What will Nintendo Do Next?
There’s no doubt Nintendo are dominating with the Switch. But where do they go from here?
The biggest appeals of the Switch – its cost, portability and casual experiences – are areas that Nintendo will no longer dominate going forward. Do they double down, trying to stay relevant in a world where a 4k phone or tablet can stream a near-perfect recreation of the home console experience? Or do they try and take on Sony and Microsoft at their own game?
These aren’t hypothetical questions. Nintendo is nothing if not surprising, keeping fans on their toes. Who would have come up with the DS before they announced it? Where’s all the articles and forum posts predicting the Wii?
Nintendo have become masters at carving out their own place in the console industry. But with their place rapidly under threat, with online and digital becoming more important than ever, and with the shadows of Apple, Google and Amazon looming, will Nintendo be able to compete on a much larger scale?
Nintendo’s Mobile Permanence
The Switch is not a competitor with the Xbox or the PlayStation – that’s why it’s doing so well.
It doesn’t need hours of analysis to find out whether a Switch third party game can stand toe-to-toe with other versions. It won’t. That doesn’t matter. People will buy it anyway.
Just take a second to consider that. Nintendo have built the weakest device and, because of the portability more than anything, people don’t care. Sony and Microsoft wish they could count themselves out like that.
The issue there is that the sleek Switch becomes far less attractive if, over the next ten years, cloud gaming comes even close viable. If you can play Immortals on your phone at a higher resolution and more effects than on Switch, why would you ever buy it on Switch?
This isn’t some sci-fi ideal, like putting flying cars in 2001. By the end of this decade, very few people will be walking around with phones not capable of playing great games without the compromises. Will it take off? Who knows? But that’s something Nintendo have to consider when building their next console.
If they gamble on portability, it may be that gamble fails to pay off a second time. In fact, that’s the likely scenario. Phones and cloud gaming are only getting better, and while the doom and gloom patrol have used this argument to spell the end of days for consoles for decades, it’s a point we have to face up to. The Switch is mobile AAA gaming, and that’s a growing industry. There comes a point where the tip will happen, whether that’s today, tomorrow or in 100 years.
And when it comes, Nintendo are most vulnerable to it.
First to Last – Nintendo’s risky business
So let’s presume that Nintendo’s next non-Switch Pro isn’t going to be the same format as the Switch. They have to cancel out the portability, which takes away their free pass in those comparisons. They need to learn to compete again with Microsoft and Sony.
Nintendo have a first party line-up that any IP holder in the world would love to have. Every Mario and Zelda game is a massive hitter, and there’s a host of smaller, but still often massively profitable titles as well. There’s undoubtedly that Nintendo sheen that inexplicably makes us all buy these titles time and time again. The two aforementioned titles have even inspired gambling developers over the years, as many slot games found at top casino sites are heavily influenced from their well-known characters and beloved themes.
Would you buy a Nintendo console that’s double the price of the Switch? Some would, maybe even enough to make it well worth it, but it would depend on other things.
Nintendo’s last “normal” console was the Gamecube, which didn’t sell particularly well. The Switch isn’t massively known for its network features (it doesn’t even have system-level achievements, let alone a cloud gaming app). Their art style is second to none, but they’ve not exactly been launching titles that compete with the massive graphical powerhouses (and right now, nobody would expect them to).
So, firstly, could they do that? Could they create a decent network that competes with PlayStation and Xbox, and could they bring their titles visually to the same level as what’s available elsewhere?
Yes, of course. It’s a matter of money, and those Switch profits just keep on rolling. Will they? They might have to, but for our sake we’re imagining yes.
But even with a great console in all other respects, they have to bring in the third parties and that’s a place they’ve traditionally struggled. Make your system easy to develop for, pay for publishers to bring their game to the new Nintendo Box and… you have an Xbox or PlayStation with Nintendo games.
That’s a risk in and of itself.
Mario ‘Third Party’
Nintendo is in a risky position compared to PlayStation and Xbox. Microsoft and Sony can effectively just release very clever mid-to-high end PCs with plenty of customising, and their fans will be happy. It’s in no way a bad thing.
For Nintendo to do that, they’d be turning away their current core audience. The millions of people buying the Switch would not necessarily buy the Switch if it wasn’t portable or if it was far more expensive. But those are things Nintendo will need to work out if they want to compete in five years – by the time the Switch Pro isn’t looking as hot and cloud gaming has found its footing.
Their answer will probably be something none of us can even predict, but, if not, there comes a point in this hypothetical future where it makes sense to discuss Nintendo going third party.
In a world where every game is on the cloud and the biggest successful players also happen to be the biggest companies in the world, Nintendo cannot compete. They don’t have the spending power, they don’t have the tech. They might be able to find a new niche in the “retro” console business – being different by still bringing out physical hardware – but if the cloud takes its place by 2030, that’s not going to be selling hundreds of millions of units.
Nintendo would be happy just fulfilling that niche, even if it’s to 20m people or so. At that point, that might be enough to be profitable and still have a semi-decent cloud service for third party games attached, maybe even xCloud.
But what if that’s not enough? Nintendo has more potential than anybody as a third-party publisher. Their titles are huge, and they’d have their pick of the exclusivity deals, first party partners and services. They’d make a fortune from the people who love Nintendo but don’t need another console.
They wouldn’t be as successful as they are right now, but there’s no guarantee that will ever happen again anyway. It’s worth thinking about, if only because it’s the easy way out.
Nintendo aren’t the ones to take the easy way out though. They’re ones to surprise us, to take their knocks when sales are low and grow into something wild.
Usually when I write an article, I’m doing it from a position of educated analysis. I put in the legwork reading other opinions, analysing trends and trying to work out where a sensible end point is. I’m no genius, but I reckon I’m right more than I’m wrong.
This article is different, because I genuinely haven’t got a clue. Nintendo’s future would be bright even if they went completely third party – but I don’t think they will. I think their guys are probably laughing at all this talk of cloud gaming, 4K/60FPS and raytracing. They’re probably working out a way of building a games console into a cardboard box, and when they charge $300 for it, people will queue up for days to make their purchase.
I’m really looking forward to seeing where they go next.