The dust has settled on the big reveal of the Nintendo Switch and while we're almost certain to see more software support confirmed for the console before launch day arrives, it's hard to ignore the feeling that history is repeating itself, at least when it comes to third party support. Companies like EA, Capcom, Ubisoft and Konami pledged their support for the Switch, but the currently-confirmed lineup is a cautious one to say the least. Capcom is essentially giving us a spruced-up version of an Xbox Live and PSN download from 2008, while Ubisoft - a firm keen to make a big splash with Nintendo launches when it came to exclusives in the past - is only able to muster three titles, all of which are already available on other systems; heck, Rayman Legends was originally conceived as a Wii U exclusive in 2012 - almost five years ago.
Even the presentation itself was full of uncertainty. Sega - which, like Ubisoft, is bringing multi-platform titles to the Switch in the shape of Puyo Puyo Tetris, Sonic Mania and Project Sonic 2017 - sent along Toshihiro Nagoshi, who said how excited he and his company were about the Switch, but stopped short of actually confirming the names of any new and exclusive games currently in development; unless Sega is deliberately holding back at Nintendo's behest, that's not a great sign. Then there was our old friend EA, which took to the stage to confirm that Switch would be getting a "custom built" version of FIFA, its most popular series. In an interview following the presentation, EA's executive vice president Patrick Söderlund stated that:
This is our way of showing we're going to be there. We're supporting the platform. We are not announcing anything [else] yet, but you can expect us to be there once the platform launches and takes off.
While Söderlund is mostly positive about the new system, it's easy to read between the lines and pick out the clear note of caution in his words. Not having anything else to announce and waiting for the console to "take off" could easily be translated as "We're only going to bring more games to Switch if it's a big seller". This rather pessimistic stance could well be a case of misconstruing his meaning, but it has nevertheless been latched onto by some news outlets, who seemingly cite it as evidence that the Switch is cursed to suffer the same fate as the Wii U - it will get amazing first party games from Nintendo and its connected studios, but third party support? Forget it.
Naturally, this encourages the usual wave of negative press for these publishers. Ubisoft, despite being one of Nintendo's most staunch supporters during the Wii U era, came under heavy fire for making Rayman Legends multi-platform and releasing Watch Dogs later than other versions - the latter being a gesture that few other third parties would have even bothered to have undertaken, given the Wii U's torrid commercial standing at the time. Fast forward to the present, and these companies are already being criticised for not giving the Switch the support it deserves; gamers want promises to ensure that they feel good about making a purchase in March, and EA's (apparent) stance of "wait and see" doesn't instill confidence, nor does the fact that companies like Sega and Ubisoft are apparently just crapping out multi-format ports to test the waters.
Companies such as EA, Ubisoft, Capcom and Konami don't owe Nintendo, the Switch or fans anything; they're in this business to make money
There's nothing that boosts the feel-good factor of a new system purchase than the anticipation of getting to play a wide range of games, but companies such as EA, Ubisoft, Capcom and Konami don't owe Nintendo, the Switch or fans anything; they're in this business to make money, as mercenary as that sounds. Sure, the developers at these firms will publicly state how excited they are to be challenged by a console which promises innovation and does something different to its rivals, but this desire is quickly tempered by the harsh reality of business - basically, if your games don't sell well on a particular platform or that platform's install base is low, then it's going to become a lot less attractive when compared to those (more traditional) consoles which can offer a massive potential audience. There's nothing complex about this situation, and it always puzzles me as to why fans seem to be so blind to this fairly obvious reality. Third-party support does sell systems, that is true - but those same third-parties aren't doing this to generate user interest in a console - they go where the money is, pure and simple.
The responsibility of "selling" a home console lies entirely with the console maker itself, and always has done. It's Nintendo's job to convince millions of people to part with their cash, thereby ensuring that Switch has a wide and varied selection of third-party software due to its attractiveness as a popular platform on which to generate revenue. This is achieved by making the console easy to develop for (by all accounts, this seems to be the case with Switch), making sure developers have the tools to create content (given that we still have some announcements this year, it's perhaps too early to say if Nintendo has nailed that one) and releasing the system at a price point which means it has enough momentum out of the gate to convince publishers and developers that they should have their games on it.
Some would argue that Nintendo has already dropped the ball on the pricing element; the Switch may be a unique proposition as it offers both domestic and portable play, but at $299 / £280, it is perhaps a little out of that "golden" price range which ensures a steady flow of sales - the Wii got this right, and quickly racked up a big install base, one of the key reasons for its overall success. On the other points, the jury is still out; as I said at the beginning of this piece, I highly doubt we've seen every game that will be coming on the Switch in 2017. Nintendo has mentioned very little about indie eShop games (we know more are coming) and we have E3 later in the year, a platform where Nintendo is almost certain to announce more games - albeit some which might not be launching this year. And let's not forget that the Switch should hopefully soak up the first and third party development support traditionally earmarked for the 3DS, which in theory will translate into some excellent games.
The point is that when you're coming off the back of your most underperforming home console ever, you need to pull out all the stops to make sure your next venture is a runaway success. Nintendo and its fans shouldn't be looking to the likes of EA and Ubisoft to carry the Switch through 2017 and make it a triumph; just like your average person on the street, these companies need to be convinced before they will part with their development budgets and start creating content for Switch - and that job is solely Nintendo's. Attempting to place that responsibility in the hands of external parties which in the grand scheme of things have no genuine concern in Nintendo's fortunes - beyond making money on their systems - is a foolish move, and one which gaming fandom and the wider gaming press needs to avoid making time and time again.