What Nintendo Switch should have been
One, Two, I’ve Switched off. Nintendo screwed the pooch, again.
Let’s take a moment to consider how we got here.
In 1982, home video games raked in about $3.2 billion, and by 1983 video games were done, they were dead – globally they brought in $100 million. No one was buying video games until an unknown toy maker produced an affordable technical marvel.
Of course, I’m talking about the Nintendo Entertainment System – this console literally saved the video games industry – and kept kids of my generation playing. Nintendo basically owns the childhood of anyone older than 35 – and they’re trying to repeat that success but they never quite get it right.
Not to sound like grandpa, but when I was a boy, kids had to pester their parents for everything. They still do, of course. But back in my day we would drain all the coins in our parents pockets to play at the arcade. It’s hard to describe – but go watch the opening scenes of Tron or War Games – arcades were real places that really looked like that and were really that busy.
Sick of the recurrent video game expenses, many middle-class parents were able to justify buying a Nintendo Entertainment System (after a while just called a “Nintendo”) for their kids, because it would be cheaper in the long-run.
And, what did Nintendo get right? They gave us a copy of Super Mario Brothers – a remake of an arcade game that was better than the original. They also gave us Duck Hunt, and the Light Gun. Then Nintendo made sure they controlled all the cartridges and promised that only good games would be released.
Not only did Nintendo get the profit from the original console, they also got a cut from every game sold. Sure, there were a few third-party cartridges in some markets – but you needed to plug a genuine Nintendo cartridge into the back of them to get around the hardware lock.
Eventually, Sega came along and used the same model to produce the Master System – but they didn’t really make progress until they redesigned the console and dropped its price. Nintendo knew it had to respond, so along came the Super Nintendo – here Nintendo changed the formula – the tech was meant to dazzle us. And, it did. Nintendo tried to keep one generation in front of Sega all the way up to the Nintendo 64.
This technical sophistication plan worked ok, but it never really matched the impact of the original NES because Nintendo is not a tech company – they’re a toy company. And, tech companies like Sony, and Microsoft were able to produce far better tech, far more quickly.
Oddly enough Nintendo seems to have realised in the early 2000s when they started work on the Wii. The Wii was odd because it was not trying to be the most powerful “wow” console ever. Nintendo focused on building a unique experience that everyone understood. They produced an affordable console that could power reasonable graphics and included arguably the best pack-in game of all time – Wii Bowling – note I say Bowling rather than Wii Sports, because no one cared about playing the other games. We all wanted the Wii Bowling experience.
So, what has the Switch brought us? Well let’s look at the launch calendar – that’s right, I said Calendar – this is the year’s worth of planned releases:
Yet another Zelda game and yet another port of Skyrim. Be still, my beating heart. But, how much of third-party content is vapourware? And, don’t get me started on the online services. Utterly pathetic. Yeah, sure the hardware is an interesting concept. I also hear from some sources with Dev Kits that the handheld screen quality isn’t awesome.
But so was Wii U – and let’s be honest, the Switch is shaping up to be another Wii U.
How the hell did Nintendo get this so wrong when the answer is so obvious?
See, the answer for Nintendo is in last year’s failure. I’m referring of course to the NES Classic Mini. I believe that Nintendo meant for this to be a stocking stuffer, but that supply chain issues meant they couldn’t build it at scale in time. It was designed to be a curio – a toy for people to have a little cheap nostalgia.
Imagine if Nintendo had connected the dots, if Nintendo was switched on they would have made one small difference that would have put a Switch in basically every living room in a heartbeat.
Here is what Nintendo needs to do, right now for Switch to restore Nintendo to video-game supremacy:
Step 1 – Acknowledge that 1, 2, Switch is a tech demo, and include it as a pack-in title for every unit sold.
Step 2 – Write an NES emulation suite for Switch, and then put all the ROMs for NES into a Netflix style catalogue, accessible at Netflix subscription prices (either $10 a month, or $100 a year) and start with 200 NES ROMs.
There are many open-source NES emulators around the Internet, and Nintendo already owns the ROMs. This would be money for old-rope – in fact, they already prepared 30 ROMs for the NES Mini. Allow a switch unit to download those ROMs for use on the go, but digitally sign them so that a user needs to keep their subscription.
Step 3 – Write a SNES emulation suite for Switch release it by Christmas 2017- add ROMs to the catalogue in Step 2
Step 4 – Write a N64, and Game Cube emulation suite, release it by Christmas 2018 – include it in the catalogue above.
Switch is a lost opportunity. The only people who are likely to buy it as it stands are Zelda fans. No one cares about playing Skyrim on yet another platform – the PS4 remaster was a buggy POS. The original was a buggy POS. Seriously, do you think this really going to enlarge the market?
Nintendo – you own my childhood – and the childhood of all of Gen-X and the childhood of Gen-Y. For goodness sake, you have 35 years of back catalogue that you could use to get back into every living room in the world.
Do it and swim in recurrent cash flow, or I’ll stick with PlayStation.