Nintendo fan or not, the Switch is an undeniably intriguing piece of kit, and its reveal has sparked a renewed wave of enthusiasm for the company. The Switch feels like Nintendo grown up, a design and concept with a mature market in mind. And its form factor is appropriately slick, too – a sheen and polish that seems more MacBook Air than Wii U’s tacky Fisher Price finish. Yes, we don’t know quite enough about the new piece of hardware to say with any certainty that Nintendo are back as a tour de force in the console space again, but you do get the sense that they appreciate the importance of a change in company direction.
The “Wii” name is gone, and this time the innovations are functional, void of dual screen gaming and that bloody waggling nonsense. Hybrid gaming is now at the core of Nintendo’s design philosophy, signalling its intent on consolidating both markets. And while that’s tremendously exciting, it also leaves us with big question marks about the future of Nintendo’s 3DS handheld console.
Nintendo, of course, insists that a shared ecosystem will exist, but I’d wager that’s nothing more than a smoke screen to appease their sizeable pool of 3DS gamers. The Switch will surely have to kill the 3DS if Nintendo is serious about pushing the console as an all-in-one gaming solution, which is, after all, the entire premise of its design.
As we look forward to the Switch presentation in March, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the occasion; this is it for Nintendo, the company’s final shot at hardware. Don’t forget the Wii U sold worse than PS Vita. The war chest is only so big; money needs to be made, and if it misses the mark then it’s time to become a third-party game publisher. This is a huge part of what’s driving the imperative to merge the handheld and home console market. Yes, there’s commendable innovation in Switch’s design. Yes, there’s function and value in a hybrid system. But the concept is as much about converting 3DS owners to Switch buyers as it is about inventing a “new way to play.”
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For Nintendo, salvation lies in encouraging the 80 million 3DS gamers to purchase the Switch. There’s huge money to be made forcing this move, especially given the Switch’s lack of backwards compatibility. However, Nintendo has to be very cautious in its messaging.
The 3DS has a big following and the wording needs to be careful to appease fans as the Switch slowly replaces the 3DS, a move that will undoubtedly frustrate many. But replace it, it will. In fact, Nintendo’s rhetoric so far is rather reminiscent of the Gameboy Advanced/DS situation a decade ago. What was supposed to be a co-existence quickly became a replacement, despite Nintendo’s claims to the contrary, and the same will occur for 3DS, too.
Nintendo simply has to abandon both the 3DS and the Wii U almost immediately if Switch is going to get off the mark. There just isn’t room for a shared ecosystem and Nintendo needs to be very clear about that from the beginning. All content must be funnelled into the Switch to reinforce the message that the console represents the future of Nintendo gaming. It’s essential both in converting 3DS gamers and in attracting newcomers to the brand. We’ve already established that the assumption that hardcore Nintendo fans alone are enough to sustain a home console is wrong. The Wii U’s dismal sales figures are testament enough to that.
The Switch has to capture a much bigger audience, and that means waving goodbye to the 3DS. You might have noticed that there aren’t too many 3DS games with release dates beyond February 2017, suggesting that Nintendo already has a plan in motion to slow first party support for the device. There’s certainly still a market for 3DS hardware, so don’t be surprised if Nintendo waits until the last possible moment to issue more concrete statements about its future, but to believe President Kimishima’s reassurances about continued support for 3DS is probably naive. Inevitably, the device will make way for Switch.
In fact, the speed with which Nintendo move to eradicate the 3DS will perhaps the biggest indicator of whether they truly believe in the Switch’s potential. A streamlined device requires Nintendo to go all in, to place its eggs in a single basket and put everything behind the device. If the Switch can do what we hope it can, then you’d have to assume the combination of Wii U owners, 3DS owners, and some fresh meat will be enough to sustain it.
But that interest will only be realized if, firstly: the Switch has genuine handheld functionality; secondly, it is a unified device for all Nintendo software. If either of those goes unrealized then the premise of its design has failed and the sales numbers aren’t going to be sufficient to make it viable, which would prove a slippery slope for the third party support, too. Getting rid of the 3DS would go a long way in assuring buyers the Switch is going to deliver. Not to mention the importance of forcing 3DS buyers to make the upgrade as well.
If Nintendo isn’t prepared to kill off its other hardware and go all or nothing, the Switch is in real danger of fizzling out. Odds are, Nintendo already knows this, but they also know it’s going to be a source of disappointment for lots of gamers. Presumably, they’ll find a way to talk away those frustrations and we’ll all undoubtedly drink the kool-aid. Just don’t be too surprised when Nintendo pull the plug on the 3DS.