The Switcharoo: Impressions on the Nintendo Switch

nintendoswitch_hardware-0-0
Really switchin’ things up around here. Just really having a switch of thinking. The thought to write this was like a light switch going off in my head. Switch.

So, last night marked the most informative press conference we’ve gotten about Nintendo’s new console, the Switch. Designed to be a hybrid of home console gaming and mobile gaming, as well as featuring a laser focus on local multiplayer, the Switch is nothing if not a pretty unique piece of hardware. If you don’t already know the full specs of the Switch, there are far better write ups than I could provide, but here are the CliffsNotes:

  • The “console” that plugs into your TV contains within it a tablet which can be removed and taken on the go.
  • The two side pieces of that controller above, the pieces stylized in the logo (called joycons), can be played in the above configuration, slid off to function in a manner resembling a Wiimote and Nunchuck, used as two seperate controllers, or slid onto the sides of the tablet to form a Wii U-esqe controller.
  • Games are back to coming as cartridges, probably for easier on-the-go handling

So, as a designer, I think my biggest fear in regards to the Switch is actually the price point on the peripherals. Just one joycon costs fifty dollars, and a set of two of them as a bundle costs eighty. Throw in the controller mount, and the total goes up to $110. As a reference point, that’s:

So, the peripherals are expensive, so what? My point is that expensive peripherals, obviously, raise the barrier of entry to get said peripherals, and thus reduce the number of people who have them. As a developer, you’re not going to be able to reliably assume people have 4 joycons lying around, at least not as well as you could if they were, say, thirty bucks. You can only assume people have what comes standard with the console.

If you’re getting some deja vu here, this is because I’m framing this in a way to parallel another recent peripheral:

kinect

The Kinect for the Xbox One was another innovative controller at a relatively high price (it currently runs for a hundred bucks). When the Xbox One launched, one of the promises was a Kinect in every box standard, meaning developers could reliably make Kinect games knowing that the base market they were pursuing was 100% of Xbox One owners, the same as any other Xbox One game. However, in search of ways to cut sticker price, Microsoft decided to go back on packing in Kinects, returning them to a paid accessory, and the Kinect ecosystem responded by immediately dying. As it turns out, people usually aren’t stoked to spend an extra hundred bucks when they just bought a three hundred dollar console, and still need to buy some games, so no one bought Kinects, and thus, the value proposition on developing for the Kinect got way worse. Flash forward to 2016, and two Kinect games came out all year.

While their reasoning is different, I think Nintendo is marching towards a similar fate here. Having just dropped three bills on a Switch, plus probably at least sixty bucks more for a game, people aren’t going to then spend another hundred bucks to get another controller, especially not when the games that need them are, while not necessarily bad, definitely not strong enough to push hardware sales. Do you think people are going to buy peripherals for a Bomberman game in 2016? Do you think people are going to spend a hundred bucks to play Arms with a friend? Really?

arms-game
DISCLAIMER: I actually think Arms looks rad as hell, but I’m not spending $170 to play it with a friend

I guess the hope is that you and your friends will all have your own Switches, and thus can just bring your controllers around to friends’ houses to play, but then the problem becomes that the current lineup is so paltry that the gamble of getting multiple people to buy a Switch to complete the console experience for any one of those people is silly. Plus, what if people wanna try yours before they buy their own? What about showing family? What if you just wanna play with different friends than the ones who own Switches?

I want the Switch to succeed, and with a few more games lined up that are to my tastes, I’ll probably end up getting one myself. My problem is that I think Nintendo is trying to hype up this “ideal” experience with the console that relies on the faulty assumption that people are going to drop hundreds of dollars for the peripherals of this thing, and when that assumption fails to come to light, you’re going to end up with a console that largely has some of its most interesting features largely underutilized by the general public.

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