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Nintendo Switch's Hybrid Nature: Some of the Strengths, All of the Weaknesses?

The divide between portable and home is there because each side has different considerations. Can Nintendo bridge the gap?

Article by Mike Williams, .

Next week, we'll finally get all the details on the Nintendo Switch, the console that is the future of the company. The veteran publisher has a new strategy for this console generation, putting all of its considerable effort and expertise into a single platform. You can think of the Switch as the successor to Nintendo's current home and portable consoles. It's a home console, taking over for the Wii U, but it's also a portable, taking over for the 3DS.

The Switch wants to be both, but it is missing something to live in that gap?

There are benefits to this concept. One of the bigger issues that Nintendo had prior to now was its divided focus: the company had to ensure a steady of flow of games for two very different platforms. It had to try a bring all of its biggest franchises to both platforms, while keeping those platforms flush with games on a regular basis. This change in operation was begun under the leadership of Satoru Iwata, with the former Nintendo president noting the shift in 2014 before the announcement of the Switch.

"We have integrated our hardware development divisions and established the 'Integrated Research & Development Division.' Until this change took place, we used to develop our handheld video game devices and home video game consoles in separate divisions. Of course, we did not simply merge two divisions into one. We know that we need to change how we manage this new division as well as how we create and manage new projects, and we are currently making progress on this," said Iwata at the time.

Nintendo itself has changed and the Switch is the vehicle of that change.

The Switch also allows Nintendo to bring the strength of the 3DS towards its home console efforts. Nintendo's portable offerings have always been stronger than their home counterparts. Even the smallest gap, between the Wii and the Nintendo DS, was still more than 50 million systems strong. The Switch lets Nintendo brings some of that heat home and allows for a tailored message. It's always a home console and a portable, but Nintendo can focus on the portable nature in a region like Japan, while focusing on the home console nature elsewhere.

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I'm very excited for the Nintendo Switch. The problem is I think the nature of system shares the strengths of both home and portable consoles, but it also the weaknesses of each platform. Many enthusiast players are seeing the Switch as either a portable console that can be TV docked, or a home console you can take on the go. The issue here is one of consumer perception: moving beyond enthusiasts to the average consumer, because for the Switch to really succeed, Nintendo needs to reach those people.

The Switch As Portable

Taken as a portable console, the Switch stands tall as the successor to the 3DS and even the PlayStation Vita. You have a fairly large 720p touchscreen and significant mobile horsepower from Nvidia's custom Tegra chip. Since it lacks the horsepower of the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, mid-range developers have a chance to stand out, since HD asset creation (expensive!) is less of an issue. You can probably expect to see a good number of great Japanese and independent developers offering Switch versions of their games.

If you see the system as a portable though, you have two issues: price and smartphone gaming.

The general expectation with consumers is paying less for portable games. A copy of Pokemon Sun for 3DS will set you back $39.99. That's the norm for 3DS and Vita, and it's a norm that Nintendo itself has reinforced for years. With an average consumer that sees the Switch as a 3DS successor, there will be a bit of sticker shock, given that Nintendo will likely charge home console prices. Leaving out system price for the moment, if the average consumer sees the Switch as primarily a portable, $60 per game will cause a bit of sticker shock.

That $60 price tag doesn't help in a world where smartphone gaming is huge, meaning they're use to cheap or free gaming. A smartphone or tablet is a sunk cost for most families, factored in general life costs. They're already buying them to communicate over phone or social media, watch Netflix/Hulu/HBO GO/Crunchyroll, or general work purposes. That those platforms play games is ancillary, but since they're everywhere, the fact that they play games is helpful. Smartphone games aren't particularly deep, but they work on devices you always have around. That's 'good enough' for most consumers. The Switch doesn't get that same benefit: consumers will be thinking about the cost of the system and games.

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The Switch As Home Console

If you change your perception of the Switch to primarily home console, you have a different set of problems that all interweave together: power, price, and library. System power is an ongoing issue with Nintendo and one they've only been able to overcome with the Wii. The Switch as a home console will be launching into a market with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Here, system price and library factor in: if Nintendo charges $300 for the Switch, then the system will have to sit on store shelves next to similarly-priced systems with greater visual prowess, more entertainment opportunities (both offer Blu-ray and various video services, the Switch will have to rely on the latter), and much larger game libraries. With 53 million PlayStation 4 systems out there, you have to convince a large contingent of consumers that they need this system in addition to what they already have.

How do you make that sale to the average consumer?

"Nintendo games" aren't enough of a selling point anymore or Nintendo wouldn't have to leave behind the Wii U. The thrust of the Switch is taking home console games with you. For that to work, consumers have to need such a feature. Those games have to be something consumers want and they need a reason to 'Switch' the console to portable. That works if you're going to the bathroom, or if perhaps you have a work commute. But selling the system as both all the time doesn't really work, because it has to consider both play types.

Do we expect this to happen on a regular basis for the average consumer?

The Switch preview video has a number of general uses: Home play, portable play, and portable multiplayer in various configurations. The latter is potentially useful, but it requires developers to make sure their game controls fit within a single JoyCon, which misses two buttons of the full Switch experience, has a reversed analog stick/button combo on one side, and frankly, looks small as hell for certain sized hands.

It's very cool, but I'm not seeing every developer covering the idea. The difference between "the system can do this" and "developers will utilize this" is wide. As an example, the PlayStation 4 Pro does allow developers to use that power for 60 fps gaming, but the number of developers that do so is small.

I bring this up because how the system is perceived is important. Take a nuclear family as an example for the different market Nintendo is trying to encompass. With portables or mobile devices in a large family, each family member has their own device. With the home console, the system is a shared commodity. The Switch works there better as a home console, with a single screen and split JoyCons potentially allowing multiplayer right out of the box. A Switch at $300 for each family member becomes prohibitively expensive.

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I want the Switch to succeed because I like the concept of the system, but for that to happen to has to reach beyond people like me. The Switch wants to be all things to all people, but it really can't be. Reaching each side of the portable and home divides requires different considerations. In some lifestyles, the Switch is a better portable device, while in others it's primarily a home device, but it carries the problems of the other market regardless of your preferred use. Nintendo can overcome this, but it requires smart marketing, smart messaging, and smart pricing. Hopefully next week we'll see if they can deliver.

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Comments 30

  • Avatar for kevinbowyer34 #1 kevinbowyer34 5 months ago
    All very good points!
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  • Avatar for hiptanaka #2 hiptanaka 5 months ago
    "The issue here is one of consumer perception: moving beyond enthusiasts to the average consumer, because for the Switch to really succeed, Nintendo needs to reach those people."

    I'm not sure about that. Because Nintendo sells both games and hardware for profit, I think a modest install base, say 50 million, would count as a success. It seems to me Nintendo has shifted their efforts to attract casual gamers to smartphones, while playing more of a long game on the console side, hoping that increased awareness will eventually create new Switch (or Switch 2) buyers. Maybe it's a coincidence, but this seems to be reflected in the new Zelda, which looks harder and less hand-holdy than previous entries; more made for enthusiasts. This is all just my guess, of course.
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  • Avatar for WayneFatal #3 WayneFatal 5 months ago
    @hiptanaka I hope you're correct. Nintendo has slowly made their way into a niche corner, where once they were literally the word in game consoles. Widening the install base must absolutely be their top priority.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #4 SatelliteOfLove 5 months ago
    This beaten dog has learned to stop predicting Nintendo's path or success, but I wish you good luck on your prognostications, Mike.
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  • Avatar for hiptanaka #5 hiptanaka 5 months ago
    @WayneFatal Yeah. I don't think they need to win casual gamers back to Switch, but they need to do better than Wii U. What we've seen so far has me excited, at least. I hope they have a strong presentation next week.
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  • Avatar for Stepout #6 Stepout 5 months ago
    For me the switch is a home console as I don't game on the go. I'm largely a PC gamer and thanks to the Steam Link (which I LOVE), it's mostly PC games that get played in my living room as well. When choosing a home console to supplement my game library, Nintendo stands out the most to me thanks to their first party games. Now that their home and handheld divisions will largely be focused on one piece of hardware, it makes Nintendo stand out even more. I realize "PC master race" aren't the fans Nintendo is targeting, but that's the way love goes.
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  • Avatar for kaicherry05 #7 kaicherry05 5 months ago
    I don't believe the author can support the assertion that the Switch is meant to replace the 3ds, because this doesn't match any of Nintendo's messaging.

    That is to say, it is meant to be portable, as opposed to "a portable" and people are "pre-dinging" Nintendo for something they have neither promised nor, from what I can tell, intend.

    This is kind of reminding me of the Wii release - it "must be, because..." thinking, in this case due to it being "underpowered". But is it really...*for Nintendo*? If the system is more capable than the predecessor, this is Nintendo's base target.

    If the system can fulfill the Wii U tablet's most used function (gameplay streamed to tablet to free up TV) and surpass it (no range limit) they've already "won".

    The system is clearly and obviously meant to succeed the Wii U and the Even Newer! Nintendo 3DS I predict will emerge as the next Nintendo portable console. That business isn't even remotely close to stopping so there is no need to "Osbourne" it by floating the Switch as the replacement. I am confident Nintendo will be hammering that message home next week - "It's not a portable console, it is a *transportable* console."
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  • Avatar for franciscovillarrealh #8 franciscovillarrealh 5 months ago
    @hiptanaka "a modest install base, say 50 million"

    You know that's only three million less than the PS4's install base, right? That's far from modest.
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  • Avatar for HobbesGrrr #9 HobbesGrrr 5 months ago
    I really liked this article and I agree with or understand the major points listed here. I did not buy the WiiU and I am planning on buying the Switch the second it comes out. I loved the old NES, SNES, and the Wii. I have not really gotten into handheld gaming, other than on a cell phone, but I like the idea of the Switch being portable. I have a PS4 and have had all other PlayStation systems, but never got into Xbox. I still think the switch will be fun for the Nintendo exclusive games. I am a casual gamer who loves technology, so I'm excited for this one.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #10 MHWilliams 5 months ago
    @kaicherry05 Just like the DS wasn't meant to replace the Game Boy Advance? Remember that system was a third pillar in Nintendo's statements, up until it sold well. It was a portable system. Of course it was replacing the Game Boy Advance SP, but Nintendo didn't want to be seen as muddying its product lines.

    Nintendo has a very long history of making statements for corporate purposes that are dodges or outright lies.

    If the Switch succeeds, you will not see another 3DS. If it doesn't, you will. Regardless, let's look at Nintendo's statements on this matter.

    "NX won't simply replace 3DS and WiiU".

    Iwata said much the same:

    "I intentionally chose to announce the development of NX so early because I wanted to confirm the fact that we are developing a new dedicated video game platform, that we have never lost passion regarding the future for dedicated video game systems and that we have bright prospects for them. Though I cannot confirm when it will be launched or any other details of the system, since I have confirmed that it will be "a dedicated video game platform with a brand new concept," it should mean that we do not intend it to become a simple "replacement" for Nintendo 3DS or Wii U."

    Note, both Kimishima and Iwata make note that the Switch isn't just a replacement for either brand. Note more directly that they mention both brands. This is Nintendo moving forward. If you want to make the argument that it's not replacing the 3DS, then it's also not replacing the Wii U. Under that specific nomenclature, the Switch is something completely new.

    Despite that, as far as Nintendo strategy and customer perception goes, this is the culmination of Nintendo's home and portable console efforts. As I noted in the article, Nintendo has reorganized to unify development efforts on a single unified platform.

    If you wish not to recognize this, that's fine, just read the "home console" side of the article and realize that Nintendo has a huge wall in front of it if the Switch is seen by the public at large as just a home console.
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  • Avatar for hiptanaka #11 hiptanaka 5 months ago
    @franciscovillarrealh I honestly don't know what would be a modest but still good number, but somewhere between Wii U and PS2.Edited 4 times. Last edited January 2017 by hiptanaka
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  • Avatar for Whinybabyclub #12 Whinybabyclub 5 months ago
    "Nintendo has a very long history of making statements for corporate purposes that are dodges or outright."

    So basically, all the hype surrounding this "jack of all trades" gimmick system that they're pushing out should just be ignored, because there's a very good chance of a system releasing with less than half of what they're promising? I'm so glad I have a brain and I'm not a diehard nintendo loyalist. Those people are going to be breaking their necks trying to defend the Switch after it flops.
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  • Avatar for manoffeeling #13 manoffeeling 5 months ago
    Good article, but in my opinion, the quality of its 1st party games is still by far the greatest strength of any Nintendo system. The Innovations and gimmicks are always fun and system sellers at the beginning, but it's what Nintendo does with that stuff that matters, and at the right price point, EVERYBODY will buy a Nintendo console. I think the Wii U would've done a lot better if the price had ever come down significantly, but that never happened. And while the hybrid nature of the Switch seems uncannily aimed at me (and people like me), I also think it would be smart of Nintendo to eventually release a tabletless "microconsole" version of the Switch that is primarily a dedicated Nintendo machine with a Steam-style store -- and CHEAP. People would buy the hell out of that, and the fact is, Nintendo hasn't ever needed the best hardware on the market to develop some of the best games, generation after generation. And the Switch, unlike every Nintendo home console since the N64, is gonna have a much larger/varied library thanks to the fact that it's ALSO gonna be hosting all of Nintendo's traditionally portable output. Speaking of which, I also expect to see different prices for games depending on scope (even some Wii U games were cheaper on release than others).
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #14 SargeSmash 5 months ago
    I think it's far more likely that a smaller, portable-only SKU of the Switch comes out in the near future to handle the 3DS successor.
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  • Avatar for NateDizzy #15 NateDizzy 5 months ago
    @hiptanaka A Switch install base between PS2 and Wii U is roughly 70 million. That's not a "modest" success; that's a smashing success. Personally, I doubt the Switch will break 40 million, but I'd love to be wrong.
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  • Avatar for hiptanaka #16 hiptanaka 5 months ago
    @NateDizzy Somewhere between != the average of the two.Edited January 2017 by hiptanaka
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  • Avatar for Thad #17 Thad 5 months ago
    @larkan511 This schtick was old 25 years ago when it was the Genesis fanboys doing it. Give it a rest.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #18 MHWilliams 5 months ago
    @SargeSmash Yep, that was my guess as well. You can see it in the "Battery Lives" section. Perhaps a 4-5 inch screen instead of 7-inches, but with largely the same internals.Edited January 2017 by MHWilliams
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  • Avatar for docexe #19 docexe 5 months ago
    The way I see it, the price is what is going to make or break the Switch.

    Barring bundles, if Nintendo price it at $300.00 USD, I think it’s inevitably going to flop, for essentially the reasons that the article states: It will be too close in price to the PS4 and Xbox One, machines that are just more capable from a technical standpoint, and it will be too expensive compared to other portable gaming options.

    At $200-250 USD, it has better chances of success, but who knows if Nintendo will price it at that level (hopefully they will).Edited 2 times. Last edited January 2017 by docexe
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  • Avatar for docexe #20 docexe 5 months ago
    @hiptanaka@NateDizzy@franciscovillarrealh
    I would consider 40-50 million units sold for an entire life cycle of five or so years a moderate success, particularly when compared to other Nintendo consoles. It would put the Switch ahead of the N64, GCN and Wii U, and probably at more or less the same level as the SNES, but behind the DS, Wii, NES, 3DS and Gameboy family. Of course, that’s my best case scenario for the Switch, provided Nintendo doesn’t screw up.

    On a related tangent, while I doubt any dedicated gaming console will ever reach again the peaks of the PS2 and DS, I would not be surprised if the PS4 surpasses its direct predecessor and manages to reach 100 million units like the original PlayStation. That’s, of course, assuming it has a lifetime of 10 years like other Sony consoles.
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  • Avatar for docexe #21 docexe 5 months ago
    @larkan511 Sigh… Two things:

    1) What Mike described in his comment is the standard procedure of most corporations, and Nintendo is not alone in that respect. Sony, Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, Konami, Capcom and pretty much EVERY single major videogame company has done it at some point. It’s essentially the reason why, yes, you NEVER should jump on the “hype train” of anything.

    2) That behavior of those “diehard Nintendo loyalists” you disparage has nothing to do with “lack of intelligence” (or “brains” as you put it), but with emotionally driven behavior. They love the company so much that they are willing to defend it even to the point of irrationality. Incidentally, sorry to break your bubble but you aren’t really any better than them, given that you are also driven by emotions in your behavior: That deep-seated resentment/hatred of a videogame company that prompts you to post disparaging comments in almost every single article on this site pertaining to them.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #22 SargeSmash 5 months ago
    @MHWilliams : Doh! Not sure how I missed that. Well, let's just go with "great minds think alike", or something.
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  • Avatar for moroboshi #23 moroboshi 5 months ago
    "As an example, the PlayStation 4 Pro does allow developers to use that power for 60 fps gaming, but the number of developers that do so is small."

    Not really true Mike. The PS4 Pro has a much quicker GPU, but the CPU is barely any faster. If your PS4 game is CPU bound already then increasing the frame rare just isn't an option, and as the PS4 (and XO) have such slow CPUs, this is a common problem. So games may be GPU bound, but not many.

    So instead the extra GPU goes on things which won't hurt the CPU, chiefly on render size.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #24 MHWilliams 5 months ago
    @moroboshi The developers that feel frame rate is a priority are putting the power to use in those areas: Rise of the Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, and both Infamous game offer High-res or better frame rate options. Titanfall 2 uses dynamic scaling to achieve the same.
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  • Avatar for Mr.Spo #25 Mr.Spo 5 months ago
    Hardware and software pricing, battery life and Japan may well make or break Switch. Nintendo already have Pokemon, Mario, Animal Crossing, Smash Bros, and Dragon Quest on board. If they can get Monster Hunter, and they've got the pricing/battery life right, then Switch becomes the natural replacement for 3DS in Japan. Don't forget that while 3DS hasn't been a huge success in the West, 3DS has outsold PS2 in Japan. Indeed, 3DS's install base is twice that of every other current system combined in Japan. If Switch can capture that market, or a market of similar size in Japan, then the combination of dedicated software support from Nintendo, Japanese third party support, indie support, whatever Western support Nintendo can get, and Virtual Console (hopefully much improved) should see Switch become a moderate to solid success globally.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #26 Modern-Clix 5 months ago
    @larkan511 Lets say it flops? Should that prevent me from liking it? The Wii U did not do well at all, but I love the system and the games. I mean, I got more enjoyment out of it than my other consoles. So that irrelevant.

    We are not shareholders, we have no stakes in the company. You can like, even love, something even if it does not do well. The only reason I want Nintendo to do well, and not talking PS4 or even Wii numbers, but I want them to do well just so they can keep making games.

    Hell, some of the best films of all times were flops in the box office, I guess critics and enthusiasts should stop liking them.

    I hate these sort of arguments. Out of all the mediums, it seems to only happen this widespread in that of video games.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #27 Modern-Clix 5 months ago
    @docexe Hmm, I see what you are saying, but I think one can separate what they like from the nitty gritty details, such as specs in this case.

    I mean, I know why I love Nintendo. I like their games, their various experimentations they do with their hardware, etc. Some things, such as the specs, don't bother me. Well, not true. One time it did, and it was with the Wii not being an HD console.

    And then there are the things that bother me, such as not having a universal account system and a better streamlined online experience.

    But to me, it's like Disney. I don't think Disney (not talking Pixar, but Disney proper) is the best animation company around anymore on a technical level. That being said, I still love their movies. I am a huge Disney person, and I love their output, even if I feel they have not been at the top of their animation game for a while now.
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  • Avatar for pimento #28 pimento 5 months ago
    It would be neat if it were possible to use the tablet in portrait mode, that way the screen could be virtually split to emulate DS games.
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  • Avatar for docexe #29 docexe 5 months ago
    @Modern-Clix Oh! I know people are capable of looking at things in an objective manner while putting their emotions aside. The thing is that, too often, we just… well, we just don’t do it. This is especially true of online fandom discussions, and even more so when it comes to things you have some degree of personal attachment.
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  • Avatar for mrhumble1 #30 mrhumble1 5 months ago
    Please stop with the idea that mobile phones and mobile phone games are competition for the Switch.
    The Switch is a gaming console. Period. It is going to be held to that standard by anyone who considers buying it. Nobody who considers themselves a gamer will make the comparison because we (gamers) realize there is a tremendous difference between playing a game on a phone and gaming on a portable console. There just not comparable. The casual iPhone gamer is not the primary market for the Switch. I carry my 3DS around with me everywhere I go, and it looks like the Switch is going to a good bit larger (especially inside a case). The average person who isn't a game will not even consider carrying this with them, yet I bet most 3DS owners who carry theirs around will at least think about it.
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