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Three years on, Nintendo's Switch remains brilliant - but it has a tough road ahead

Three years on, Nintendo's Switch remains brilliant - but it has a tough road ahead

Three years ago, Nintendo launched its slightly confusing, tremendously exciting console, the Switch.

Pitched as a hybrid home console and handheld, it proved yet again that Nintendo doesn't care about the direction the rest of the market was going. While Microsoft and Sony were shooting for beastly tech specs and pushing graphical limits, Nintendo went off and did its own thing entirely.

And it looks like it's worked. The most recent figures from Nintendo show that the Switch has sold 52.48 million units around the world, outselling the SNES. On top of that, it boasts 310.65 million software units sold - around six games per console.

We've also seen a shift in the games that are coming to the console. The past year has seen gigantic, "impossible" ports of games like The Witcher 3, itself a violent, sex-filled RPG that surely wouldn't have earned the Nintendo Seal of Quality back in the day.

It's truly exciting times to be a Switch owner, with more developers and publishers finally bringing mature, big-budget titles to the console, bringing with it a thriving third-party ecosystem that has been sorely lacking on previous consoles.

And yet, the next year of the Switch's life might be the toughest it's faced so far.

Mounting problems

There are a few obvious reasons for this. First off, in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, production of Switch consoles in Asia has been affected. It's not just the base unit either - accessories, special themed consoles, and Ring Fit Adventure's Ring-Con have also been hit by production delays.

The latter ordinarily wouldn't be a huge issue - it's a relatively niche title, even for Nintendo - but we know that there's a huge demand in China for the game at the moment, with second-hand copies selling for well above the usual asking price.

Then there's the continued lack of support from major publishers like EA and Activision Blizzard. While the latter has experimented with Diablo 3 and Overwatch coming to the hybrid console, its flagship titles like Call of Duty still haven't made the leap.

And EA is vocally wary about putting too much effort into Switch, noting in its last earnings call that it is "conscious of the fact that the top-selling titles by a long shot are all Nintendo software."

No sharing

It's not an unfair assessment to make - the majority of Nintendo's own games have easily surpassed five million units sold, while third-party titles like PlatinumGames' Astral Chain and Koei Tecmo's Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 have only just cleared one million units.

It's also worth noting that both those games are exclusive to the Switch and published by Nintendo, with huge marketing pushes for each. Even with a first-party publisher, these games are struggling to get a share of the audience - though one could argue that being hardcore RPGs doesn't help either.

On top of all this, there's perhaps a bigger problem: we have no idea what Nintendo's plans are for the next year.

While it's easy to poke fun at Nintendo fanboys bemoaning a lack of Directs and counting the number of days since the last one, the truth of the matter is that there's been no information whatsoever provided about the next year.

Beyond a remake of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon and the much-anticipated release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons in March 2020, there's nothing. We know Nintendo is working on a Breath of the Wild sequel and Metroid Prime 4, and there's countless rumours about other games supposedly in development, but without any concrete information, all we can do is speculate.

That could all be set to change, of course. Nintendo may well announce a Direct today for later this week, show off everything it's planning to release this year, and walk away triumphant. But with its eyes firmly on Animal Crossing's launch, that doesn't seem likely.

Switching off

So what does this all mean? It's unlikely to be the end of the world, sure, but the next year could lead to troubling times for Nintendo.

As Niko Partners senior analyst Daniel Ahmad pointed out during the company's last financial release, Nintendo now relies on the Switch for 96 per cent of its revenue. Getting hit by production delays, lack of third-party support, and player apathy all at once could be a huge problem.

With nothing to fall back on - even its mobile revenues only make up a tiny 3 per cent of its overall revenues - Nintendo could start seeing losses across the board from putting most of its eggs into one basket.

But, as has been made abundantly clear, we just don't know what the company is planning next. EA may have already changed its tune and be looking at console parity for the next FIFA game. A Direct may be uploaded later this week. There's no way to know.

One big new release could provide enough positive spin for Nintendo that all doubts go flying out the window. And it doesn't need EA or Activision on its side to succeed - it's doing fine by itself.

Whatever happens, it's impossible to call the Switch a failure. Three years on, it remains a remarkable system, something that only the "go-your-own-way" Nintendo mentality could have produced so successfully.

All that's left to be seen now is how the console can weather the coronavirus storm and keep buyers coming back when it's already approaching the halfway point of its lifecycle.


Editor

Ric is the Editor of PocketGamer.biz, having started out as a Staff Writer on the site back in 2015. He received an honourable mention in both the MCV and Develop 30 Under 30 lists in 2016 and refuses to let anyone forget about it.

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