It was very clear early on in Wii U’s life cycle that Nintendo had come to the same conclusion as many of its customers: the system wasn’t good enough. It took them only 2 and a half years of the console being available to announce the development of NX; the infamous codename for what would become Nintendo Switch. Suddenly, Wii U was as obsolete as it had always felt. It didn’t matter that Nintendo still had great titles for the console in the pipeline; Super Mario Maker, Yoshi’s Wooly World and Xenoblade Chronicles X to name a few. Whilst they may have had large cash reserves thanks to the system’s predecessor, Wii, the most beloved company in the industry seemed poised to continue its decline, with many calling for them to exit the hardware business entirely. Nintendo had to strike preemptively and confirm that, yes, they were already planning for the future and it was going to be unlike anything we had ever seen.
Rumors of a hybrid system had been swirling since long before an official announcement from the company, which seemed like the perfect idea for a comeback. Many had doubts, including myself, that such a strong comeback was possible, but much to almost everyone’s surprise, NX exceeded expectations. I doubt even Nintendo initially believed they could sell over 10 million units within their first year, but this is the reality we are living in. To have the company firing on all cylinders again is a great feeling, and in light of that they have announced another incredibly lofty goal: 20 million units in 2018, bringing a total count to around 30 million by years end. Seeing as the most popular system this generation, PlayStation 4, only just achieved 20 million units in a year in 2017, this seems like an incredibly demanding ask. But it would be foolish to doubt that Nintendo isn’t up to the task. The sheer fact that more units should be available for sale this year will surely mean that they at the very least match their units sold last year. To achieve the feat of doubling that number will take a few strategic moves, but after the year Nintendo had in 2017, its clear that they’re capable of making them.
In comparison to the pretty great Xbox Live and the not-as-great-but-reasonable PlayStation Network, Nintendo Switch’s online infrastructure is amateur at best and crippling at worst. Between the need for your smartphone to act as a conduit, friend codes, and convoluted matchmaking, it’s easily the biggest detractor for the console. It resulted in me putting down Splatoon 2, an otherwise great title, long before it deserved to be abandoned. Starting sometime in 2018, if you want to play online, it’s going to require gamers to purchase a subscription. Fortunately, the asking price is around a third of what the same privilege costs on either the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. However, that is no excuse for the system to be a massively inferior product.
Nintendo needs to rewrite the narrative regarding its online infrastructure. Players shouldn’t need their phone to matchmake with friends, and any connectivity to their smart device should be incredibly simpler than the Inception-like set up it currently has with things like SplatNet. A big part of the online seems to be a “Classic Game Selection”, where Switch owners will have access to a library of NES and SNES titles. Nintendo should take this a step further, and bundle in Virtual Console; titles available across all of their previous platforms. Increase the price of their service and do what Microsoft and Sony have tried to do with Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now. Online is going to continue to be a thorn in Switch’s side unless Nintendo takes massive strides in this direction.
The biggest seller for Nintendo has always been, and likely always will be, Pokémon. With Switch, the realization that we’ll get a playable mainline game for our TV has been confirmed as a reality, and there’s strong rumors suggesting that it will be released this year. With Nintendo taking such an incredibly different approach to structure with The Legend of Zelda and launch title Breath of the Wild, crazy ideas are swirling in fans’ minds of what a home console Pokémon RPG would look like. An open world, swarming with visible Pokémon, gyms that can be tackled in any order, other players sharing the same space, to name but a few modifications. Nintendo Switch has the potential to completely reinvent a franchise that fans have seemingly been content with incrementally changing. Pokémon has sold in the tens of millions ever since its introduction 20 years ago, so a 2018 release has the potential of single handedly securing those extra ten million units.
The only major barrier in the way of replicating the same success the franchise has had on handheld is the cost of entry. Currently, you can buy a 2DS for around 80 dollars or its XL brother for 150 dollars. The most expensive handheld Nintendo ever put out was the original 3DS at 249 dollars. Whilst the system would go on to sell a large amount of units, that was most likely thanks to a significant price drop made within 4 months of the handheld being on sale to 169 dollars. Nintendo Switch is currently priced at 300 dollars, hence why Nintendo has consistently positioned the system as a home console. Whilst this clearly hasn’t been an issue in achieving large sales in 2017, if the company wants to double their success in 2018, specifically with a release of Pokémon and intense gains with child gamers, some price adjustments may have to happen.
These can take place in several forms. The easiest would be either a temporary price drop or, even better, a permanent one. It’d be hard to see Nintendo dropping the price beyond 250 dollars. A bundle might solve this issue, especially if there were limited edition Pokéball themed Joy-Cons involved. But still, it’s clear from the history of the 3DS that 250 dollars is a big ask for something seen as a handheld. It does have the added benefit of doubling as a home console, and therefore negating that additional cost. There is, however, a more interesting way Nintendo could introduce a Switch at a reduced price: Nintendo Switch Lite. 200 dollars. Joy-Cons that remain attached. A slightly smaller frame. A smaller dock or perhaps even a single USB-C to HDMI cable.
If Nintendo were able to design a Switch that is a handheld first and home console second with a 100 dollar price reduction, partnered with the release of a new Pokémon title, and great online for good measure, they might not only sell 20 million units but exceed their own sales expectations.