Nintendo‘s prominence in the gaming industry over the past decade has been a roller coaster ride; rising to the highest of peaks and dipping to an abysmal trough. Yet through it all, Nintendo has prided itself on being a separate facet – far removed from the Microsoft/Sony console war, once described as a “red ocean” by its CEO, Reggie Fils-Aime. Seeking its own corner of the market, brand power has allowed Nintendo free reign to engage and disengage with the video game industry at its choosing. They just don’t play ball in the same way that Sony and Microsoft do – where other companies pander to suitability, Nintendo typically ignores the mainstream.
The Wii’s success arguably founded this strategy, convincing Nintendo it had found its feet among an all-new slice of the gaming industry. And they’ve never quite let go of that, even after Wii U’s dismal sales quickly dispelled the illusion. But Switch, despite its alternative hybrid design, felt as though it was an acknowledgement that Nintendo needed a new look, headed by new faces, and all new imperative to amend the mistakes of its predecessor.
But two weeks on and the dust has only just begun to settle following Switch’s reveal. It really wasn’t the perfect start. The big N’s first on-stage conference in years was a mixed bag, showcasing a sleek piece of technology in a corny and awkward presentation that was somewhat uncomfortable to behold. More importantly, an underwhelming launch line-up of 7 games – many of which are ported titles or independently developed games from smaller studios – a high price point, and a lack of substantial third party support suggests this is, in fact, merely a case of same old Nintendo.
History tells us that a lack of third party support, in particular, does not bode well moving forward. The Wii U lived and died on first party support alone, and die it most certainly did – the worst selling Nintendo product ever, and the lowest selling home console of the millennium. The truth, evidently, is that consoles simply cannot survive without being able to attract third-party developers to the fold, and Switch has done nothing to convince me that Nintendo is prepared to accept that principle.
Yet, rather than what we didn’t see by way of third party support at the conference, it was what we did see that was most alarming. EA is the among largest and most profitable publisher of games in the industry; a multi-billion dollar corporation with a host of popular IPs spanning different genres. Naturally, then, EA was in attendance at Switch’s reveal. In fact, EA’s executive vice president Patrick Soderlund was flown all the way to Tokyo to announce a single game, FIFA.
At first glance, that all seems quite logical. FIFA, EA’s most popular IP, constantly ranks among the best-selling video games each month – an essential for any console. But there’s more to read in between the lines here. The other side of the coin is that this single announcement of its most heavily ported and most-likely-to-sell IP represents a rather half-baked dipping of the toe into Switch support from EA, not a statement of intent that alludes to a continued partnership.
EA’s decision to only put forward FIFA screams play-it-safe. Third party publishers are interested in making money, and if there was money to be made on Switch, they’d be there in droves. But, in only putting forward its most popular IP – rumor has it, a last-generation version of FIFA 17 – EA is essentially admitting it doesn’t see dollar signs in bringing other IPs to the system. Consider that EA made $4.5 billion in revenue last year… but they aren’t interested in full support of Switch. That tells you everything you need to know about EA’s confidence in the console’s viability as platform.
A real show of force would have had games such as Mass Effect: Andromeda, Battlefield and Battlefront, complimented by EA’s other sports games. Without this sort of content, Nintendo is just appealing to the exact same market that it already has; the 10 million individuals that were not enough to sustain Wii U.