Nintendo. Nintendo. Nintendo. As much as you change, you stay the same.
I watched the official Nintendo Switch reveal that Nintendo broadcast and all I can say is “I have no idea what Nintendo is doing and I don’t think they do either.” (If you want to watch it for yourself before reading the rest of this, watch it here.)
Let’s get the good things out of the way:
- The Legend of Zelda BOTW – As expected, it was Nintendo’s strongest showing. This game looks to be shaking up the Zelda series by being more open world and taking the series in a new direction. We needed more of this and less of what we got.
- Strong RPG support – The Switch is arguably a portable system first, living room device second. It makes sense to follow in the 3DS tradition and gather as many RPGs as possible. It was great to see another Xenoblade.
- Splatoon – You can play this on Wii U right now but apparently a second one is coming for the Switch. That’s good news.
- Portable – You can take it with you (but we knew this already). But let’s give credit where credit is due: HD gaming on the go is…nice.
Now let’s talk about everything else: (I don’t even know where to logically start since there were so many negatives. I’ll just pick something and go from there.)
Extremely weak launch support from third parties
Nintendo’s launch day lineup consists of a Zelda game, a motion control game, and some disposable titles (source) (source). This has so many problems in and of itself. Let’s talk about the motion control game first: Motion controls are DOA and Nintendo needs to get over it. Nintendo appears stuck in this cycle of trying to recreate the success of the original Wii by throwing motion controls in the mix, again. The market for motion controls outside of VR is gone. Both Microsoft and Sony have largely abandoned motion controls because no one cares anymore. Motion control is an amusing distraction for the first few weeks and once it wears off the games aren’t fun. So what does Nintendo do? They plan to charge $50 for a motion control tech demo. This just smells of Nintendo not having anything else to launch with so they threw a price tag on a freebie game and said “fuck it, they’ll buy it.”
Low risk, safe bets from third parties
Bethesda and EA both revealed games for the Switch (Skyrim and FIFA respectively). Call me negative, but I really don’t care about Skyrim at this point. It’s five years old now and I’m confident the Switch version won’t support mods. My guess is that it’s essentially the original PC release with expansions. This is essentially Bethesda simply playing “nice” with Nintendo and trying to rake in a little more revenue with minimal expense. I don’t blame them. If I was Bethesda management, I’d do the same thing. For those of us looking for a little more excitement from the Switch, this wasn’t it. FIFA is the exact same story: A safe bet to make EA some additional revenue while keeping expenses low.
Zero information on the actual hardware
If you search the net, you can find leaks on this information. It doesn’t mean much until Nintendo confirms the actual GPU and CPU in the Switch. The fact that Nintendo chose not to talk about their hardware means they are de-emphasizing the point. From a company PR standpoint, it’s standard practice: Emphasize your strengths and don’t talk about the weaknesses. The problem for Nintendo is that this likely means what we all think it means: the GPU and CPU are better than the Wii U but weaker than the original Xbox One and PS4. Why is that a problem? Developers won’t port games developed for PC/Xbone/PS4 to the Switch because they would spend way too much time re-engineering the game to get it to run properly. Time is money. Money spent in development means lower profits. It’s not going to happen.
This brings me to my next point: It is not a living room-centric device. Nintendo appears to be out of that business completely so why keep hiding the specs? Lastly, what the hell did they mean by a 2.5 to 6 hour battery life? That sounds like a guess. What is the battery life under load? Probably three hours? I can’t be sure. What about charge time? Nintendo doesn’t want to talk about it. (Since I wrote this, some of the less important specs came out. Still nothing on the CPU/GPU.)
Pay to Play Online
This has to be one the biggest WTF moments of the entire reveal. Nintendo will now be charging to access the majority of their online services. Think of it like Xbox gold or PS4 plus. First, pay to play online is a bullshit upcharge that Microsoft and Sony use to pad their profit margins because they use an enclosed ecosystem. PC gamers don’t pay this extra fee just to use what amounts to the internet they already pay to use. Nintendo also has this bizarre benefit of being a premium member: you get one classic title per month (ok) but only for that month (not ok). At least with Xbox gold and PS plus there are “free” games given to you each month. The benefits of paying for Nintendo’s online membership are non existent. It’s just an extra fee that exists because…Nintendo. Combine this mess with the fact that Nintendo has completely failed to deliver any competent online experience on the Wii U and you have an online disaster in the making. Nintendo has to prove they can run an online network before they even think about charging for it.
The entire presentation was awkward and strange
There was no reason for this presentation to be live and it’s obvious Nintendo doesn’t understand how to do an industry presentation (at least one that makes sense me). Nintendo has done very little (if anything at all) to “westernize” their presentations. Remember when you were a teenager and your parents just didn’t get it? Yeah. That’s what it felt like. Nintendo is the aging parent trying to prove how cool they are. Unfortunately, we are the teenagers rolling our eyes. The presentation was cringe inducing. The pacing was terrible. It was filled with badly timed jokes and lines so obviously rehearsed they sounded like an amateur film student’s final project.
There are so many factors at play here: Nintendo is still chasing motion controls, the lineup is lacking, and they are charging for online play. I think all of this leads to the core issue: Nintendo doesn’t understand their market and worse, they don’t understand what the Switch is to their customers. The Switch has a major value proposition problem to boot. It costs $299 with no game. That’s $50 more than the console alternatives. Why would someone pay more for less if they aren’t traveling or need a portable device? Nintendo lives in some alternate reality bubble where they believe people will take the Switch to a summer barbecue and force their friends to play it. They built a thing. They need to sell the thing but they don’t want to admit what it is. I’ll tell you what it is: It’s an expensive but “dockable” successor to the 3DS.
I honestly hope I am wrong. I want to be sitting here two years from now saying “I was totally wrong about the Switch.” The problem being unless Nintendo pulls in a ton of third party support, and they get a handle on what the Switch really is, it’s not going to happen. I fear Nintendo is looking at a system that might do better than the Wii U (because of the portable factor) but under performs expectations over the next two to six years. I don’t think Nintendo can afford another miss like the Wii U. Let’s hope they figure the Switch out.