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Will the Switch outsell the Wii U? Gamasutra staff weighs in

Will the Switch outsell the Wii U? Gamasutra staff weighs in

January 13, 2017 | By Gamasutra Staff

January 13, 2017 | By Gamasutra Staff
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More: Console/PC, Smartphone/Tablet, Business/Marketing



Last night, Nintendo revealed more details about the Switch, including price, release date, upcoming games (including two launch titles), and how exactly the controllers work. They also announced that "in general," the games would be region-free, and that they would be launching a paid online game service later this year.

Many fans were ecstatic about what they saw, but today the company's stock slumped.

Will the Switch outperform the disappointing WiiU? Recently-published results of the GDC 2017 State of the Industry survey suggest most developers believe it will. Is the price right? Are the games that were teased sufficiently appealing? Gamasutra staffers weigh in with their take on this topic below.

Chris Kerr (@kerrblimey), contributor: By and large - by which I mean "judging by my Twitter feed" - the overall response was lukewarm. A mixture of people losing their sleep-deprived minds over that gorgeous Zelda trailer and those quite rightly questioning a sparse launch line-up, limited meaningful third-party support, and a higher-than-expected (but still palatable) $300 RRP. 

And to be honest, both of those are fair takes. Speaking as someone who pre-ordered the Switch this morning, I can see why the skeptics remain skeptical. Because in many respects Nintendo refuses to learn from past mistakes. 

For starters (and I hate to sound like a broken record) where are all the launch titles? There's no question that Zelda will act as a springboard, but it doesn't have the mass appeal needed to turn the Switch into a true heavyweight. The same goes for 1-2 Switch. It has heaps of bizarre Nintendo charm, but it's not going to set the world alight. 

So why was I intent on pre-ordering? Because it just looks like fun, and as someone who already has an Xbox One and PS4 for textbook triple-A servings, that's precisely what I want. A unique system brimming with creative potential. I haven't been this excited about getting my hands on a new piece of hardware in what feels like an eternity, and that's typical of Nintendo.Will it deliver the goods in the long-term? I honestly don't know. There are still too many unanswered questions: How much will Nintendo's premium online service cost? Will it even work? Where's the guarantee of further third-party support? Why is Mario playing with normal-sized humans?

What I will say, is this: I'm willing to take a leap of faith because I don't own a Wii U. It's a no brainer for me to grab a Switch on the promise of Zelda, Mario Kart, and Splatoon. That's enough. 

But what if you bought a Wii U? What if you picked up Skyrim Remastered on PS4 or Xbox One? Unless you're going to invest in new tech out of curiosity alone, or put your faith Nintendo's (unproven) ability to deliver the goods long-term, there's not a lot to go on right now. 

That should concern Nintendo. Because if it can't convince consumers outside of its loyalist bubble to buy, it won't be able to convince devs to create. And that's a recipe for slow-burning disaster. 

There are silver linings, of course. Region-free games will be a source of joy for many (although we're still not quite sure how that'll work) and the Wii-like versatility of the Joy-con controllers could help Nintendo carve out a nice slice of the casual market. The Switch's innate duality as a handheld-cum-home console also means Nintendo could strike lucky in multiple markets. 

As a piece of hardware, then, the Switch's potential is there for all to see. But it's on Nintendo to realize that potential, and that's the big worry.

Bryant Francis (@RBryant2012), contributing editor: Where to begin?! I guess what’s interesting firstly from a presentation side is that this is the first place where Nintendo can show any vulnerabilities in their plan, and a few may have exposed themselves last night alongside all the really great stuff.
 
Price point? Aces, but it’s been pointed out the price of controllers and accessories is utterly through the roof. Controllers run more expensive than a PS4 or Xbox One controller, which is going to have an impact in the long run I think. That said, they are very cool controllers, so I can see myself making sure I’ve got enough to play whatever I want to play in the long run.

The launch lineup feels like an odd echo of the Wii, which came with Wii Sports packaged, and launched with Twilight Princess, which was clearly meant to be a Gamecube title. Now we have a Zelda title that will also be on the Wii U, and a weirdo party game meant to show off the Joycon’s motion controls.
 
Which---pause for a minute, I’m actually very interested in because they echo something I’ve desired/wondered about since the Wii and finally found in the Oculus Touch/HTC Vive controllers. I’m very seriously interested in controllers like the JoyCons because they open the door to not having to wrap your hands together on your lap on a gamepad, and hopefully can utilize basic natural motions as button inputs. We’ve talked a lot about how natural motion on the Vive makes VR experiences work, but could similar design principles be applied to console games? I genuinely liked how Twilight Princess and No More Heroes used their motion controls, which moved away from 1-1 inputs and more into just incorporating basic motion into normal gameplay.
 
As far as the broader game selection goes, I’m both impressed and underwhelmed. The Square Enix RPG that only went under the name “Project Octopath” looks GORGEOUS but all it would take is an underwhelming story to kill my interest in that title.  Splatoon 2 is a good choice, Both Fire Emblem Warriors and Shin Megami Tensei will appeal to the core audience of this device, but there wasn’t a knockout surprise title that I think there needed to be. Also Skyrim looked….a little worse for wear, now that we got actual screenshots of it? (I could be wrong/biased cause I’ve been playing the HD edition.)
 
I’ve seen it go both ways on Twitter that this console has “no third-party support” and “the best third-party support” and—I kind of don’t know which to believe at this point. Bethesda and EA both being there at launch sounds sorta familiar to how Rocksteady and Bioware were there for the Wii U’s launch, then got going when the going got good. But at the same time, a Skyrim port for the Switch (which is still a huge-selling game on Steam) alongside a new Zelda game is a really great pitch for this console!
 
I think the #1 thing I came away with last night is that if this console’s going to succeed, it’s going to need exclusives from non-Nintendo developers that make the Switch feel like a “must-have” for people who enjoy the concept of video games, not just casual audiences (which Kris points out time and again, are completely surrendered to mobile.) What’s notable about the comparisons of this device to the Vita is that Nintendo’s going to have an incentive to put all their force behind it, while Sony couldn’t oversell the Vita for fear of cutting into the Playstation Console brand, so maybe they can pull it off?
 
Though I guess Nintendo’s already making a classic screwup out of the gate with the decision that its free NES/SNES games will only be free for the one month, then you have to buy them. (Come on….)

Alex Wawro (@awawro), news editor: I didn't see any vulnerabilities exposing themselves (!) during Nintendo's Switch briefing, but I did enjoy seeing developers and Nintendo staffers shouting, posing, and generally acting like characters. 

Characters are Nintendo's core strength, these days, and I think the Switch isn't likely to change that: it's (comparatively) affordable and underpowered, with an idiosyncratic input scheme and undercooked online components. 

In short, it's well in line with Nintendo's recent history of hardware design, and while I'm sure it will outperform the Wii U, I doubt we'll see third-party devs embrace it with much more enthusiasm than, say, the 3DS. 

I'm glad that Nintendo will presumably be focusing its development efforts on one platform going forward, but I hope we also see the company improve its developer outreach initiatives and make it easier for devs to get their games on Switch.

Hopefully Nintendo also doubles down on its nascent eSports support, since Switch already seems to have a game lineup with great potential for pro play -- did y'all see ARMS?!

Kris Graft (@krisgraft), editor-in-chief: I'm more excited for the Switch now than I was before last night's conference, for sure. Nintendo surprised me with how many features they're packing into those tiny Joycon controllers. So it's nice to see the company, to some degree, continue the tradition of doing weird stuff with controls, which will hopefully find favor with developers with interesting ideas and facilitate interaction that is unique to the Switch.

Nintendo is a company that makes hardware that serves the software, and vice versa, and once they wholly give that up, that's the end of Nintendo. (And yes, I know they're on mobile now, but they're taking smart, measured steps into that space.)

As for the software lineup, all that really matters at this stage is that Zelda is launching alongside the console. Take a look at the launch lineup for Wii U -- you could argue that, based on what we know about Switch's launch slate -- that Wii U had stronger third-party support at launch, and a more varied crop of games. Did it matter? 13 million Wii Us sold to date say no.

To get any initial traction whatsoever, Nintendo needs a Zelda game at Switch's launch, and they're doing it. Switch, like any other console, needs that early adopter momentum so that they're not trying to claw their way back for the rest of the console's life.

It'll do better than the Wii U as far as installed base goes, not that that's a difficult bar to surpass. I'd be surprised if it does better than PlayStation 4's 53 million units (I wouldn't have guessed that PS4 would've sold that many), but expect it will land somewhere in between.

The Switch is distinct from the Wii and Wii U, so there won't be brand confusion, it has The Game at launch, the price is reasonable, and it offers unique elements not available on other consoles. Even though Nintendo isn't chasing a mainstream audience with this console (that's what the company's new mobile strategy is for), they'll be fine, and will have a healthier home console business than they do today.

Chris Baker (@chrisbaker1337), assignment editor: The hat has eyeballs. Why does the hat have eyeballs? EYEBALLS.

I really believe that so much of the success or failure of Switch will come down to whether it has some Wii Sports-style experience at launch that immediately demonstrates its unique appeal. Wii U did not have that (Sorry Nintendo Land), and that's one of the big reasons that it failed. A Zelda game at launch is great, but Breath of the Wild is a Zelda game that was developed with a different piece of hardware in mind, and it's going to be simultaneously available on a different piece of hardware.

Is 1-2 Switch going to be a killer app? Hmm, i dunno. And it's not even a pack-in?! Double hmmm. (Also, early responses are lukewarm at best.)

I think that standard tablet functionality will be an important feature in Switch's success. If you offered most kids a gaming device of their choice, I think they'd pick a tablet over something from Sony or Microsoft or Nintendo, because a tablet lets them flit between Minecraft and Terraria and Twitch and Youtube and the free bits of the latest F2P flavor of the week. A tablet just offers so many options and so much agency to kids. If Switch does most of what a tablet does, and also lets you play Nintendo's newest and latest...that's going to be a big deal.

We haven't even seen any Switch games with touchscreen functionality yet, we don't know what the app ecosystem will look like... Despite the announcements last night, a lot of crucial details about the device still haven't been revealed.



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