Switch

Jon wrote:

NINTENDO SWITCH. Discuss.

Lukas wrote:

With games like Splatoon, Zelda, and that new amazing looking Mario, it’s going to do better than the Wii U, but it really feels like Nintendo is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They don’t seem to understand what makes Nintendo consoles both successful and unique. The Wii didn’t sell well because it did something weird (although that helped). It sold well because when all other consoles went for online social experiences, it went for offline social experiences. It’s the console you play with friends at your house. It’s the console you play when you have people sitting next to you on the sofa.

The games that make Nintendo successful are games like Mario Party and Wii Bowling and Mario Kart. Games that you want to play with friends, who then want to play them with their friends because they’re so much fun.

The Switch fails to add anything to that experience, when it could have done something really cool: it could have introduced the ability to play offline multiplayer games and give each player secrets that their friends can’t see - by giving everybody a screen.

Look, I’ll pick one up, and I’ll play all of the games, and I’ll have fun playing them, but unless they get amazing third-party support and people will start wanting to play these games on the Switch instead of the PS4 or Xbox One, this is not a console that’ll sell a hundred million units.

Combining TV and portable consoles into one was the right move, it just wasn’t done ruthlessly enough. When you combine your TV console and your portable console into one, your TV experience should benefit from what portable consoles bring to the table; the portable’s screen shouldn’t disappear in a freaking docking station.

What do you think?

Jon wrote:

I’m not sure I have a long email in me right now. Let’s see what happens.

You’re proposing that Nintendo’s success came from party games and playing with your friends. And I think it’s true that they’re great at party games. But in a pie chart that explains their success, I think you’d attribute a larger part of the pie to in-person social interaction than I would. I’d say it’s big but not the primary thing.

I love playing Splatoon online. I love playing Zelda all by myself. Both are possible with in-person friends, but they don’t demand it. And trust me, I’m the biggest fan of party games I know. Easily. So I get it. When Mario added ways to let a second person play in Sunshine and then in New Super Mario Brothers I just about died with happiness.

Now. The second screen. I am all in on the second screen. But I have two thoughts here:

  1. I’m pretty sure average users care about the secret-showing second screen far less than us
  2. Designing for the second screen is a whole new thing for devs. It’s a good thing, but it adds time.

And here’s a third thing:

  1. I’m fearful enough about Nintendo’s future that I’d rather they get a bit more pragmatic.

So would it be cooler if the base station could power a TV separately from the tablet, opening two screen stuff? Yes. And maybe it’s still possible, I dunno. But let’s assume there’s a cost to developers designing for it, and a cost to the hardware, and that not all games will support it. None are insurmountable issues, but I’m drawn to the simplicity of «the tablet is the CPU period.»

And 100,000,000 units? Whatever. If it’s profitable and good, I’m ok with that. I’m suspecting it will be both. But if it’s not, Wii U tells us it’s not because of a lack of a second screen. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a «gimmick» but people are perfectly fine without it. Even though I personally love it.

Lukas wrote:

Apologies for the length of this response.

~

Think of it like this: how do people decide which console to buy? Basically, I think there are three kinds of customers for consoles, and they have different kinds of approaches.

1: There are core gamers, who read stuff about videogames online, and know what kinds of things they like, and talk to other gamers about these things. These are the people for whom Zelda and Splatoon and Metroid are created. But in the last few generations, most of these people have gone for Microsoft and Sony consoles, not for Nintendo consoles. Nintendo could sometimes get them to also buy a Wii or a Gamecube in addition to their other console, but I think it’s highly unlikely that Nintendo will truly be able to compete for these people, particularly now that they’ve given up competing on specs. The Gamecube was the last console that had a real shot at this audience, and it failed to attract many core gamers.

2: There are people who like playing videogames, but don’t see it as part of their identity, and are only vaguely informed about what’s happening on the market. For these people, social interactions matter. Most of the people who bought a Wii bought one because they played it at a friend’s place. That’s how the console spread. I think it’s easier for Nintendo to convince these people to buy a Switch, than to convert people who usually buy Sony or Microsoft consoles.

3: Finally, there are kids, who don’t make their own buying decisions. Their parents make these decisions for them. Here, again, social interactions matter. Parents talking to each other about games they’ve experienced themselves; if you’ve played Wii Bowling, the concept of giving your kid a Wii is way less scary than giving them a PS4.

~

I agree that people don’t care about a second screen, but they do care about games. Here’s an example. A lot of people like playing board games, but most people play them only rarely, because you have to read the manual, set everything up, explain the rules to everybody, it just takes a lot of time to get it going. Virtual board games would be nice, but most board games only work when players can have secret information. You can’t have secret information on a TV console, where everybody can see the screen.

How well do you think something like Settlers of Catan would do on a Nintendo console, where you play the actual game with your actual friends, but you don’t have to set up the board, and don’t really have to explain the rules all that well (the game guides you)? I think it might do quite well, and might actually be a reason for a lot of people to get a Switch.

~

I don’t think pragmatic works for Nintendo. The N64 was pragmatic; it was a better version of the PS1. It did much worse than its predecessors, the NES and SNES. The Gamecube was pragmatic (it even had discs). It did worse than even the N64. In the context of the Wii, the Wii U was pragmatic, and it ended up being Nintendo’s worst-selling console.

The Wii was not pragmatic, and it did well. The DS was not pragmatic, and it did well. The 3DS was not pragmatic, and it’s still doing well.

The thing is, I think Nintendo isn’t in the console business. They’re in the toy business. And toys have to be interesting. With a toy, you don’t care about processing power and memory, you care about whether it’s unique and novel and fun and whether you can talk to your friends about it.

To some degree, this does apply to the Switch. I don’t think the Switch is a bad toy; I think it’s fine. I’m looking forward to having one, and the idea of being able to play TV games on a handheld console appeals to me (that’s what I use my Vita for, streaming PS4 games).

The Switch isn’t bad. I just think it could have been a lot more interesting.

~

About the 100 million units: the console that does the best in any given generation usually does around a 100 million units. After the Wii and the DS, this has become the way people measure Nintendo’s success. The 3DS is only going to end up selling about 80 million when it’s taken off the market? What a failure!

I agree that, from a financial point of view, selling 30 or 40 million units of the Switch would probably be okay for Nintendo, and would give them a good market for selling their games. Hell, even the Wii U probably made them some money, all things considered. It outsold the Vita quite easily, and has plenty of games that sold over (or almost) a million copies, all from Nintendo.

But Nintendo is a publicly traded company. «Making some money» isn’t enough.

So my fear is not that Nintendo can’t be profitable.

My fear is that, when the Switch «only» sells 40 million units, the people complaining about Nintendo making its own hardware instead of being a third-party software developer for Apple will effectively force Nintendo to become another Sega - to everybody’s detriment.

Jon wrote:

I agree with a lot of this.

I think everyone is always going to complain about Nintendo, regardless of how much they sell. And people like us are always going to be fearful that they’re about to disappear if they don’t get their numbers up.

If you require a short url to link to this article, please use http://ignco.de/759

designed for use cover

But wait, there's more!

Want to read more like this? Buy my book's second edition! Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web is now available DRM-free directly from The Pragmatic Programmers. Or you can get it on Amazon, where it's also available in Chinese and Japanese.