I’m optimistic about the Nintendo Switch. It presents – *maybe* – a few opportunities for Nintendo to push against attacks it’s been facing from both sides. On one side, it needs to compete with Microsoft and Sony as a serious gaming platform. It can’t do this completely, but if it can court then major sports games and a few of the other marquee titles, there can be at least some households – especially price-constrained ones – where it might be the only box. And neither XBOX nor PS4 offers a mobile gaming system that anyone takes seriously, so that’s a market Nintendo can continue to do well in.
From the other side, Apple threatens to bloody the casual gaming waters. Honestly outside of the 3DS and the young kids’ market, Apple probably owns that ocean already. In the same way Switch isn’t going to win out in the Call or Duty space, it isn’t going to win by having the next Candy Crush. The very light game lives on the smart phone and is probably there to stay. What Nintendo can credibly present, though, is an argument that there is a huge caliber of touch screen games that the iPad will never be able to offer. I think it has a few legs to stand on here:
1. App Store customers don’t pay much for games, which makes it impossible to risk developing complicated, expensive titles. Nintendo products exist in a world where $60 is an accepted price point, and it can easily offer smaller games for $20 eStore downloads and have them seem like bargains. It tried to charge $10 for Super Mario Run and did sell a ton of copies but also got tons of pushback from tightwads.
2. Apple doesn’t exert enough quality control over the offerings on its platform. Nintendo won the mid-80s by fighting this exact fight. Atari and Commodore were letting anyone make games for their systems, so Nintendo came in with its Seal of Quality and provided some guarantee that what you bought for NES would be a good game. Thin though the Switch’s launch lineup may be, every choice will be worth the money.
3. Nintendo can demonstrate the inadequacy of the touchscreen as the sole input decide for gaming. Super Mario Run shows this. It’s a great adaptation of the Mario format to the touch screen, but it ultimately just makes you wish you were playing a full Mario game. What Apple has always done well is its insistence on making the whole widget, but it’s never shown any interest in doing that with games. It could have, for example, made its own first-party game controllers for Apple TV but it didn’t and, worse, decreed initially that all Apple TV games be playable using only its remote. On the iOS side, Apple makes devices in five different sizes (iPhone and iPhone Plus and three varieties of iPad), so it can’t sell a snap-on controller its customers could use with all of their devices. Nintendo, on the other hand, can make a Joy-Con that does exactly what it wants. It’s one of the few areas where Nintendo can out-Apple Apple. Plus, it can design the Switch out of a plastic that can be dropped over and over, which works perfectly for games and children but isn’t something Apple is interested in for iPhones.
On the other side, of course, are all of Nintendo’s shortcomings when it comes to everything *not* involving the hardware and the games themselves. The Switch *can* succeed without a good interface, an eShop as easy to buy from as the App Store, assurance that Virtual Console purchases will be playable on future systems, online backups to ensure you can get your games back if your system breaks or is stolen, a sensible friend finder, good online play, and so forth, but if it doesn’t figure some of that stuff out soon, it’s fighting uphill.