How Nintendo is avoiding the mistakes of the Wii U with Switch

Since its debut in March, the Nintendo Switch has largely been a success — especially compared to its ill-fated predecessor, the Wii U. The console had the biggest initial two-day sales of any Nintendo console, and the company predicts that it will sell 13 million units by next April. Today at E3, Nintendo showed off a slate of games intended to keep that momentum going forward, including major first-party titles like Super Mario Odyssey, Pokémon, and Metroid Prime 4, as well as third-party games like FIFA 18 and Rocket League. According to Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé, the early success and future plans of Switch actually have a lot to do with the comparative struggles of the Wii U.

“We knew during the development of Nintendo Switch that we had a product that was really breakthrough,” he says. “But taking all of our learnings from past launches, we also knew that we needed to make sure that the concept was clearly communicated and I think we’ve done that in spades. And we’re going to continue to do that. And then we needed to make sure that a regular cadence of great content would be there. We’ve been able to do that to date, and with what we’ve highlighted in the E3 Spotlight and what we’re going to be talking about all week, we’re going to be able to continue to do that. That’s the key for us.”

On the hardware side, while the Wii U was confusing to many — its tablet-like controller almost seemed like a Wii accessory as opposed to an entirely new platform — the benefits of the Switch’s hybrid nature are much more obvious. It’s a game console you can take on the go, something Nintendo has made clear in its commercials and press events, and proven to be compelling with early releases like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Outside of its messaging, one of the Wii U’s biggest issues was the long periods that went between major releases. That’s something Switch has been able to avoid, at least in these early days. The console debuted with the hugely successful Breath of the Wild, and is following it up with a steady stream of releases: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe launched in April, competitive fighter Arms debuts this week, Splatoon 2 launches next month, and an enhanced version of arcade fighter Pokken Tournament is coming in September. This all culminates with the release of Super Mario Odyssey on October 27th. Beyond that, today Nintendo also showed new Metroid, Pokémon, Kirby, and Yoshi games that will be launching in 2018 or later.


Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey

According to Fils-Aimé, the steady stream of games is a result of Nintendo being more considered with how it approaches developing new titles for Switch, especially compared to the Wii U. “We’ve been very thoughtful in the development cycle to make sure that the content would be ready when we needed it to be ready,” he says. “For example, Super Mario Odyssey — we knew it was critically important for that title to launch going into the holidays. And [producer Yoshiaki Koizumi] and the team made sure that that happened. Planning it out, and then having the dev teams be able to execute against that plan is essentially what we were able to do, and arguably what we weren’t able to do nearly as well with the launch of Wii U.”

The one big question that remains, however, is third-party games from developers that aren’t Nintendo. Switch features several notable indie developed games like Tumbleseed and Rocket League, while major publishers like Bethesda and EA have jumped on board as well. But while PS4 and Xbox One are comparatively similar to develop for, the Switch is a different beast. And this often creates issues with third-party games on the platform — they sometimes debut much later on Switch, or with fewer features.

Skyrim on Switch is a port of a game that originally came out in 2011, while the Switch version of FIFA 18 is missing the series’s incredibly popular story mode. It’s a similar issue that Nintendo faced with the Wii U — even if developers are interested in the platform, the technological hurdles make it difficult. “When we showed them Wii U, third-party developers were actually really excited about it,” says Fils-Aimé. “The challenge became, ‘How do I translate this interesting piece of tech into a compelling game?’ That’s where we didn’t see the completion of the circle.”


FIFA 18 on Nintendo Switch
Electronic Arts

But the early success of Switch could be the remedy to this problem. With a big enough install base, the platform could become much more attractive to third-party developers and publishers, and — Fils-Aimé hopes — that would mean fewer late ports and feature-incomplete releases. “We would love to see that — whether it appears on our platform first, whether it appears at the same time as other platforms. That clearly is our goal,” he says. “But in the end, the developer needs to see that opportunity and dedicate the resources against it. The fact is, our development environment is a little bit different than the environment for other consoles, and so a third-party company needs to make a commitment to go down this, let’s call it alternate development path for Nintendo Switch.

“We believe that with a large install base, with a vibrant ecosystem, with a strong platform that delivers downloadable content, consumables, and all of the various ways that third-party developers are monetizing their content — if we deliver that, the content will come.”

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