Here we sit, still a month and a half until release, but the Nintendo Switch has already won Japan. How, you ask? Let’s begin.
When Nintendo unveiled the Nintendo Switch, they announced over 50 developers have already jumped on-board to develop games for the Nintendo Switch, the vast plurality of which were Japan-based developers such as Capcom and Platinum Games.
It is not simply the fact that developers are showing up to the party, it’s about the gifts they brought with them. Square-Enix is one of the most prolific Japanese developers, yet they brought only 5 games to the Wii U, only 1 of which – Deus Ex: Human Revolution – ended up hitting store shelves in the West. That is 5 releases on the flagship console in 5 years. For the Switch, an unreleased console, they have already announced 6 games: Dragon Quest X, Dragon Quest XI, Dragon Quest Heroes 1 & 2, Project Octopath Traveller, I am Setsuna, and Spelunker World.
Square-Enix does not lightly invest in a console, they make a calculated decision based on the markets. This is not just a marked change in course by one developer, you see it with other companies such as Sega. Sega released 8 Wii U games and already has 4 announced Nintendo Switch games. Nippon Ichi Software developed 0 Wii U games and already has announced 1 game for the Switch and promises more to come in the future. Atlus developed only 1 game for the Wii U, in partnership with Intelligent Systems, now they have a brand new title in their flagship franchise, Shin Megami Tensei, in development for the Switch.
This is likely due to a marked shift in Nintendo development in the strategy. In the past, Nintendo has taken a very stubborn approach to their games consoles. The Nintendo 64 had size-limiting cartridges, the Nintendo GameCube had undersized discs which again limited game size and a unique controller layout, the Nintendo Wii had a never-before seen motion control system. Many of these decisions, while great for innovation, went against the desires of previous partners such as then Squaresoft. This led to support erosion by outside developers, even in the face of the runaway success of the Nintendo Wii.
It’s about the games, stupid!
For the last decade, Nintendo has essentially lived in a bubble, uninfluenced by outside forces. Even with the Wii U Nintendo announced the much-maligned “unprecedented partnership” with EA that led to a paltry total of 4 released games. The level of early support by third party developers this early in the life of the Switch instills faith that Nintendo has learned one of the key lessons of their faltering console support – It’s about the games, stupid!
But at the end of the day, in Japan it is not just about the games. If it was just about the games, the Xbox One would not be selling at numbers that are closer to the Xbox 360 than the Playstation 4. If it was just about the games, the Wii U would not be selling closer to an igloo in California than the Playstation 4.
It is about the hardware, too. This is where the Switch has already won Japan for the foreseeable future. To the average American, the culture difference is largely underestimated. Handheld gaming in America is seen as more childlike and less commonplace. Features like StreetPass and FlipNote in America are seen as confusing and misplaced naïveté, yet it is due to these cultural differences the Switch has already won. Handheld gaming in Japan is gaming in Japan. 7 of the top 10 best-selling games released in Japan in 2016 were handheld games.
7 of the top 10 best-selling games released in Japan in 2016 were handheld games.
While not official yet, the Switch is the successor to the Nintendo 3DS in all but name. The Nintendo 3DS has had one of the most prolific levels of 3rd party support of any Nintendo platform. This is the comparison that is more apt for the Nintendo Switch than the Nintendo Wii U. This is the vision that Kimishima failed to convey at the press conference, but this is the vision the developers see when they look at the system. This is the vision that Japanese gamers see when they cause the Switch to sell out pre-orders in minutes. This is the vision that the late Satoru Iwata held when he wanted to forge a path ahead on the back of a hybrid console.
Japan is all but decided. The Switch will be the de-facto gaming platform for the foreseeable future. This bodes well for Western gamers, too. The more support from the East, the more support is likely to come from the West. The Wii U failed because of lack of games and mis-targeted marketing. Nintendo has shown great improvement in the latter and the developers are stepping up for the former.
The only thing left for Nintendo to do is release the system.