Opinion: The Switch's Success Doesn't Hinge on Zelda Being Available at Launch

Nintendo is reportedly pushing hard to get Breath of the Wild ready for launch, but they arguably have bigger fish to fry.

Article by Kat Bailey, .

If recent reports from our sister site Eurogamer are to be believed, Nintendo is determined to get The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild out in time for the launch of the Nintendo Switch.

New rumors peg Breath of the Wild for a March release, which should be around the same time as the Switch's launch. Earlier reports had suggested that Breath of the Wild would be delayed due to localization and bug testing. These reports suggest that Nintendo is willing to move ahead even if Europe isn't ready.

Nintendo reportedly wants Breath of the Wild out as soon as possible

"One source tells Eurogamer that Japan had always wanted the game to launch in March, and had been uncomfortable waiting until later," Tom Phillips wrote for Eurogamer. "Another source says the decision to move ahead with March regardless of Europe was only finalised by committee at the end of last year."

Eurogamer's Switch reports have for the most part been right on the money, so there's plenty of reason to believe that this one is accurate as well. This suggests that Nintendo is determined to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and have the strongest lineup possible. And no Nintendo property has more cachet than Zelda—not even the immensely popular Pokemon.

But does the Switch need to launch concurrently with Zelda to succeed? Maybe not.

Recent history suggests that a console can make due without a true killer app so long as it has a broad range of games to start. The PlayStation 4, for instance, launched with the likes of Assassin's Creed: Black Flag and Battlefield 4—solid third-party franchises that wouldn't necessarily sell consoles on their own, but nevertheless looked good on paper. When combined with FIFA, (an admittedly subpar) Call of Duty, and downloadable games like Resogun, the PS4 had plenty to offer to early adopters, even if it lacked big first-party guns like Uncharted (Killzone and Knack didn't count).

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Nintendo, of course, is in a rather different position from Sony or Microsoft. More than ever, they rely on their first-party games to generate interest in their consoles. Sure, the Wii U had Bayonetta 2, but such games tended to speak to a niche audience of enthusiasts. In the end, Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8 were what sold consoles.

That would suggest that Nintendo absolutely needs Zelda at launch. No doubt they remember that the Wii U didn't have a true first-party killer app until early 2014 (New Super Mario Bros. U didn't count), badly hampering its momentum out of the gate. They aren't wrong: Breath of the Wild will definitely drive interest in the Switch. But the Switch may well be successful regardless; and in any case, Nintendo's focus should be on third party development—long a major blindspot.

As I alluded to earlier this week, the Switch has benefited from positive coverage and hype since its announcement last year. People are genuinely excited to own a Switch, and analysts are already predicting that it will be sold out for the first part of the year. That's because it's a much easier sell than the Wii U, which struggled with poor messaging from the outset. If you want to sell someone on a Switch, all you have to do is tell them: "It's basically a tablet that lets you play Skyrim at home or on a plane." Boom. Instant sale.

The Switch needs games like Rocket League as much as it needs Zelda at launch.

The fundamentally strong idea at the core of the Switch makes it an easy sell even without a mega-franchise like Zelda. For that reason, Nintendo could conceivably hold it until the summer or even the fall and not suffer too much as long as it launched in 2017. Given the right mix of indies and third-party titles (c'mon, Persona 5), it could possibly last even longer than that. The DS family of handhelds were both successful in part because they effectively balanced a steady stream of first and third-party releases. If Nintendo wants to be successful in the console business over the long-term, they will have to do with the Switch.

Of course, it goes without saying that this has been a weakness of Nintendo's going all the way back to the days of the Nintendo 64. Whether it's been the lack of seriously online capability or the decision to go with standard-definition graphics, Nintendo has struggled to attract credible third party development. That has left their consoles feeling like boutique items more than serious consoles—accessories that you buy to augment your PlayStation 4 or Xbox rather than replace it. Nintendo definitely has its diehards, and its first-party games still generate serious mainstream interest, but it's hardly a coincidence that the Wii U sold worse than any Nintendo console to date.

In the end, the Switch's long-term viability will be determined by the breadth of its library rather than a handful of key first-party games. Breath of the Wild will obviously spur interest in the Switch, but it won't be the end of the world if it gets pushed back later into 2016. More than ever, Nintendo just needs games. Period. Here's hoping Nintendo gets the message this time around.

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Comments 24

  • Avatar for Jonnyboy407 #1 Jonnyboy407 A year ago
    It'd be a bummer but I'd cope. I can be a grown up. Not much of one, but I could fake it.

    I do think they need a handful of solid 1st party games at launch. January 12th can't get here soon enough!Edited January 2017 by Jonnyboy407
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  • Avatar for Neifirst #2 Neifirst A year ago
    I guess I agree that they don't need Zelda day one, but indies and ports from the other consoles aren't going to excite anybody.
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #3 SuperShinobi A year ago
    I think they need more than just games for the Switch to succeed. For example, a proper account system, decent battery life, okay performance, decent storage capacity inside the Switch and so on. It needs to be a console that isn't gimped in some obvious way.

    Nintendo is said to be manufacturing only a conservative 2 million units for the Switch launch, so they should be able to sell all of those fairly quickly to the loyalist fanbase - considering that the Switch is the successor to both the 3DS (3,5M first-month sales) and the Wii U (about 2M first-month sales). The Spring and Summer months should be more informative regarding the wider commercial reception of the Switch.
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  • Avatar for StrwbrryJams #4 StrwbrryJams A year ago
    I agree with this article 100% (I hope to buy a Switch this time next year, but I am iffy on if I want Zelda), but I do think that it makes their job advertising really tricky, since they have relied heavily on Zelda to market the Switch. Not only was it in the prime opening shot of the reveal ad, but also on Fallon, and other spots. They may want to avoid sending mixed/confusing messages to people (read: "parents") outside the industry.Edited January 2017 by StrwbrryJams
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  • Avatar for AstroDemon #5 AstroDemon A year ago
    Breath of the Wild would help sales tremendously, but yes the higher priority is to establish incentive for the 3rd-party developers to publish games on it, and stay. The Wii U had publishers like Ubisoft, Activision, THQ, Namco, and 2K to send the thing off. Heck, most of the recent Call of Duty games were on the Wii and Wii U, but I guess the tech (and sales) weren't good enough to bring Advanced Warfare to it. Black Flag and Watch_Dogs made it to Wii U as well.

    These publishers unfortunately didn't stay for the duration of the console's life. Nintendo needs to fix that with the Switch, but I don't see how they can since I see the Switch as more of a 3DS replacement, since it is portable after all, and it likely won't have the memory and video tech needed for high-end graphics, which is definitely part of what big studios want.

    I'm okay with that though if I can get a bunch of Nintendo games and hopefully some cool Atlus games out of it.
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  • Avatar for Zenbojay #6 Zenbojay A year ago
    Nintendo is its own worst enemy, they barely support their systems with enough quality first party titles let alone the non existent 3rd party support because of their arrogant attitude. The masses will buy the Switch because of the love they had for Nintendo in the past and forgetting about their countless failures since the SNES... Not to mention that Nintendo will purposely short the market with hardware, how many years has it been since a good new IP has been released?

    I really don't like to be so negative about Nintendo and it's new system but they have let me and other fans so many times in the past that I find it hard to trust and believe in them again.... I hope for their former greatness but I expect another WIIU
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  • Avatar for WayneFatal #7 WayneFatal A year ago
    It can't be said enough, and Kat continues to champion the message: Nintendo needs third party support. And not half-hearted, here's a popular game from 5 years ago style support. Skyrim is not something to be hyped about. Portable skyrim 5 years ago would be something to have been excited about.

    Nintendo claims to be family friendly, but it's very unfriendly to families. If Nintendo were truly family friendly, then they would cater to every member of the family. Sure, the young kids will have Mario and it's derivatives to play. What about everyone else though? The teenagers & adults in the household would want to play more mature focused games. They would also love to be able to play those games online with their friends.

    Nintendo needs to constructively engage with third party companies, and wake up to online services.
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  • Avatar for Soapfish #8 Soapfish A year ago
    @Zenbojay Cough* Splatoon cough*
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  • Avatar for detten17 #9 detten17 A year ago
    i'm still waiting to hear if Nintendo will introduce an account system like PSN or Xbox Live so that I don't have to constantly rebuy the same games over and over. let's hope for good news in a couple of weeks.
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  • Avatar for Soapfish #10 Soapfish A year ago
    I see third party support falling by the wayside because Nintendo designs systems differently than other companies in the market. Countless third party developers design games to be universal: they require little to no reliance on the unique qualities of the hardware. Depsite console war mongering, there is little difference between Xbox and PS systems. I can play an Ubisoft or a Telltale or EA or whatever game on an Xbox, PS4, or PC and get roughly the same experience. Maybe a different resolution, maybe a mouse and keyboard, but that is it. The skin is different, but at their core these systems do the same thing. What is the point of different consoles if what they offer is virtually the same?

    I don't want my experience on the Switch to be the same as playing a PS4 with a Nintendo logo plastered over it. Nintendo brings ideas to the table that change how games are played and third party developers can't just easily and cheaply throw whatever they are already making on there. They sure as hell aren't going to dedicate resources to make a game that is an exclusive due to the platform's individuality or unique approach to gaming: be it motion control, dual screen, detachable controllers, or resolution and power. Third party support will come when Nintendo stops being distinct and falls in line with the other cookie-cutter consoles on the market and in doing so Nintendo will lose a vital part of what makes them great.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #11 chaoticBeat A year ago
    What is Treasure doing, isn't Ikaruga supposed to be a trilogy? What comes after Kokuga? Not the system seller I know, just jumped into mind. Would be the perfect type of game for the Switch consumer.
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  • Avatar for Whinybabyclub #12 Whinybabyclub A year ago
    @Soapfish Splatoon wasn't really that good. I couldn't stand it. It's only good to people who haven't played a quality FPS or third person arena game in the past 10 years.
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  • Avatar for Ohoni #13 Ohoni A year ago
    The third party launch plan wouldn't work. That worked for XBone/PS4 because players needed at least one or the other to play, so they bought one. If we could get Mass Effect on Switch (we can't), but could also get it on XBone, PS4, and PC, then players will almost all already have at least one of those, which will likely play it better.

    So if Switch only launched with 3rd party, even the best of the best at the time, then it would not gain any traction.

    I bought a Wii for Zelda, and as it turned out I played almost nothing else on it over the life of that console. I never bought a Wii U because there was never any reason to buy a Wii U. I will likely but the Switch because I don't own a Wii U and need a console to play Zelda on. If it did not launch alongside Zelda, I would not see the point in buying it.
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  • Avatar for Mr.Spo #14 Mr.Spo A year ago
    Absolutely agreed that in the long-run, Nintendo need a consistent stream of software to sell Switch and to power it along. That's why they've gone for a hybrid system, to push the software support they have for their portable line into home console gaming. That doesn't just mean that most of Nintendo's development power will be behind Switch alone (some set aside for mobile), it also means that the primarily Japanese support (of all levels) that has powered Nintendo's portable success over three decades, and particularly in the DS/3DS era, will also be banking on Switch succeeding.

    Nintendo need to create the market for those developers and publishers first, though, because outside of Japan, Dragon Quest, Monster Hunter, Yokai Watch etc don't sell systems. Zelda, Mario, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Mario Kart, Smash Brothers do. Nintendo need to get their big titles out at a quicker, more consistent rate than they managed with Wii U (or 3DS, initially), so that there's an audience ready to buy third party titles. Without those Nintendo blockbusters, Switch will not find an audience, and the lack of audience will drive away third parties. It's a more delicate balancing act for Nintendo than Sony/Microsoft, because Nintendo regularly take 50% of the software market for their own systems, which is something third parties don't need to compete with on other systems.

    Finally I do agree Nintendo don't need Zelda at launch, because several substantial rumours suggest Mario is going to be there!
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  • Avatar for photoboy #15 photoboy A year ago
    I don't think rushing Zelda is a good idea. Wind Waker was quite heavily compromised by the rush to release it with a tedious fetch quest stuck in there to pad out the game and hide the lack of dungeons. Hopefully given how long BotW has been in development they've got plenty of content in there.
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  • Avatar for not_themilkybarkid #16 not_themilkybarkid A year ago
    You know what they really need to get right? Virtual Console.

    -Get as large a VC lineup as possible ready for launch. All the big Nintendo hits (Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, Metroid) from every generation from NES to N64, or even GC. Try to get 3rd parties like Capcom, Konami, Sega and Squaresoft on board if you can, but for goodness' sake, put all your own games on it.
    -Advertise the Virtual Console! This is the handheld that lets you play the entire Nintendo back catalogue on the go. That's a big deal! People bought the NES Mini in droves, because of the simple message: "This lets you play classic NES games."
    -Let people bring forward their Wii/Wii U/3DS collections for a low "upgrade" price. They did this with the Wii -> Wii U, now do it again.
    -Provide a preinstalled "pack-in" Virtual Console game on every console. Something well known and classic, like Pokemon Red, or SMB3.
    -Make@jeremy.parish happy and finally bring the original Yoshi's Island to Virtual Console!

    Virtual Console could be such a massive asset, but they're wasting it.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #17 jeffcorry A year ago
    @not_themilkybarkid I agree 100%. Virtual Console, advertised correctly could increase sales just by catering nostalgia to people my age (30-40). We also have children that like games...hook parents on nostalgia and get kids interested also.
    ...should I get started on my lack of Square Enix Virtual Console releases on 3ds and Wii U?
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  • Avatar for Soapfish #18 Soapfish A year ago
    @larkan511 I have played plenty of FPS games on PC and console in the last year alone. Splatoon has a charm and style like nothing else.
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  • Avatar for Vanderdulpp #19 Vanderdulpp A year ago
    I think Nintendo has learned from their mistakes, and that they're sitting on a lot of half-completed Switch projects to release incrementally- hence two years of strange (and overall shoddy) spin-offs for Wii U (and 3DS). Shouldn't be hard to get third parties to stick around if Nintendo has an actual steady flow of first and second-party games to buoy this system along for its first two years.

    That said, I'm holding off until summer (and maybe even until E3) to buy one. Thinking of it as the carrot at the end of the stick that is this grueling semester...
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  • Avatar for NateDizzy #20 NateDizzy A year ago
    "The DS family of handhelds were both successful in part because they effectively balanced a steady stream of first and third-party releases."

    This is true, but those 3rd party titles were essentially exclusives. You couldn't play Radiant Historia on anything else. Would the DS have been as successful if games like that were on other platforms? I doubt it. How is Nintendo going to repeat something similar? No clue about getting exclusive NEW games, but as other people have suggested, the Virtual Console would be a good place to start. Now might be a good time for Nintendo to REALLY start leveraging that back catalogue.Edited January 2017 by NateDizzy
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  • Avatar for Jericho-GM #21 Jericho-GM A year ago
    It may not need Zelda specifically at launch but it does need strong first party support right off the bat. The Wii U didn't have this and it's also the worst-selling Nintendo console. Sure, there are other factors that hampered the Wii U (naming, marketing) but obviously the lack of good games starring their most popular IPs at the start of the console's lifespan was one of them. And like @AstroDemon said, third party support for Wii U was initially strong.
    @Mr.Spo A Mario game I think would be as good if not better than Breath of the Wild because of Super Mario Run's popularity.
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  • Avatar for Jericho-GM #22 Jericho-GM A year ago
    @NateDizzy Especially after the NES Classic.
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  • Avatar for AndreasStalin #23 AndreasStalin A year ago
    I don't actually really care if it's gonna launch with any games at all, the potential of this thing is just too large to consider not being a part of it. I will get a Switch whatever it launches with.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #24 TheWildCard A year ago
    Robust third-party support is necessary to be a big hit, but that alone isn't enough. Having a few "must have" titles early in it's lifespan is key too. I think a lot of the system fate will depend on how receptive Japan is to this. Hopefully it does well enough it gets a lot of 3DS developers to support quickly.
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  • Avatar for Zenbojay #25 Zenbojay 9 months ago
    Deleted July 2017 by Zenbojay
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