Rolling in after the underwhelming days of the Wii U, Nintendo Switch is now the dominant video game console. After almost four years on the market, its momentum shows no signs of slowing down. With a push from the global pandemic, Nintendo Switch will easily eclipse 75 million units sold before the end of the fiscal year and first-party titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Animal Crossing: New Horizons continue to sell phenomenally well.
One of the Nintendo Switch’s understated advantages is the niche it carved itself. Its flexibility as a hybrid device positioned it as an appealing purchase to bring in a wide range of new and veteran players alike. In a world where Microsoft and Sony position their consoles as powerhouses, the sky’s the limit for PC players, and mobile gaming offers the convenience of smaller-scale games, Nintendo Switch represents a perfect balance that offers strong games and great portability.
It shows no signs of slowing down, but impediments exist that might push Nintendo to revive the console’s momentum when it appears to be gearing up for a “super-generation” (longer than seven years). Nintendo Switch should be 2021’s best-selling console as PS5 and Xbox Series X/S struggle to supply enough consoles to satisfy demand. COVID-19 pushed Nintendo Switch accelerated sales to new heights that will likely not be replicated in the future with its current trajectory.
This is not to spell a tale of doom and gloom. Nintendo will continue to sell consoles and release multi-million sellers comfortably. However, there are critical steps that Nintendo can take to ensure that it dominates the conversation in the gaming space. And 2021 remains an opportune time to accomplish this.
A New Nintendo Switch
There is ample speculation about a new Nintendo Switch model with upgraded capabilities, and the prospects appear more realistic with each passing day. The 3DS got an upgrade adding a circle pad and processing power that improved performance and opened the door for a handful of exclusive titles like Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. Sony and Microsoft introduced more powerful alternatives in the form of PS4 Pro and Xbox One X for a hardcore market. Nintendo is wise to follow suit with a quality-of-life (QOL) upgrade that improves screen resolution and game performance. While not necessary, 4K upscaling would be a nice option for docked play and a fantastic selling point.
It also gives Nintendo the chance to revise existing console flaws. Joy-Con drift was a headlining problem that prompted the company to offer free repairs due to its widespread nature. Releasing a second generation of Joy-Cons with the new model that permanently replace the old ones while remaining compatible with the original consoles is ideal.
A new Nintendo Switch can position itself in the ecosystem as a third option. Presuming a $299.99 price point, this justifies a price cut for the original Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch lite to introduce a lower entry point. This strategy is reminiscent of Apple’s product strategy with iPhone 12, releasing four models with varying screen sizes and camera sets.
A Post-COVID Marketing Strategy
The impact of COVID-19 did not pull its punches with Nintendo’s release schedule. Super Mario’s 35th anniversary appeared to be reshuffled to push the upcoming Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury outside of 2020. Outside of this release, no new Nintendo-developed games are confirmed for 2021. Shinya Takahashi, Nintendo’s senior managing executive officer, acknowledge the potential for future delays if the pandemic persists.
A new normal has been established, and Nintendo is primed to meet its demands. It is essential to find a balance between its digital marketing campaigns and release schedules that places more spotlight on the games coming out. The gap between announcement and release is narrowing, something that Nintendo Direct minis took advantage on by spotlight less games at a time with more consistently. At the same time fans are eager for a full-fledged Nintendo Direct again, with the last one airing in September of 2019. Nintendo can fulfill this demand to propose a rough outline for game releases down the line. If a new Nintendo Switch is indeed coming, teasing a strong lineup of games will generate interest in their court.
It remains to be seen whether or not “limited releases” will continue to be a strategy for certain games moving forward. Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light will be unavailable for purchase after March 31st, and it has drawn ire for aligning with the end of a fiscal year. While the former is an anniversary release, the latter might represent an experiment for rereleasing classic games. 2021 will answer whether or not limited releases will be a mainstay of certain Nintendo releases.
A Creative Approach
Nintendo is branching out into other areas of entertainment in an attempt to broaden the use of its intellectual property outside of video games. Super Nintendo World is opening at Universal Studios Japan in February and select countries in the near future. A Super Mario movie is in development with Illumination Entertainment. Other collaborations pertain to retail, whether it be a LEGO collection or VANS clothing line.
These ventures do not directly pertain to Nintendo Switch, but they will impact the brand recognition of Nintendo’s characters. A longstanding philosophy underlying Nintendo’s video game consoles is that the games drive their sales. Taking initiatives to promote the characters and settings of their games will cultivate a feedback loop that incorporates them into the Nintendo Switch ecosystem. Super Mario preoccupies most of these partnerships; The Legend of Zelda, Splatoon, and Kirby are other popular franchises that are ripe for and taken advantage of increased exposure in the form of television shows, movies, or merchandise. Expect Nintendo to pursue this with lesser-known franchises over the next few years.
A Repeat of 2017
Drawing insights from the past can bear fruit for Nintendo as they look ahead. One of the reasons Nintendo Switch took off at launch was a first-year lineup of games. It kicked off the first two months with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, followed up with a distinct palate of games that included Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
While Nintendo can afford to spread out its releases across more months as a result of a vibrant ecosystem with indies and third-party titles to fill the gaps, the company can “repeat” 2017 with a similar slate of games. The sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is on the horizon, Super Mario will no doubt get another game, and other titles from the same year are primed for follow-ups. A majority of Nintendo’s first-party lineup was met with glowing reception commercially and critically, leaving the door wide open to capitalize on their successes with high-quality successors.
In addition, there are dormant franchises poised to make a comeback. Metroid Prime 4 will release sometime in the future after its development was restarted with Retro Studios at the helm; a Metroid Prime Trilogy appears likely to spur interest ahead of its release. Fire Emblem is an important franchise for Nintendo, likely to get a few more games in the forms of new projects or remakes.
Not to mention, Pokémon shows no sign of slowing down ahead of its 25th anniversary and will continue to be a system seller. Both major Pokémon releases sold in the tens of millions, and this trend should remain consistent with more titles poised to appear from Game Freak. When considering this with the rest of Nintendo’s releases, software numbers will continue driving upwards while keeping Nintendo fans satisfied.
Perhaps speculating the future of Nintendo Switch appears mute against the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, whose respective first years will be an indication for console gaming in the new decade. And the Nintendo Switch occupies a market segment that remains unrivaled by its biggest competitors (if such exist in the space). Regardless, the console’s success signals interesting prospects that are worth exploring.