We all love Nintendo. The franchises they've built are ingrained in many of our childhoods, and they've continued to capture the imagination with new takes on old favorites. Just when we think they're starting to wise up to the direction of gaming by announcing their first title for any phone, they go and make a new console centered entirely around the mobile lifestyle and miss the conceptual mark completely. Take a gander at the launch video to get an idea of what's up.
Let's break down some of the major selling points Nintendo is pushing in this video.
The Switch plays games locally, but there have been many solutions for getting "real" games onto portable screens for awhile. How many people do you see out in the wild using currently-available remote play systems? Systems for playing big-boy games while out in the field have been around for years. The current generation of consoles have those features built in. Even outside of being officially sheltered, services like the now-defunct OnLive service have attempted to let you play your favorite games anywhere. Others, like the NVIDIA Shield, do so more successfully, but still for an incredibly niche audience. (Incidentally, the Nintendo Switch is using an NVIDIA mobile chip.) If you want to dig really far back, there's stuff like the Sega Nomad trying this same shtick, only relying on physical, local storage.
Selling portable play for AAA games, either through cloud gaming or streaming from your own machine or storing it locally on the device itself, has been around for awhile, and it's been an uphill battle. After years of trying, who still thinks there's a significant audience itching for a platform with that lifestyle baked into the physical design? Who seriously expects Nintendo to sell enough of Switch systems that my buddy will have a mount set up in his car to further facilitate this kind of play?
Exclusive games are going to be the only thing selling this gimmicky, awkward mess.
When was the last time you saw a dude prop up an iPad on a plane and bust out a Bluetooth controller to play something on it? I'm not saying it's never, I'm saying it's a very, very small number of people. Part of that is because packing a spare controller is a hassle. Oh, but wait! The Nintendo Switch builds those right in! Holy hell, it's going to be easy to lose those controllers. Are they going to give us lanyards that nobody ever uses, like the Wii? Impact condoms too, for when we inevitably drop them?
The clicky securing mechanism on the Switch for those remotes is charming and all, but how many dismount cycles can you use with them until that spring wears out? Those controllers are microscopic. How can Nintendo expect people to use the halves as individual controllers comfortably? Am I going to have to buy another controller accessory to make this a viable comfortable experience?
Head-to-head local multiplayer
Does Nintendo really think you're going to have a friend that also buys a Switch to enable that multi-console mode? What are the odds they're carrying around a Switch at the same time you so happen to have yours, and you both have time after your basketball game to play a few rounds? Barring a game by pure happy coincidence, there's the physical overhead of arranging a time and place to haul your Nintendo Switch to your friend's place so you can play together. Is that going to introduce so much more happiness than just playing together online?
The Nintendo Switch will lose in mobile because the overhead is high.
Do you really think you'll bump into cute rando gamers at the airport thanks to the Nintendo Switch? What parties are you going to where it's socially acceptable to cram your face into a tablet the whole time, nevermind trying to convince a gaggle of people to come watch? Is Zelda so enthralling that you can't put it down for a second to make sure your dog isn't running off into the sunset while on a walk?
Super Smash Brothers and Mario speedrunning are the only hardcore Nintendo footholds that come to mind (correct me if I'm wrong). Does anyone really believe Splatoon can become an eSport that can fill a stadium? Do pro eSports teams that demand that much attention really need an all-in-one gaming system more portable than a gaming laptop? Will environments with presumably strict, competitive regulations actually let players bring their own hardware? I admit, I don't follow eSports that much, but if there's some problem in that scene that the Nintendo Switch fixes, I'm all ears.
Taking a quick look at the comments on Reddit, the big things people sound super pumped about are the game titles, and presuming they're going to be exclusive to the Nintendo Switch. Those games are going to be the only things selling this gimmicky, awkward mess. I think the core of the problem is how Nintendo is conceptualizing playing games on the go. It isn't a social thing that I go to roof parties and bust out, or chat up ladies with, or play after a real basketball game.
It's something I do for 5-10 minutes at a cycle while on the bus, waiting in line, or otherwise have a small gap of time where I have a nominal amount of attention to spare. iPhone wins in this context because the overhead is low. People already have one in their pocket, it's portable, the games are cheap, and often aren't very demanding. The Nintendo Switch will lose here because the overhead is high. It's a big piece of hardware, with multiple moving parts, running expensive, AAA games that require a lot of attention.
Does Nintendo really think I'm going to enjoy the full splendor of remastered Skyrim on a 7-8-inch tablet? Do they think I'm going to have a good time with that experience punctured by getting in and out of an Uber, going through airport security, boarding the plane, getting the in-flight meal, etc. etc.? Hell no, I sit in one spot with a big screen and play Skyrim when I know I'm not going to be interrupted every five minutes. Console games aren't designed to be played on the go, and you can't change that just by dragging and dropping them into a mobile context.
We've seen accessory manufacturers try to empower iPad and iPhone with console-class capabilities, and surely Apple TV plays a significant role in bringing those experiences to the big screen. At this point, it's difficult to see what real benefit the Nintendo Switch will offer that this existing combination of products hasn't. Nintendo gets points for trying something new, and for a lot of Wii U diehards, the Nintendo Switch is seen as what the last console should have been: an elegant marriage of mobile and console gaming.
There's still a lot left to be seen about how this imagining pans out. For example, we still don't know things like cost and battery life, which may very easily weigh down prospects for the Switch further, but in my opinion, it's going to be a bumpy March 2017 launch.
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