The Nintendo Switch is an impressive piece of hardware, but it is too little, too late for Nintendo to save their line of home consoles. Like the Sega Dreamcast before it, the Nintendo Switch will be a brilliant gaming system swallowed by the competition thanks to desperation, failures in marketing and mistiming.
The release of the Nintendo Switch follows what was one of the biggest marketing flops in video game history: the Wii U. Per Business Insider, the Wii U sold roughly 10 million systems. By comparison, the original Wii sold 100 million, and the PlayStation 4 has moved more than 40 million units, according to Sony. Nintendo needs a system to save their home console business, and they are desperate.
Unfortunately, that desperation is what will lead to their downfall. The Nintendo Switch is expected to be released in March, a time when people aren’t exactly looking to purchase a new gaming system. It is no accident that most game systems are released just before the holiday season. One can infer that Nintendo is releasing the system in March because it is just before the end of their fiscal year. Apparently the executives at Nintendo think they can fool shareholders by reporting a “big boost in sales” right before the end of the fiscal year by releasing a video game system at the worst time of the year.
A similar situation happened to Sega in the late 1990s. Sega followed their most successful system, the Genesis, with the Sega Saturn, which was a massive flop. Desperate to recoup their losses, they released the Dreamcast. The Dreamcast, while innovative and impressive, also flopped, and Sega left the console business. They decided that they were going to focus on what they do best: Make quality video games.
Nintendo makes fantastic video games. They can survive— and even thrive— by leaving the console market to focus on making video games. In fact, they may be forced to, following the Nintendo Switch.
This is not to say the Nintendo Switch isn’t going to be a fantastic product. It looks brilliant. The ability to play a full-fledged console game on-the-go and the apparent support from companies other than Nintendo to produce games is promising, but those same third parties showed similar support at the launch of the Wii U but then trailed off. Nintendo makes great products, but over the past decade they’ve just been awful at marketing them.
Another issue that may doom the Switch is that it sits in a gray area on the market. Is portability enough to make people who already own a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One purchase another system? Paul Tassi from Forbes suggests that the Nintendo Switch’s competition is the iPad, rather than the PS4 or Xbox One, but there is another set of problems that come with that. Mobile games typically cost anywhere from nothing to $10. Video games on consoles cost around $60 (which Tassi acknowledges). That alone should scare away many of the more casual mobile gamers.
In the end, the Nintendo Switch is bold and innovative. However, this is the “bold and innovative” that Nintendo needed three years ago for a chance to survive in the home gaming market. Much like Sega, who released the Dreamcast early after the failure of the Sega Saturn, the Switch will prove to be Nintendo’s swan song and a signal to the Japanese juggernauts that it is time to leave the home console market.