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Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Nintendo Switch: My Initial Thoughts and Analysis


About two months ago, on Friday, October 20th, Nintendo released a sneak-peek reveal (which you can watch here) of their upcoming game console, formerly known as codename NX. This new hardware is the Nintendo Switch, a console-handheld hybrid thats meant to provide a new experience by bridging the gap between those two worlds.

I thought that this was an incredibly interesting reveal, not to mention the unprecedented timing and lead-up thats had a lot of folks in the gaming community on their toes for months. The whole things been so exciting, in fact, that I wanted to write up my thoughts and observations of what weve seen so far. The contents of this post are sort of a work in progress because theres a lot to break down and consider, so Ill be coming back to it and adding more if and when something comes to mind.


The Reveal


A Dissection


Considering the fact that the reveal trailer is our first and primary information source for the Switch and where most of my observations stem from, I think that a breakdown of its contents is a pretty good place to start.

Taking a look at the format, the trailer is constructed of six sections, each separated by a logo-card. Each of these is deliberately constructed to represent specific core ideas that are meant to demonstrate the Switch console, all coming together to provide an ample, calculated look at the central features of the hardware.


The first section highlights the Switch's gimmick in its
purest form.
The first section opens with a man at home playing the upcoming Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, on his television while sitting on a couch: the typical console layout. He is prompted to leave his house, and instead of putting his controller down he seperates two portions of it and attaches them to the tablet unit sitting in its dock, extracting it and heading out. The next scene sees him playing Breath of the Wild on this tablet unit at a park while sat at a bench.

This is a strong opening that concisely summarizes the core proposition of the Nintendo Switch as a game console that allows you to enjoy a full home experience and take it on the go. Breath of the Wild is a highly anticipated first-party offering that is known to be coming to Nintendos current home console, the Wii U, and is a good choice to introduce the concept of the hardware to their fans and those who are interested in the game but dont already own the Wii U. This section also introduces us to the primary control method for the device, the Joy-con L and R, which attach to either side of the tablet or can be housed in a grip to construct a more traditional control experience for home use.


The second section illustrates a new input method and
reframes the Switch's gimmick with a familiar game.
The second section opens with a man at the airport. He inserts a game cartridge into his Switch and shows something off to another user while charging his unit. He takes his seat in the aircraft afterwards and sets his unit down with a built in kickstand, attaches his headphones, and removes his Joy-cons from either side. We see that the game hes playing is a variant of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. He continues to play on his cab ride, now with the Joy-cons attached again before arriving home where he docks the Switch and picks up the Pro-controller to continue his session.

This section is constructed of four parts which reveal some new information and expand on the principle concept shown off in the first portion of the trailer. The first part here shows no game but introduces the primary media type very clearly, subtly shows the console being charged by an ambiguous cord, and lightly touches on social interaction with the console, albeit not in terms of actual play. The second part shows us a new way of using the unit, separating the Joy-cons for wireless use and sitting the tablet down through a built-in stand as a personal miniature display. This is done to play Skyrim Remastered which is an ingenious selection for two reasons: The first is that its a very striking statement for third-party support, being a game developed by Bethesda, a company that hasnt made software for Nintendo hardware in a very long time. The second reason is that its a feature-rich AAA game that is very prominent in the gaming worlds vocabulary and popular culture, making it a great context by which to convey the hardwares potential: that a large-scale, open world, graphically intensive, and deep experience can be had anywhere without the limitations that might traditionally be associated with handhelds. The third and fourth part show the Switch being used in tablet-mode and at home respectively, a retreading of the methods of play shown off earlier in the first section of the trailer. This is likely something done to further cement the core messaging within the familiar framing of Skyrim, ensuring smaller room for presumptions of concession that may have still stood in the minds of viewers unfamiliar with BotW. This is further driven home in the fourth part with the introduction and use of the very traditional looking Pro-Controller, helping round out the picture and assure viewers that this is a true console experience.

The third section introduces us to multiplayer with single unit
 split-screen.
The third section takes place in a van, wherein we see a Switch being attached to a frame and two fellows playing Mario Kart on it, each using a single Joy-con as a full controller for their session.

This section is the first to introduce multiplayer proper and demonstrates it through another method of play that can be had by the Switch: a variation of the method seen in the second scene of the second section wherein the Joy-cons are separated from the tablet and used wirelessly. We see that Local split-screen multiplayer is possible on an individual unit sporting only the Joy-cons that come with it, showing us that the Switch is a truly diverse, convenient, and flexible system with regards to methods of engagement even when in portable mode.








The fourth section expands on multiplayer with co-op and
multi-unit competitive play.
The fourth section opens at a basketball court. Two of the handheld units are brought together and four players gather around to enjoy a session of an unspecified NBA title.

Here we get a quick and efficient look at the Switch getting being used in a demonstration of two new angles on multiplayer: Multi-unit wireless competitive play and cooperative play on a single unit, contrasting the split-screen racing seen earlier but expanding on the functionality it presented. This is done through a 2 vs 2 basket-ball match where each team engages through their own respective unit using the accompanying Joy-cons for input. This is framed by a choice of game experience that is extremely popular with sports fans in the west and highlights another big bit of third-party support, all the while attractively presenting the Switch as a great and efficient way to put together a Lan party.






The fifth section gives us our first look at the next new
Mario title and a little bit of social engagement.
The fifth section opens up with a new 3D Mario game being played at home in console-mode by a lady. She looks through the window and is beckoned to join her friends who are gathered on the roof-top of another building. She collects her unit from the dock after connecting the Joy-cons to it and heads off to meet them, showing off the device and engaging in multiplayer, though we dont see whats happening.

This section slows down and doesnt seem to heavily expand on the core mechanic of the Switch in a notable way when compared to the previous sections, but its a lull that show us that a big new Mario game is on the way and that it has a multiplayer element. This is effectively another reassurance of Nintendos first-party dedication to their player base using one of their most prominent franchises. Because that seems to be a hard deviation thus far regarding how the trailers been put together it doesnt seem like a stretch to say that thats not the only reason this section is a part of the trailer and that its placed here for a reason, and I think that reason could be to show us smaller scale spectator involvement as a precursor to the last section of the trailer. It could also imply that the multiplayer or even single player Mario experience is enjoyable to watch or is designed to provide opportunity for those spectating to get involved. Itll be interesting to see how that pans out.

The last section gives us a glimpse at the Switch being used
with an online game in a professional competitive scene.
The last section of this trailer opens with two separate teams writing out and discussing strategies for an updated version of Splatoon. They do this before heading out into an e-sport arena and connecting their units to docks to play before the camera pulls back to show off the full crowd.

The presentation of an online game is the logical conclusion to top off the progression of the trailer overall and is a culmination of the last two sections in that it expands on the local multi-unit play from section four and the spectator engagement of section five. We get to see the Switch used for e-sports and Nintendo chose to highlight this with their own online multiplayer shooter and one of their biggest new recent IPs, Splatoon. All players shown are using the Pro-controller in this part of the trailer, and its worth noting that it highlights another controller configuration in using the Pro-controller with the tablet instead of some configuration of the Joy-cons.





Messaging


Id say this was very generous three and a half minute reveal trailer, but its not that long for the simple sake of being so. The intent was presenting what the Switch is and with the utmost clarity, defining what it does. If this is true, I think that theyve done a great job.

Thoughtfully structured and varied, the trailer builds on itself segment after segment, expanding and attractively recontextualizing the core concept that permeates its length: This is a device that can play full scale console experiences at home or on the go.

By no means was that everything Nintendos Kimishima has apparently gone on record saying with regard to this video, indicating that theres still more to know about what the Switch has to offer and lending credence to the idea that this was a very focused reveal. There are actually little hints of certain features that have become staples in the touch and motion-control generation, but it seems quite likely that the reason for these things not being prominent (if they are features) is to ensure that what makes the Switch special comes through without distraction: that the messaging isnt muddled by association with the Wii, Wii U, or even the DS series of handhelds and instead speaks in universal terms that can be associated with a traditionally perceived video game experience.

Also worth noting is that the selection of actors for this trailer looked like it consisted of a specific age group. At first I thought that it might represent a particular demographic, but it seems more like they wanted a relatable middle ground: a show of folks that communicates to all demographics without alienating any particular one. We got to see active lifestyles, home usage, social engagement, and use during transit, all framed by different traditional hardcore experiences that can be enjoyed by all kinds of folk in all kinds of age groups.

Overall, I felt that this reveal was extremely well thought out and indicates that Nintendo is both cautious of past mistakes and quite confident in what theyre bringing to the table now. Id call it a positive turn for them.


Marketing


Why Now?


Nintendos officially revealed the Switch a little under a half a year before its supposed launch in March of next year. This is a very uncommon strategy and potentially could be the shortest time from reveal-to-launch of major hardware in the industry, which begs the question: why?

As far as reasons we can be sure of, there are at least two that we can reference.

Miyamoto was quoted as saying In terms of NX, theres an idea were working on. Thats why we cant share anything at this point. He then qualified it as an innovation that wasnt specifically tied to technological advancements. This indicates that Nintendo wants to keep the concept close to their chest in order to protect the novelty from being pursued by others or revealed without strong elaboration. With Scorpio a long way away from release and the PS4 Pro having been in production and close to release at the time, this choice of reveal period is pretty in line with meeting that intent.

The other reason for the late reveal is actually very simple and one thats hard to argue with. The Switch isnt being launched this year and taking advantage of the holiday season because, according to current company president Tatsumi Kimishima, Nintendo wanted to allow time for games to be made for the hardware. This is important in and of itself as a software drought is not good for cultivating an install base and a later launch also lends itself to a later reveal.

On top of these two reasons, I also like to think that a reasonable assumption exists in the idea that a shorter time between announcement and release means that any anticipation for the hardware garnered by the reveal doesnt have to fizzle out in the meantime. Considering the amount of heavy hitting software being announced and released during the holidays, thered be a pretty sizable flood of content for other platforms that could potentially drown out the Switchs grip on the consumer mind-share, so while ensuring that the knowledge of the Switch is fresher than not by skipping that period seems like the smarter way of doing things, itd mean completely throwing away consumer consideration in that pivotal period; itd mean that those in the market for a new console would probably put their money down and be less prepared to invest in another one a few months later. This indicates that theres potentially a bit of value in letting folks know about the Switch right as that shopping period starts. The coming January event is also a great way to renew mindshare for the Switch after the Christmas rush after the fact and really hook folks who may have held their dollar back in the hopes of making an informed decision. Outside of elaborating on the hardware, well get a good look at the software thatll accompany the console at a time where no other events can overshadow it before its launch about two months later.

Combining Markets


Nintendos Kimishima provided reassurance that the Switch will not engulf their handheld development moving forward: that the 3DS is safe and still a valuable pillar that will be supported.

Many folks have regarded this as misdirection or marketing speak while referencing how similar statements were made when the DS line entered the market in relation to the Gameboy line. I personally dont believe that this is necessarily true, largely because the anecdotes used to support the idea that theyre just testing the water arent linearly comparable to the circumstances at hand.

With regards to profitability, theres actually a danger to merging these two markets. It is true that software development would become more straightforward for Nintendo due to there being a single piece of hardware to support, but putting out a product meant for both consumer groups doesnt necessarily mean that theyll be able to satiate both groups in the same measure. A fair portion of handheld gamers may look for particular conveniences that might not be afforded by the device being offered, and a part of the console market will likely be quite unappreciative of the concessions made in performance for a portability they may not value or want to take advantage of. Therell need to be an immense install base that nears or surpasses the combined numbers of their handheld and console user base in their more successful years to make this sort of merger of markets worth doing, and these sorts of variances between the two markets mean that itd by no means be an easy feat.

We also currently know that dual-screen play will not be returning to the Switch and, depending on where things go with touch, combining markets would potentially see the true end of two features that have been core to many novelties through the years in the games industry on dedicated hardware. These are things that could easily be unique to the DS line moving forward if it is sustained; dual-screen play in particular is still very uncommon with regards to competing hardware and, after its failure to garner interesting the console space with the Wii U, is something that can only be found supported in the DS family of products. Itd be a shame not to take advantage of that and nurture it accordingly.

Its worth mentioning that Nintendos entry into the mobile market is also considered justification for them to leave the DS line behind; a door is open for them to transition from their Console/Handheld ecosystem to a Hybrid/Mobile ecosystem instead. The idea behind this is that if a successful Switch wont put the 3DS to bed, then mobile will do the job instead.

The mobile marketplace has great profit potential and could be a very strong pillar for Nintendo moving forward, but there are a fair few challenges and changes that come with that space to consider. In making mobile software, Nintendo makes no licensing profit, has no control over the market, sells no hardware directly, must operate under the norms of a different ecosystem with regards to the cost of their games/apps, and must design within the constraints of a limited input method. Profitability would also need to be extremely high and consistent for Nintendo to confidently lean on mobile, and its just too early for them to be making that sort of transition, but Im not so sure that its even on the table.

Back in December of last year, Scott Moffitt, the executive VP of sales and marketing at Nintendo, said that the goal with mobile was to bring people to our dedicated platforms, and unless course has shifted on that front due to Miitomo, Im not too worried about a change in plans.

These reasons are why I think it might be fair to take Nintendos word with a bit less incredulity than back when this sort of thing came up with the Gameboy. But who knows for sure? With the Switch and Nintendos entry into the mobile market each providing a part of the appeal and value that was once unique to the 3DS, its hard not to feel like its going to be phased out.

Standing Out


Running with the supposition that the Switch does have touch as a feature and that it wasnt visibly on display in an attempt to avoid association with non-traditional game experiences, its easy to see some call Nintendos decision making on the matter narrow-minded or a squandering of potential. After all, touch is easy to convey and is the primary input method in the mobile space, which holds the largest active install base for a platform type. I would disagree with this line of thought.

The fact of the matter is that the message being delivered in the trailer is that the Switch allows you to have a traditional home console experience anywhere you want, and touch does fairly little to bolster that message. While it's true that the Wii U is a home console and did indeed introduce touch as a primary control method in that space, that same system has not made a dent in the public perception of how touch can be a part of the core console experience like the Wii did for motion controls. Microsoft and Sony hardware have the current stronghold over the mind-share of gamers and even non-gamers who have and incidental understanding of the industry. For the last two hardware generations, theyve primarily provided and marketed a traditional set of experiences that, before that point, even Nintendo generally conformed to. This means that the broadest understanding of large scale home console gaming in general culture does not include touch and includes motion control as secondary at best.

Now that Ive elaborated a bit on the reason why touch doesnt reflect much value to the focus of the reveal, lets turn our eye towards the actual value in marketing towards the casual and mobile market place where touch is most prominent. Ill tell you now, the advantage of doing so isnt necessarily as big as one might otherwise think.

Consider that while mobile gaming is big, it is exacted as one of many non-primary uses of the devices it exists on; phones are almost a necessity now and are used as communication devices first and foremost, which is why they sell so well.

The Switch is not primarily a communication device but a gaming device.

Phones find use as general lifestyle devices with their massive feature sets and this bolsters their day-to-day value, but individual uses like gaming are not the big drivers in getting that hardware moving off shelves. This also rings true for the tablet market.

Indeed, even if the Switch ends up having functionality that makes it seem viable as a tablet replacement on the surface, it wont primarily be marketed as such, and that might be a wise decision for the beginning of its life-span. Nintendo isnt likely running an Android or iOS based platform to take advantage of the large library of applications on offer, and their own potential marketplace will have an uphill battle when faced with providing comparable utility and variety even if they ease off of their traditional, scrutinous software approval process. All this is to say that if the Switch ends up becoming a lifestyle device that is running proprietary OS, its probably smart that Nintendos keeping that from being central in its more prominent marketing; They can't yet compete respectably in that market and wouldn't want to allow for the perception that the Switch is intended to sell directly as a competitor to that type of device.

Leaving that matter aside, putting touch at the forefront poses another more notable problem: associating the Switchs primary feature set with the 3DS is not a very safe move. This isnt simply because it may muddle the Switchs identity as would be the case with the Wii U but because of the implications it would have on the value proposition of the 3DS: a system whose most notable novelty is in as much in its touch screen functionality as it's in its dual-screen novelty. Were months away from the launch of this new console, and Nintendo either wants to keep both of these platforms active or test the waters as some have assumed before transitioning to a merger of markets. Is it really so wise then to depreciate the value of the 3DS hardware before the Switchs release? For either scenario, making the 3DS seem relatively less valuable is not good for the future of the system As the strongest active pillar currently bringing in revenue for Nintendo, taking an active role in unsettling its momentum just isnt smart business for them or the third-party software developers still supporting it.

If what Im saying is reasonable, you may wonder how these negative externalities are at all avoidable anyway if the feature exists. I think there are two things worth considering when answering that concern:

The implication of short-form messaging and the clarity of more detailed messaging without time constraints.

A lot of details have been put forward in the three and a half minute video weve been shown, but it was all in terms of a very particular feature-set and involved a linear, direct elaboration throughout while incrementally expanding on that information. This is ideal, as in order for the trailer to be effective marketing material it should speak for itself and clearly define the scope by which the ideas within are conveyed, effectively limiting the room viewers have to draw unintentional conclusions. Showing touch to the world at large who will likely not look through press-releases and dedicated news outlets all the while keeping quiet until January wouldnt exactly be a great way to avoid uncritical assumptions and just allows viewers to draw grander conclusions than intended by the promises of the footage.

This is where more detailed messaging comes in.

January 12th will see an event that highlights the specifics of the Switch including software, key-features, and retail information. This long-form presentation is easily a much stronger opportunity to make clear in plain words and demonstration how supposedly missing features like touch work on this particular hardware, if at all. This will be the best means of ensuring that folks will be able to differentiate between the platforms instead of conflating certain things and losing the plot.


Observations


Dock


The Switch package is comprised of two notable parts: the handheld unit that is the core system and the dock which charges and facilitates TV play. With regards to the dock, there are conflicting views on whether or not it bolsters the systems capabilities in any way, as official statements have given some people narrow grounds to argue it might. There are four possibilities in regards to this matter:

  1. The dock has no function with regards to increasing the power of the Switch.
  2. The dock cools and enables an over/standard-clocking of the Switch handheld unit.
  3. The dock provides no additional cooling but over/standard-clocks the handheld unit to achieve greater output.
  4. The dock has a secondary GPU used to provide supplementary processing.


The first and third points in particular are notable to me, as neither of them are ruled out by any perception of Nintendos statement on the matter. This would allow for a full featured experience no matter how you use the device for point one and a full featured experience when the Switch is connected to a power source for point three. These are both the strongest cases for the promise of the device in the trailer if were looking for an uncompromised play experience between docked and un-docked play, though some folk may not prefer that if it means that the system isnt as powerful as it could be.

The general design of the dock is very nontraditional when looking at other Nintendo hardware, but I don't read much into that because the application of the novelty is a clear enough reason for why this is the case. There wasnt a good look at the back of the dock in the trailer and the press-release photos dont help on that front either, so we dont actually know for sure whats there outside of the two USB ports on the side. Safe bets include a power port, HDMI port, and maybe a further USB slot. If the dock is as simplistic in function as Nintendos said and theres no crazy tech in there, it might also be fair to say that the power-brick would be internal if there was one, but I doubt that one even exists considering that the Switch is built on mobile tech and would likely have a far lower power draw than traditional consoles. Either case would be a nice measure for a small footprint and ease of storage.

Speaking of the power-brick, Im actually quite curious about whatll be included with the Switch when considering the information we have. I think that an HDMI cable is a guarantee, but I wonder about how they'll go about the power-cables. 

One possibility could be that it comes with a single power cable and an adapter head; the set would be usable to power the dock or charge the Switch when on the go. Although this is likely the cheapest scenario, I doubt they'd go this route for a few reasons:

  • It would be inconvenient for consumers to disconnect the cable every time they'd like to head out without purchasing another cable.
  • Though a single cable type for the dock and handheld isn't outlandish, one that's wieldy enough to be taken along with a player on the go would be too flimsy to be used as a primary power-cable without being at greater risk of failure/damage.
  • It would mean no charging of the Joy-cons while using them and playing in console mode without purchasing another cable.


The other possibility that I think is far more likely is that two cables are included: one that's thick and durable with a wall adapter-head integrated and another standard power-cable for charging on the go and dealing with controllers during TV play.

I also thought it was interesting that, when connected, the Switch handheld protrudes from the top of the dock. The least presumptuous reason I can come up with for this is probably that its meant for ease of removal when the Joy-cons aren't connected to it.

Control Input


As can be seen in the trailer, there are various configurations available for play between the system and controllers:

  • Joy-cons with Grip
  • Joy-cons with tablet unit
  • Wireless Joy-cons with tablet unit
  • Single Joy-con use
  • Pro Controller


This shows a great versatility with just the included Joy-cons, let alone when theyre combined with the grip. To me, this clearly indicates that Nintendo wants every part of the Switch experience to be possible just with what comes in the box, which is quite appreciable.

Really looking at how the hardware seems to work in the reveal, I think its fair to say that hooking Joy-cons up to the Switch charges them or at least provides them with enough juice to run whenever you use them in conjunction with the tablet; however, theres no apparent indication that the individual Joy-cons can be charged without being hooked up to either the tablet or the Grip.

Folks with sharp eyes have figured that theres a possibility that the Joy-con Grip might not have its own active LEDs but actually reflect the light from the indicators on the actual Joy-cons themselves, leading to the conclusion that its just a sort of plastic shell. Personally, Im doubtful that the Grip is just a shell. I think that at the least, the Grip will be a means to charge the Joy-cons while the Tablet is docked. I say this because itd be incredibly inconvenient and restrictive to have to stop playing on TV-mode if all you have are the included Joy-cons and have to hook them up to the Switch while they charge. This is also one of the arguments I have for the Grip being included, as charging each individual Joy-con would involve more than one cable/a split cable, which would surely be unwieldy during play with regards to the light weight I think these things likely have.

The other argument Id put forward for the Grip coming with the Switch is a game like Splatoon that uses gyroscopic controls as a primary input method. I cant imagine Nintendo allowing the oddity that would be using the gyro controls with two segmented pieces. In fact, having a unit in each hand disconnected from the other might be strange for even standard input games, so Im fairly doubtful that Nintendo would ask players to just get used to it.

I dont have too much to say about the Pro Controller aside from not thinking its a stretch to say that it definitely has a means of charging by cable.

IR may exist for Wii-style Waggle motion controls as I doubt Nintendo would abandon a core method of play entirely, but theres no indicator of it being a feature in the trailer itself. There is, however, decent ground to make an assumption on how sensor bar functionality would be implemented. I believe that if the experience on the handheld unit is truly meant to be the same thats had at home, a hypothetical sensor bar or technological equivalent would have to be integrated into the tablet unit. With a reasonable part of the top of the unit protruding from the dock, I think it isnt too far-fetched to say that if that kind of tech/experience will be a part of the Switch, thats where itd be built. This also has another implication in that the Switch isnt meant to be laid down or placed side-ways when a game involving Waggle is being played. This is all hypothetical, of course, so well see what happens in the future.

No touch has been shown off in the trailer either, but theres good enough reason for them to have held back from showing it off as Ive explained in a previous section. To be fair though, that doesnt mean or even imply that it is a feature of the Switch, and the fact that touch cant be used when the tablet is docked means that it cant exactly be included in the reveal trailer without undermining the message that the game experience at home is 1:1 to the experience on the go.

A lack of touch outright isnt a good thing; it not only takes away from potential gaming applications but does away with providing a viable keyboard alternative for taking notes, numerical inputs, web-browsing, and effective messaging. Basically input overall. This is particularly damning as it would imply that those Joy-cons being detachable doesnt necessarily mean you dont need them or a pro-controller at any given time, and that basically diminishes the portability of the device.
Leaving aside these worst-possible scenarios, you can see that the screen is smudged in certain parts of the trailer, which is not something typically seen in promotional material; you want your hardware to look as attractive and clean as possible, of course. To me, this feels like a subtle nod to touch screen functionality probably being a thing, so Im not too worried on that front.

Headphones and Mic


I think that its worth noting that during the occasion that headphones are actually used in the trailer, they arent proprietary. Sony included a small ear-bud and mic with the PS4 to ensure the social interaction thatd be a pillar of their online ecosystem would be accessible by all users in some way from the start. MS didnt include a headset but, at launch, insisted that the Kinect had a built in mic that would suffice. There isnt yet a clear precedent to point towards in the console market, so Im not sure if well see any sort of pack-in at all.

Also interesting is that the only headphone port we know exists on the Switch is on the handheld unit itself. There wasnt any clear indicator of a port on the Pro Controller or grip, and it seems doubtful that thered be one on either Joy-con for various reasons. It makes me wonder if Nintendo will go the MS route by employing Bluetooth support in the Grip/Pro Controller or perhaps directly in the Switch itself.

Mic input wasnt on display either in the trailer. I suppose this is fair considering that it isnt a part of the core messaging that was being conveyed anyway, but Id say that the one opportunity to show something like this off would have been with an online multiplayer game. Funnily enough, the game of their choice was Splatoon, a title that is infamous for not supporting voice chat to begin with.

Up until recently, the online space hasnt been Nintendos market, and their current implementations shy away from allowing strangers to communicate in a way that might lead to a negative experience. Itll be curious to see how they grow or shift with their first-party software offerings in the face of this.

Camera


The most notable thing about a camera is that there doesnt seem to be one in the trailer. Not on the front or back of the console. If this isnt simply a case of Nintendo being particular with whats being shown off and there really isnt a built in Camera, then there wont be a use of it for games through AR (No Pokemon Go for example), typical Nintendo novelties (Mii Creation/Face Raiders), visual chat applications, or just photography. If we humor the possibility of there not being touch either, we wont necessarily be looking at as rich of a lifestyle device as some may have presumed the Switch could be.

Strange Button


This button can be seen on both the Left Joy-con and the Pro Controller. Theres not been any clear statement of what it is, but some speculate that this might be Nintendos variation of a share button. Im inclined to think that that is a decent possibility because it looks a lot like the iconography for a cameras record symbol to me. I cant say for sure that this is true and, if it is, whether the button represents access to the media suite thatd be used to manage footage like we see with Sony and MS or simply initiates and stops recording in a more simplified manner, but Im very interested in seeing what a Nintendo spin on this sort of function would be like.

Backwards Compatibility


We see quite clearly in the reveal that the media format in use for the Switch is a new sort of cartridge, something that Nintendo hasnt done for a console since the Nintendo 64. The unique format is notable on these terms as it ensures that at least on a physical media basis, the Switch will not offer backwards compatibility with the Wii U. The difference in dimensions also serves the same conclusion for the use of 3DS cartridges. The lack of dual-screen functionality and even touch screen functionality (at least when docked) are also things that make it hard to think that the Switch will be able to natively run 3DS, DS, or Wii U titles. This is interesting to me considering that the Wii U is technically equipped with everything necessary to play essentially all titles that released on previous Nintendo hardware baring anything that requires 3D to be played.

An interesting possibility for backwards compatibility is a retroactive cross-buy implementation for previously owned digital titles, but that may at best just be something set up for software thats ported forward or virtual-console purchases if at all.


Pivotal Points


These particular points are what I believe to be the most important things Nintendo has to get right for the Switch to be a success.

Software


Its still a fair bit early and there arent many developers talking about whether theyre making games for the Switch let alone what those games are, but weve still managed to get a glimpse of a lot of interesting software in the reveal trailer alone.

Interestingly, of the four first-party offerings shown off three have appeared on the Wii U in some capacity: BotW is coming to the Wii U, the Mario Kart on display looks like an updated version of Mario Kart 8, and Splatoon also looks as though it might be an upgrade. I appreciate this in a few ways, the first being that on the first-party front it seems clear that Nintendo is holding back on showing their hand so early (relatively) in the marketing cycle. The other is that this show of potentially updated software puts forward the idea that the Wii U backlog may be a big part of their software strategy with regards to kick-starting and supporting the Switch in its first year or two in the market.

Kimishima mentioned before that the Switch had been held back to ensure a respectable library software was ready for it when it hit stores. I think that the bigger Wii U titles could be a very smart buffer between pivotal first-party software releases, effectively building a strong and generous backbone for the Switch as third-party support catches its footing and (hopefully) reaches parity with the other consoles on market. This sort of strategy may actually be the closest to the hypothetical application Iwata responded to during Nintendos 71st annual Shareholder meeting (Q 5-2 on this page) that Nintendo could ever get, and the short announce-to-release period might be telling of that now being viable.

Bringing forward tiles like Smash 4, Mario Maker, Mario Kart 8, and Splatoon also contribute to engaging consumers through community driven experiences, further helping pad the lull that may exist between releases of newer offerings. This could even provide value to Wii U owners if Nintendo decides to integrate the servers between the two platforms. This would add longevity to these game experiences for those who wont upgrade to the new console and even make things livelier for Switch users. If anything, this would be a means of supporting the Wii U beyond the launch of the Switch, which I think would be a nice gesture if pursued.

Moving forward, I think it might be possible to glance a lot about the Switch hardware based on software thats confirmed to come first. Things like Smash Bros being brought over would likely be a strong argument for support of older controllers in some way, and something like Pokemon Go would alone be a solid basis for camera, touch, and GPS/Mobile data support. These are hypothetical examples of course.

I get to wondering if therell be a standard pack-in game like Nintendo Land or the Wii-Sports games. These are things Nintendo put forward to ensure a great deal of folk who invested in hardware had something to play, not to mention that these games were made to clearly highlight the novelties of their respective consoles.

If there does end up being a specially made pack-in title, what would that be like? The primary innovation of the Switch that we currently know of is not one that would feed mechanical novelty as far as I can imagine. Of course, we still dont necessarily know everything about what makes the Switch unique just yet.

Third-parties are an important part of the health, longevity, and value of a console. Coming off the Wii U, Im sure Nintendo appreciates that more than ever. In order to ensure the success of the Switch, theyll need to do their part in enticing and aiding these developers. Building a strong install-base, reaching out, promoting partners, and making software development efficient and easy are a few examples of strong forward action that would be smart for Nintendo to take.

Power


On the surface, the Switch looks like a reasonably powerful package. Although this is true, knowing that the principle hardware is in a tablet and running Nvidia mobile tech is a cause for alarm to some and grounds to be skeptical of the systems output, particularly when your standard is one of the other consoles on the market. I believe that, at the least, the Switch will not be as or less powerful than the Wii U for a few reasons:

  • Itd be a Wii U without dual-screen play but more than 30 feet of freedom from the dock, and simply trading one feature for another like that isnt all too enticing. That loss of dual screen gaming also takes away from potential backwards compatibility which, to me, tip the scales a bit further towards a value deficit.
  • A lack of parity in terms of architecture with the PS4 and Xbox One already means a more work for developers when porting software, but an extreme difference in capability would just add to that load and potentially require them to make sacrifices to their games for the Switch version or for all versions to ensure parity. That just doesnt sit right coming off of the Wii U.
  • Some bigger third-parties had come out to discuss the possibility of working with Nintendo before the reveal. Most notably, Bethesdas VP or Public Relations and Marketing Pete Hines responded to the possibility of working on the NX in an interview with Metro UK, confirming that developing for it would absolutely be on the table if it were within the power range of the Xbox One. To be fair, this was a metric provided by the interviewer, but Hines also notes that the reason that the company hasnt supported Nintendo hardware was indeed a matter of technical limitations. Today, we know that Bethesda is working with the Switch and, though not confirmed for release, Skyrim Remastered featured prominently in the reveal.


Battery Life



Battery life is a concern worth having. Even if the Switch operates at a level nearer to the Wii U when used as a handheld, itll need to have respectable battery life for it to make sense to the handheld market and effectively fulfill that part of the promised experience. Nintendo knows this better than anyone else in the industry.

Looking back, the Gameboy could have come out with a color screen far earlier than it did. This functionality was held back due to battery life concerns. Some thought this was laughable, but upon the release and relative failure of the competition to capture the market even with universally better specs, this and many other decisions in the design and marketing of the Gameboy were entirely vindicated. This victory is so notable in the history of Nintendo as a hardware developer that I doubt theyd willingly risk swapping roles in present day in the face of other handheld/mobile options.

So with these things in mind the battery has to be serviceable at the least, but lets ask another question: What would need to be done if battery life was NOT good? Or perhaps, more realistically, what should be done to supplement the quality of experience when the Switch is used as a portable? I believe the clearest answer is convenience and efficiency in charging. I think this will turn out to have been a big consideration on Nintendos part and that well see either a proprietary connector or an application of USB Type-C to provide things like faster overall charging and a feature like quick-charging as seen on modern phones. I can imagine marketing slogans like 2 minutes of charge for 20 minutes of play being attractive things to put out on Press-Releases and say during a presentation.

Personally, Im hoping for about 5 hours of battery-life on average during play and upwards 10 for other uses, but I dont have a strong enough basis to assume any solid numbers.

Price


Hardware


The pricing of hardware alone can probably get its own full write-up due to observations tied to the pricing and cost of manufacture of the Wii U, but well leave that for another time and focus on the more straight-forward considerations thatd effectively be the basis of what the consumer would call a reasonable price.

Nintendo needs to price this Switch between the expectations of two markets: The handheld market and the console market.

The handheld market shunned the 3DS at 250 USD at launch which led to a major price-drop and an early-adopter rewards program to accommodate those who put their money toward it. In the aftermath, the 3DS has enjoyed reasonable stability and its line runs the range of 79-199 USD. This serves as the strongest frame of reference for price expectations of a dedicated gaming handheld as the strongest device in that space.

The Console market currently sees Microsoft and Sonys offerings running the range of 299-399 USD, which Id say gives us the cap of our cost margin assumptions with what the Console market expects from their hardware.

In order to satisfy the market expectations of the both of these groups, Nintendo will have to play things smart on many fronts, but the fact of the matter is that the frame of reference consumers choose will paint their perception of the value of the Switch.

Because I doubt Nintendo will set the price range of the Switch in a way that undermines the 3DS, I think theyll avoid starting at 200 USD, even if the 3DS XL sees some sort of price drop. This ensures that the consumer market in general understands that these are different classes of product. Besides that, Nintendos already said that they wont be selling the Switch at a loss, and I feel like its unreasonable to think that it would cost that little to produce a device using new and specialized technology.

Overall, a price range between 250-350 USD at its most basic SKU is what Id call a reasonable assumption of market expectations for this device when recognizing what it brings to the table. A price of about 300 USD or lower is where I see the sweet-spot of positive reception from the handheld and console market being, so I can only hope that the manufacturing cost of the Switch allows for them to work within these numbers.

Software


Some believe that the Switch will be at a disadvantage right out the gate if it isnt as powerful as the alternative console options on the market. If we humor this as likely, a strong course of action exists in retailing Switch games for a slightly lower MSRP than seen on those other platforms, perhaps 45-55 USD for example. Under-cutting the competition in this way could serve as a notable means of enticing consumers to pick up the Switch version of a game at launch and the Switch out right as a valuable long-term investment assuming the overall experiences are similar with regards to third-party releases.

The likelihood of this course of action isnt certain for a couple of reasons I think, including things like third-parties wanting to maintain current pricing conventions due to the unattractive decrease in per-unit profit in physical and digital sales and the potentially higher cost of the cartridges being used compared to disks. It would be an interesting thing to see happen if things went that route, though.

I think that other measures can be taken with software pricing conventions to make purchasing games on Nintendo hardware more enticing. Things like Cross-buy and one-time payment for Virtual Console titles tied to an account instead of hardware would be a very welcome change for those that love their classics.

Another interesting point exists in the fact that Nintendo is currently the only big player that doesnt charge for their online platform. Xbox Live and PS Plus are now mostly mandatory for online play, and while itd be great for Nintendo to provide a similar reward/discount program, I think that by embracing social engagement in traditional ways and not charging the consumer for online play theyll have an incredible boon over Sony and Microsoft when marketing towards folks who only want to play Call of Duty, Fifa or other online multiplayer focused games from third-party developers. Its something that they can walk out on stage and proudly push as a selling point of the Switch over the alternatives. Well have to wait and see what they do, but Im very hopeful that theyll keep this possibility in mind.


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