What Is Nintendo Thinking?

The Switch launch is less than ten days away. This thing is really real; it’s really happening. Nintendo did it again. They went with something nobody asked for. It’s not on the same page as a PS4 or an Xbox One. It doesn’t have the graphical horsepower. It will eventually make you pay to play online. Third parties aren’t releasing their AAA titles on the system. Same old Nintendo. Right?

Well, yeah. All that stuff is right…from a certain point of view.

Nobody really asked for a video game system that had two detachable controllers packed to their tiny edges with tech, most of witch are not found in a DualShock 4 or an XB1 controller. Haptic feedback, motion control, IR sensors, NFC readers, rechargeable batteries lasting 20 hours each, gyroscopes, and multiple ways of using them (allowing developers freedom to create and users freedom of choice) – all included in the box? This isn’t a Wii where developers had to assume that a customer only had the hardware that came in the box, forcing them to create motion controls for games as a primary input method. This system includes all of those configurations from the get-go, so developers can create the game they want with the input method that works the best. No one asked for all of that, but they’re getting it.

And, no, it really isn’t going to compete with the PS4 or XB1 graphically. Let’s face it: Nintendo bringing a third wheel to that party is still going to end up with it being an also-ran. Sony and Microsoft are undoubtedly the powerhouses in the home console market at this point. So how interesting is it, really, to have Nintendo just follow suit? Switch could be carving out a new market, popularizing a form factor unfamiliar to most at this point. Personal computing could only go so far before an iPhone came along to shake things up a bit. Perhaps this is the device that shakes up the gaming industry. Switch isn’t on the same page as PS4 or XB1. It’s on it’s own page altogether.

But Nintendo isn’t totally straying from examples set by Sony and Microsoft. They will, starting this fall, be moving to a paid online system. It’s obviously driven by greed, right? What was free before, will now be highway robbery at gunpoint. Or could it be that Nintendo desperately needs to improve their online play, and that stuff ain’t free? People want reliable and fun online play. Paying a few dollars a month will go a long way towards that. And speaking of price, official indications point toward this being $30 USD or less per year. In other words, half the price of the competition. That’s pretty attractive. And forget the free games. Because the two free games I got this month on PS+ cost a combined total of $32.98 when they are full price, and I already owned Little Big Planet 3. So my subscription saved me a whopping $12.99 this month that I honestly wouldn’t have spent anyway for a game I’ll barely play (Not a Hero). $30 per year for good online play without the clutter of games that will sit in my account forever collecting dust bit-bunnies? I’m okay with that.

Yeah, things are looking pretty good for Switch. GameStop has even commented recently that demand for the system is high. Pre-orders are impossible to come by. But remember that Nintendo’s most recent console sold a paltry 13 and half million units. That’s nothing. If you’re a third party developer, with a bottom line and investors to worry about, are you going to immediately jump into a a console made by the same company that failed spectacularly last generation? It should be a good enough show of faith that some of the developers that abandoned the Wii U are already back. EA bringing FIFA 18 is big, as that’s a worldwide franchise (as opposed to the USA-centric Madden). If you want a third party bringing a huge franchise to Switch, there it is. The bottom line is this: if the Switch sells well, and the games sell well along with it, more titles will come.

In a way, this is the same old Nintendo. It’s Nintendo trying something different, not choosing to be the third leg in an arms race. It’s Nintendo going for the unconventional, hoping that a spark of inspiration is enough to make us rethink gaming in much the same way the Wii did. And it’s also a new Nintendo. It’s Nintendo recognizing that something different has to happen with online play than what they’ve done in the past, and in some ways following suit with Sony and Microsoft. It’s Nintendo working with developers, and not creating a system that has forced input methods, but rather a variety of included options that developers can utilize in any manner.

This is Nintendo thinking much like they always do: just a little bit outside the box, and that maybe there’s a different way to play games. I’m thinking the same thing, and I hope that plenty of other people are as well.

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