Soapbox and 'Memory Pak' articles give our team a chance to share some personal perspectives; today it's the turn of Kate Gray to tell us her memories of the week the Switch came out, five years ago...
Five-ish years ago, in February 2017, I had just decided to move country. I had moved out of my ludicrously expensive London apartment that I shared with two other people the year before, in order to travel the world a little bit and generally be very in my 20s. I mostly hopped from couch to couch, staying with generous friends, here and there, which freed me up to go to conferences and conventions in exotic locales without having to worry about rent back home.
It was the perfect time for a hybrid home-and-handheld console, in other words — and I ended up in the perfect place, too.
The week before the Nintendo Switch release, I travelled to San Francisco for the very first time to attend the Game Developers Conference, and the hype amongst the attendees was palpable. The Switch would release on the last day of GDC, which meant that anyone with a talk or a game to show on the 3rd of March was basically boned. It was also a Friday, which gave the whole thing an end-of-school-year vibe.
GDC is basically the game developer social event of the year, like The One Ball Where Everyone Gets Husbands in a Jane Austen novel. Developers from all over the world descend on San Francisco's Moscone Center, whether it's to network and schmooze, pitch their game, attend and give talks, or show off a demo.
Some of the biggest names in gaming were there, from Double Fine's Tim Schafer to Arkane's Harvey Smith, plus basically any indie who could afford the astronomical cost of travel, bed, and board in one of America's most expensive cities. Investing in a week in San Francisco while GDC is happening can make or break a game, because if you play your cards right, you have the opportunity to meet people who can get you millions of dollars in funding with just one handshake. It's a crazy week. You don't even have to buy a ticket to the event — just be in the right city at the right time, which is good, because tickets cost between $300 and $2,000. (There's a lot to be said about how utterly exclusionary and limiting this way of doing business can be, but that's for another time.)
All of this is to say that I, through a series of coincidences, choices, and peer pressure, ended up in San Francisco at the same time as the movers and shakers of the games industry, for one glorious, shining week that also happened to be the launch of the Nintendo Switch, a console that would change my life in some pretty meaningful ways.
Some of the game developers at GDC undoubtedly already had developer kits, but they were bound to secrecy by Nintendo's legendarily draconian NDAs and embargoes; the rest of us, despite being entrenched in game development and all of its woes, were just as excited as regular nerds. A few people were planning to head to Target or GameStop or wherever Americans usually buy their consoles for the midnight launch, but I didn't join them. After all, I had no permanent address — so why would I buy a home console, even if it was a hybrid one?
Instead, I enjoyed the Switch vicariously for its first week of life. At the hostel many of us were staying in, someone hooked their brand-new Switch up to the single shared TV in the common area, and we all crammed into this tiny, windowless cinema room to sit on beanbags and watch the first hour of Breath of the Wild.
Forgive me for being incredibly sappy and perhaps a little hyperbolic here, but the Switch changed the world of gaming in that moment — and being around game developers made it even more exciting. Link stepping out of the cave into the bright sunshine of Hyrule after 100 years felt poignant, like that was a metaphor for us moving from Nintendo's disappointing Wii U era into something new, and unknown, and full of possibility. For the first few minutes, we were all like children again, and then quickly everyone in the room seemed to simultaneously remember that we could make games like this too.
(In case you're thinking "haven't you already told this story?" then you are correct — I talked about it in my piece about the Switch being a perfect travel companion!)
It's not surprising that we all felt like children in that moment. The Switch felt like a toy, for the first time in a long time, because consoles had slowly been moving away from their reputation as Things For Kids and more towards luxury gadgets for Cool Adults. The Wii U was Nintendo's attempt to try and get into that market, and no one really wanted that — so the Switch was them returning back to their home ground, accepting their position as "The Fun Uncle", and going all-in.
The possibilities for indie games were made clear from the start with the excellent launch game Snipperclips, which managed to capture that family-game feeling from the Wii era while bringing it into the modern day. It was perfectly pitched, and it was perfectly received, as people got together in groups to play games, immediately making every single person want to buy a Switch for themselves. It practically sold itself, and for game developers, it was all they needed to convince them to jump on board, too.
I forget who was in that room at the exact time, but the people I met that year at GDC would go on to make games like Celeste, Flinthook, Beast Breaker, Untitled Goose Game, and Wargroove, all of which exemplify what the Switch is capable of. Yes, we've had some fantastic first-party games, from Breath of the Wild to Super Mario Odyssey, and about fifty Pokémon games, too... but what I will remember the Switch most for is the breadth and depth of its indies.
It's incredibly cool to think that I spent the first week of the Switch surrounded by game devs who would go on to help define what the Switch would be. In that moment, none of us knew what to expect from this new, shiny rectangle, but it quickly became apparent that its potential was great, and that we all wanted to be a part of it.
It was only a week or two after that first magical day before I bought my own Switch. It didn't last the full five years, and a lot has changed in that time, too, but there hasn't been a single day where I've not had a Switch with me in some form or another. Whether I'm spending 8 hours a day playing Skyrim for the first time (!) or I'm popping my head into my Animal Crossing: New Horizons island to check up on things, there's always something to do.
The Switch has defined the last five years of my life, just as it defined that one trip to San Francisco with a bunch of other dorks. I might not have appreciated it at the time, but there was nowhere better to be for the Switch launch — and nowhere more appropriate for a console that would come to be something indies and AAA studios alike could rally around.
Thanks for the memories, Switch! I hope I'm somewhere equally cool for the next launch.
As a person who suffers from Bipolar Disorder the Switch has helped me through difficult times.
I was on a 1 year working holiday in Japan at the time of the Switch's launch. There was a large lineup outside of a random Bic Camera, which at first looked terrifying, since I thought I'd be too late to get a preorder. Fortunately, I got my order in, had to pay in full up-front (bonus zero sales tax for me), then returned on launch day to pick it up. I'm still using that same Japanese unit to this day. 😊
Thanks for sharing.
I mean I know you like get paid to share and technically it's a job but still reading it was very nice and - yes - that first spring and summer of Switch did feel like Nintendo emerging from the shrine of resurrection.
Cool story! I've had a few serendipitous Nintendo moments myself. Once, when I was in MY 20's and living it up as a Gamestop store manager I attended the company's annual manager conference in Las Vegas. That night, while they opened up the convention hall to allow us to try out some upcoming Gamecube games, I stepped into an elevator with Reggie Fils-ame! It was just me, Reggie and his two aides. All I had on me was my conference badge, so I asked one of his aides if I could borrow a pen and then asked Reggie if he would sign my badge, professing my undying adoration of Nintendo in the process. He smiled, signed the badge and thanked me for being a fan. Super nice (and very tall). Some time later, another magical coincidence let me to meet Charles Martinet, who would end up signing that very same badge. I still have that hanging up in my office, now almost twenty years later!
I hadn't bought a console in a decade. So, when I go a Switch with BOTW at midnight release, it was magical. I had no idea what was in store because, I got the Switch for Mario Kart 8, hadn't paid any attention to any zelda news since Twilight Princess. I'm not sure another moment in gaming will ever match the surreal intensity of that launch.
It took me a couple months to scrounge up enough money (and convince myself it wouldn't be a setback financially) before purchasing...
I do not miss the broke student days.
I had the Limited Edition of Breath of the Wild on launch day but got my Switch three months after saving up for it.
I was in the perfect place, too. At home, in bed. Perfect place for pretty much everything.
Great read, Kate! The Switch is honestly one of Nintendo's more (for a lack of a better word) "magical" consoles, thanks to all the different ways it could be played. Sadly I didn't really realize it at the time — though to be fair, I had a bit of a reason to be a little skeptical.
I was a little on the fence early on in the Switch's first year. As a Nintendo gamer since the N64/GameCube days, the Wii U was very underwhelming, despite all the potential it had. No developer knew what to do with the asymmetric gameplay possibilities — not even Nintendo. The Switch had a lot of potential, for sure, but I was so afraid Nintendo was going to squander it yet again. And plus, really the only game I wanted to play on the system was Breath of the Wild, which also had a release on Wii U. So I settled for the first several months with that version.
It wasn't until Mario Odyssey was revealed (around E3 2017) that I realized Nintendo was going to go all in with the Switch, especially since it was going to release exclusively on Switch and not Wii U. And when I saw they were going to release a shiny new red Joy Con edition of the Switch with the game, I knew what I had to do and pre-ordered my system. Come October 2017 when I had the console hybrid in my hands, I knew Nintendo finally (mostly) figured out how to make the most of their system, like in days of old.
I do want to point out I felt the Switch was somewhat baron with notable game releases outside of BotW, SMO, and Xenoblade 2 in 2017. And 2018 wasn't that much better until Smash Ultimate came out in December of that year. But imo 2019 was the year the pipeline really opened up with amazing game after amazing game. I've had my share of Joy Con issues, but outside of that, five years later, I am so happy with my Switch. Nintendo, ya did good!
Thanks for sharing such a fun 5-year retrospective Kate! It’s a nice reminder that at heart, devs and journalists - you know, the game industry PROS - often are relatable nerds and otakus like me, even if I’m constantly astounded by your art and imagination. And you all geeked out over the Switch launch, too!
I remember lining up at midnight to pick up my pro controller and BOTW (my console wouldn’t deliver till a few days later) and it really was a holiday atmosphere in there. The clerks, customers, everyone was smiling and excited to try out their Switch at rooftop parties or wherever.
At the time I was still in my early-ish 40s, quite broke, just 2 months into living full time as a trans woman, and still trying to get used to living under a separate roof from my former wife and young kids. Then, as now, I’d say life was equal parts pain and pleasure - thanks in part to having the Switch around for near daily shots of fun, distracting solace, especially when I was lonely, or hormonal, or grieving. It’s been so much fun playing, sharing with my kids and siblings, and gossiping or complaining about it here on NL that I honestly think this is my favorite video game console since my childhood with the Colecovision and NES.
I’ll keep cheering for Nintendo and video games in general, and look forward hopefully to many more memorable moments of shared excitement. ❤️
I was at the very same GDC Kate, and it was magical indeed, thanks for sharing your story. Got mine at Target 7AM when they opened doors, and at the same night we unboxed it at Unity’s lobby and hooked it to their gigantic TV. Will never forget the excitement of Botw and the sense of possibility that crossed all our indie developer hearts. In my case, being Brazilian (which limits our access to new tech a lot) made it even more meaningful to be in SF on launch day. That’s why my OG Switch is a priceless console to me, such good memories for the past years, since day one…
It was actually a suuuuper awkward time for me since power was out for like a week at that same time and I was also working toward going to WrestleMania a month later. I managed to get one day one but I'm not sure how.
@KateGray it's no secret I'm a big fan of your writing, but this is probably my favorite thing you've ever written. it's so genuine and warm, and really captures the essence of what the start of the Switch era was like.
it certainly got me waxing poetic about my own first year with the Switch. because your piece does a great job of making me, as a reader, perfectly recall the air of excitement, wonder, and awe around the Switch launch. it really is something that hadn't been felt to such an extent in gaming before then, and this article sums it all up marvelously.
thank you so much for sharing this ❤
@Xenobound94 2017 had ARMS, Splatoon 2, Disgaea 5C, Doom 2016, Enter the Gungeon, Stardew Valley, Rocket League, Mario+Rabbids, Skyrim, Yooka-Laylee, LA Noire, Overcooked, Sonic Mania and a little game called Mario Kart 8, amongst others. It might not have been the fullest schedule ever, but it wasn't as barren as a lot of people made it out to be.
I had already told my wife I was getting one with part of our tax refund. She went out to try and find one on March 3rd at Target and had no luck. She did manage to grab me Breath of the Wild just so I'd have a game ready. Fast forward maybe three or four days later and she picks me up to go home from work. Before I get in the car, she tells me to go grab something in the trunk. I open it up and sitting right there is a Nintendo Switch box. I don't particularly care for surprises. So I rather get my gifts now. But that was a pleasant surprise. One of her coworkers husband had pre-ordered like three or four of them and she manage to buy one off of him. So yeah, that's my Nintendo Switch story
Went to a midnight sale. There was almost 100 of us, all of which got one. Best console ever! We have 4 in the house now, with me upgrading my launch one to the oled 2 weeks ago.
@StuTwo Definitely. After the "Pii U" I thought they might wind up like SEGA
I got mine almost a year ago to the day with the government pandemic money. Pretty exciting story eh?
The only thing that has brought me down about the Switch are the “joy-cons” and the drift.. I love how they are called “joy” “cons”.. (😆). Besides that though, love the Switch. I bought the Hori Split Pad Pro controllers and they have lasted a lot longer than the ordinary ones. Which is alright for me, since I prefer to play the Switch in handheld mode.
Also, I wish that I was still in my 20s five years ago.. I am quite a bit older than that though.. 😉
The WiiU was not disappointing.
Aside from sales the WiiU was anything but disappointing.
That being said, I got to go to Japan on my honeymoon the day after the switch launched and bought a Japanese version of BOTW. So that was a pretty great launch week indeed.
FreeShop does exists.
I held off on the Switch until Christmas of 2017. Everyone knows there was nothing but the launch titles for the entire year. Nintendo was still fresh off the Wii U stink and it everyone was sitting back watching and somehow (probably only due to the strong launch lineup) systems kept selling all year round. I now have over 120 physical Switch games and it's more than my PS4 and Xbox One collection combined.
@RubyCarbuncle As someone who also suffers from bipolar disorder I couldn't help but find a little humor in the fact you talking about BD and Switch in the same sentence kind of sounds like a pun.
That second picture is so high quality it looks like a company ad.
Kate, thanx for this, made me feel all warm on a brackish monday morning
'Memory Pak' is a great feature idea! You could cover things like: 'Getting a NES/SNES on Christmas Day', 'huddling around an OG Gameboy on a camping trip playing Super Mario Land', 'Getting an N64 on release day and marvelling at Super Mario 64' etc. etc.
@Spider-Kev The quote is as follows.
The Wii U sold roughly 1/8 as many units as its predecessor and fell well short of projected sales forecasts. This was undoubtedly a disappointing era for all involved at Nintendo.
I still had fun with it though. It gave us Splatoon and Super Mario Maker, which I’m forever grateful for.
@Assassin166 100%! It's fun to read through articles like this and then think about your own memories with a game or console.
@JasmineDragon Good call, I forgot Stardew Valley- I played the heck out of that game when I got it on the eShop in the Switch early days. I also forgot Fire Emblem Warriors, a game I got along with my Switch that I played the heck out of.
With that all said. A lot of those games you mentioned didn't really click with me when I tried them (i.e. ARMS, Mario + Rabbids) or were ports of games I already played plenty of (i.e. Mario Kart 8, Skyrim, Yooka-Laylee). And a few I had/have zero interest in playing (i.e. Rocket League, Disgaea 5C).
To be clear, I'm not saying the first year's drought was that bad. I lived through the 3DS's first year and that system had one of the worst launch year droughts ever. I'm just saying though, after I played through BotW and SMO (ok- and when I had my fill of Stardew Valley and Fire Emblem Warriors), I didn't really feel compelled to play my Switch for a long period of time. I mostly played other consoles in 2018 over my Switch, namely my PS4 and even my 3DS. It wasn't until 2019 with it's amazing lineup where I felt like I could finally say my Switch was my "main" console.
Of course. This is all my opinion, so if the Switch was your main console since 2017 and you enjoyed all those games you mentioned, more power to you! Seriously, don't let me (or anyone else) stop you if loved the lineup of first two years of Switch. It's just for me, it took a while for the lineup to get consistently great for my liking
@Xenobound94 I get it. A lot of people felt like that was a pretty dry year, as a lot of those first games were ports from Wii U, PS4, PS3 etc.
For me personally, all of them were brand new as I skipped the generation before the Switch. But I can appreciate that not everyone had the same experience.
@Kevember It wasn't meant to be humorous at all. I mean the Switch has been a good coping mechanism. Apologies for the misunderstanding and also sorry for the slow reply.
@RubyCarbuncle Video games in general have helped me so much throughout my life. Keep up the good fight.
Tap here to load 33 comments
Leave A Comment
Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...