Heading into yesterday’s Nintendo Switch presentation, I was more excited than I’ve been for a Nintendo product since Dolphin rumours were dominating gaming magazine pages.
The Dolphin ended up as the Gamecube, and while its sales performance forced a declining Nintendo to completely rethink its approach to gaming, the console made for an easily justifiable purchase thanks to a strong first-party and third-party lineup.
Since then, we’ve seen the Wii dominate the scene, the Wii U confuse the market, and the Switch … well, the Switch is off to the worst start imaginable. And its downfall took only a matter of seconds.
Yesterday’s unveiling was okay: the good was very good, but the bad was a combination of downright ridiculous and cringeworthy frustration. It’s easy to celebrate Nintendo’s self-confidence and “innovation”, but it’s just as easy to criticise its most questionable decisions, which in 2017 seem to be a constant attempt to recreate the craze of the original Wii.
There’s a diehard fanbase more in love with the Nintendo brand than any other core audience is of other major gaming companies. The relationship between company and fan is stronger than any other bond in gaming.
The challenge for Nintendo as it prepares to release it seventh home console, however, is to recapture the audience it lost after the Gamecube. It’s not to appease an audience that will try to justify poor business decisions. It’s to appeal to people like myself, who will scrutinise every move in an attempt to justify the purchase.
I’m harsh like that, because I simply refuse to purchase something that will go unused for long periods of time. Nintendo has made an active effort to avoid a broader entertainment focus for its consoles, which is fine: that’s ultimately what defines the company and separates its products from the likes of Xbox and PlayStation.
But if your game is games, then you simply can’t afford to not deliver in that area, and then charge a premium price. That is market suicide.
What I see that many blind Nintendo diehards don’t, is that the company is about as ruthlessly money hungry as your Microsoft is. This is a company that refuses to sell a console at a loss at the expense of market share. That would be a fine philosophy if your product was affordable and appealing in a unique way like the Wii was, but the Switch does not fit into that category.
Now of course the console’s value is entirely subjective, but if you were to ask me whether the Switch was worth a purchase, I’d probably stumble over my words on the way to a flat out “No”.
I’d stumble because I so desperately wanted the Switch to be more appealing than it is. I wanted this console to kickstart a new era for Nintendo, where the constant stream of game droughts and pricing disappointments were a thing of the past. Basically, I wanted to be a Nintendo fanboy again.
Instead now I sit here, voicing angst at a console that looks like the perfect love child of the Wii and Wii U, but yet is still grossly unappealing. How in the hell did Nintendo manage that?
Yesterday as the Stevivor crew and myself recorded our post-show podcast, I received an email from Nintendo Australia detailing the launch price. If you feel like punishing yourself, listen to the podcast. In the second half of the show, we all sit utterly gobsmacked and speechless at the price. We kept it in the podcast for both the lols and the sheer realness of it all.
Earlier, Ben Salter and I had discussed how the price was certainly going to be $399. I argued that Nintendo Australia would have learned from its mistakes with the Wii U, and would push for a price less than $400, and ultimately sell the console at a loss. Shane Wall disagreed, and argued that we were underestimating the stupidity of Nintendo.
Shane was right.
At $470 (US$350) in Australia, it fits firmly in the “premium” price bracket. At that price, you need to offer more than a game available on another console in Breath Of The Wild, and certainly more than 32GB of internal storage. That’s less than the size of Skyrim: Special Edition, even though that version is unlikely to be the one that arrives on Switch.
Throw in the price of a pro controller, a game, and some external storage, and you’re looking at more than $650 for a console that has an embarrassingly weak launch lineup.
This is a console that is running off of a mobile processor, comes in the same year as the Xbox Scorpio, and stands to fall even further behind as 4K install rates climb. Should you be buying a 4K TV and saving for a Scorpio or PS4 Pro, or buying a Nintendo console you know will offer great first-party offerings, but at a rate of maybe 1 or 2 every 24 months?
There could be an explanation for the console’s launch lineup: Nintendo is holding its cards close to its chest. There’s no doubt that it will reveal more at E3 and throughout the year. But it’s not like Nintendo doesn’t have form in disappointing us and doing the complete opposite of what seems like the obvious thing to do.
Regardless, Nintendo has shot itself in the foot by attempting the same sort of slow market buildup it wanted with the Wii U: have a soft launch, and hope the install base increases steadily over time. It might work with Switch, but it’s a massive risk to take with so much set to hit the market in the next 12 months.
I’ll get to play with the console and its games later today, so my opinion on the hardware may change. But nothing will change my mind about a price point that falls well beyond what would have been reasonable for this type of technology and games lineup.
And while I so desperately want to fall back in love with Nintendo, I’m willingly holding myself back. At this point, I suggest you do, too.