Switch in its current form. On the topic of Elder Scrolls Online, for example, ZeniMax Online Studios' Game Director Matt Firor recently spoke very plainly about the prospects of the MMORPG coming to Switch:
Not going to happen. The only way it’d work is if there was some kind of streaming service on Switch. It’s just not powerful enough.
That seems pretty watertight, and it’s hard to argue that games of this sort would have trouble retaining the overall vision and experience players get on other platforms. The incentive to overcome those considerable technical hurdles that prevent quick ports of Warcraft and StarCraft probably isn’t there at the moment, but the precedent has been set and there’s a hungry, growing audience for these meaty experiences on Switch.
There are other easier options still on the table, too. It’s surprising that we haven’t seen Hearthstone yet. A deck-building card game set in the Warcraft universe, it would be a great fit for the system and its touchscreen, and with Blizzard and Nintendo’s rekindled relationship you’d assume it’s only a matter of time.
While certain companies refuse to commit - we're looking at you EA - having one of gaming’s titans releasing quality software from its premium franchises on a Nintendo console feels pretty special for fans that couldn’t have dreamed of this situation a generation ago. Whatever the future holds, it's never looked brighter for fans of Blizzard and Nintendo.
How do you think Overwatch would translate to Switch? Do you think we'll see more fruits from this blossoming relationship in the future? Let us know your thoughts in the usual place.