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The Switch has been on the worldwide market for about six weeks at this point. Not too long after the system launched, various reports started rolling in as to how well it was selling. After a recent report from the NPD, Nintendo confirmed that the Switch sold 906,000 units in the month of March in the US alone. In addition to the good sales, developers have complimented Nintendo’s efforts on making the Switch simple to develop for and the added power over the Wii U. All of this is really good news, and if the situation continues to grow in this direction, the Switch could end up becoming a really big success. If that happens, will that be enough to reinvigorate decent third-party support?
At this current point in time, we know for sure that indie developers really love the Switch. Not only are there a plethora of indie games coming out for the system, but it’s these smaller studios that have been the most vocal about their experience with the system. There have been comments from industry juggernauts like Ubisoft and EA, but the majority of the statements have definitely been coming from their much smaller brethren. It’s likely that these bigger developers are simply waiting for special showcases like E3 before they come out and talk about their plans for Switch, but for now things have been pretty quiet.
While the Switch’s performance so far has been great, there still seems to be a cloud of doubt surrounding it. For instance, Slightly Mad flat-out said “no” when asked if the upcoming Project CARS 2 will be coming to the Switch. There are other developers which have given similar responses when they were questioned about their support for the Switch. The majority of these statements came before the system was released and shortly after, so perhaps there could be a change of tune, but that’s probably not likely.
Now, why is it probably not going to change? After all, the Switch has been pretty successful so far, so that should be enough, right? Well, to a degree, yes, but the Switch is in a very interesting position.
Switch sales have started off strong, but big developers are taking a cautious approach.
Nintendo has been on unstable ground with third-party devs basically forever. The company was very strict with them during the days of the NES and SNES, and then once the N64 rolled around, things got really complicated. Ever since then, the majority of third-party studios have pretty much either been working with Nintendo at arms length, or not much at all. Meanwhile, PlayStation and Xbox overtaken Nintendo’s market share and have also become the main marketplaces for dozens upon dozens of third-party franchises. All of this has created a bit of an awkward situation for the Switch.
Outside of the Virtual Boy, the N64 was the first system where Nintendo started getting really aggressive with following the beat of its own drum. Then came the Wii’s simplistic and unorthodox design; that was basically Nintendo shouting from the rooftops that it didn’t really care what the rest of the industry was doing. Considering the fact that the Wii ended up becoming Nintendo’s best-selling home console to date, it’s no wonder why they continued to with the ‘unique approach’, thus resulting in the Wii U. We all know what ended up happening, so let’s just bring it back to the Switch.
Like the Wii and Wii U, the Switch is a very ambitious wild card. Unlike those systems, however, Nintendo has actually tried to play along with some of the industry’s rules; as mentioned earlier in the article with developers praising how easy it is to develop for. So, Nintendo is basically trying to give developers a unique platform to work with, all while being similar enough to everything else so that it doesn’t lead to a lot of frustration (as was the case with the Wii and Wii U). This is all great, but there’s still Nintendo’s poor reputation with third-parties to take into consideration.
With the Switch, Nintendo has finally found a unique formula that works for everyone, but there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome.
It’s been such a long time since Nintendo’s home systems have had decent third-party support—how can that be reversed? The best thing that can happen is if the Switch continues selling well. The bigger the install base gets, the harder it will be for developers to ignore it. But, there’s still yet another catch: is that install base going to buy the games?
Companies like EA, Ubisoft, Rockstar, Activision and the like, know for a fact that they have a dedicated marketplace on Xbox and PlayStation. When it comes to the Switch, like its predecessors, there’s the catch that the most popular games tend to come from Nintendo itself. The success of indie games on Wii U and 3DS prove that Nintendo gamers don’t only buy first-party titles, but that still doesn’t change the fact that most multi-platform titles tend to do better on Xbox and PS. That can’t be blamed squarely on Nintendo gamers, though. The reason why multi-platform games tend to sell abysmally on Nintendo’s home systems is because that tends to be the most watered-down version of the game. Part of that can be blamed on the reduced hardware power, but the majority of the reason is because not a lot of effort was put into it by the developers themselves.
The Switch isn’t as powerful as the PS4 or the Xbox One, but games like Snake Pass and LEGO City: Undercover prove that it’s capable of producing very similar results to the other systems, with just some minor drawbacks. Added to that is that it offers users the exclusive ability to be able to enjoy those games either at home or on-the-go, which has moved some to buy the game on Switch rather than the other platforms. If hardware sales continue to grow steadily, then the Switch’s unique design just may be enough to cause players to stay on Nintendo’s side. But as good as that sounds, it’s wishful thinking at best.
The Switch’s unique design gives it an advantage over the other platforms, but will it be enough to turn the tides for third-party support?
What developers are most interested in is creating the biggest, most ambitious and technically advanced games that they can. The Switch isn’t trying to push the envelope in the power department; it’s content with being ‘just enough’. Meanwhile, we just got the PS4 Pro back in November, and now the even more powerful Project Scorpio is on its way for a release later this year. These systems are giving developers what they truly want, and they’re also a part of the platforms that gamers are most interested in.
The whole point is that the Switch has a lot to prove. It’s great that Nintendo has made so many corrections to the way it handles things, but it’s still no PlayStation. The PS3 was Sony’s first big mistake after riding high at the top, so when the PS4 came around as being the ‘perfect’ system, the industry had no problem forgiving what happened before. The Switch on the other hand is pretty much Nintendo’s first most praised home system since the days of the SNES. Combine that with the fact that it has arrived at such a strange time—the middle of the PS4/XBO’s lifecycles and in the midst of the launches of the Pro/Scorpio—and you have yourself a wild system with a laundry list of challenges to overcome. For now, let’s just see how its first year turns out.