The Nintendo Switch’s reveal trailer was announced by Nintendo using the image above. In basically all instances Nintendo has marketed this system as a home console despite being so portable in nature. Is this smart?
Nintendo’s hardware and software divisions have been split since their introduction of the GameBoy in 1989 with Nintendo’s consoles suffering of a decline of sorts while their handheld line of systems have enjoyed a more fruitful existence. Both have been experiencing a decline in market share due to increased competition from mobile among other factors so it’s about time Nintendo switches things up.
Some benefits that marketing the Nintendo Switch as a console could bring is comparisons to Wii U. If the Switch just sells half of the 3DS it would still be a massive step up from the Nintendo Wii U’s 13-14 million lifetime sales. Additionally, marketing the multi-platform games as being portable instead of just being the worst version of a given title would give it some unique selling point. This is a selling point that wouldn’t require weeks of R&D to figure out what to do with a controller or any unique input method like with Wii U.
Additionally, the Nintendo Switch is fairly large and is rumored to have an underwhelming battery life. Not all surprising considering the amount of power this thing is packing, but it also makes for a somewhat poor portable. Focusing on the system being a console with the portable nature being more of an option makes this seem less like an issue which would help in the long run.
Home Consoles are known as more of a premium product so you charge a premium price for both hardware and software. We still don’t know the price, but it’s likely not $199 or cheaper. Marketing this as a console would make a $250-300 price tag be easier to swallow. This would also help with big console titles which wouldn’t be very profitable being sold at lower prices. Resident Evil Revelations, which provides a “true console experience on a handheld device“, planned to charge $50 for the game due to the production values and the cartridge size. Consumers were so outraged over the thought that this would set a precedent that Capcom felt forced to revert to the standard $40. This move likely prevented future titles and publishers from pushing the hardware in the same with outside of a select few titles in the later years of the system’s life.
There are also a couple negatives to marketing the Nintendo Switch as a consoles, one of which ties into one of the positives: comparisons to Wii U. The Nintendo Wii U failed in its market reaching only a little over 13M units in its lifespan and I can’t imagine 3rd parties and consumers would be too confident in its successor. Despite being more of a handheld and likely getting the handheld audience I’ve heard a ton of people say: “Wii U had a lot of 3rd party support on a list. Why should we trust it now?”. The list is considerably bigger than the Wii U’s with the Switch boasting more engine support and tool support along with many publishers that never even touched the Wii U yet you still get people wondering the same thing. It’s a potentially dangerous comparison but people seem to still be overall more positive.
Home consoles also bring with them a set of expectations. As mentioned previously, 3rd party games will still have the worst versions on Nintendo’s platforms and if Nintendo can’t get the portable aspect to be a big enough selling point then 3rd parties won’t fair too well on Nintendo’s platform. Consumers also expect more 3rd party multi platform games from a console. No one would bat an eye that the 3DS isn’t getting Battlefield 1 but if the Switch doesn’t get a title then it’ll be a bad look. 3DS coasted on its exclusives and its lower price which helped it succeed where others (Wii U) failed.
A potential compromise could be promoting it with region specific marketing. The late Satoru Iwata said this in a Q&A at an investor’s meeting:
Your question also included the “current notion of thinking about home consoles and handheld devices.” When it comes to how dedicated game systems are being played, the situations have become rather different, especially between Japan and overseas. Since we are always thinking about how to create a new platform that will be accepted by as many people around the world as possible, we would like to offer to them “a dedicated video game platform with a brand new concept” by taking into consideration various factors, including the playing environments that differ by country. This is all that I can confirm today.
Japan’s developers and consumers adore portable devices with each handheld (even the Playstation Vita) vastly outselling the popular home consoles. Nintendo could focus on marketing the Nintendo Switch as a home console in the west, where it’s preferred, and as a portable console in Japan. This is likely the best way to get the most out the Nintendo Switch’s potential sales.
I feel it’s worth noting since Nintendo has been pretty specific that this is meant to be more of a home console that can be taken on the go and will seemingly market it this way. So far they’ve done a great job with the 3 minute preview video being positively received. Nintendo’s potentially increased software output would also make some of these worries not matter, but we’ll have to see how things go.