NINTENDO ANNOUNCED on Friday that its new Switch console will cost £279.99 in the UK on its March 2017 release. It looks a fun and innovative machine for sure, but the price point is utter, utter lunacy.
Let's get all the usual accusations out of the way first. Yes, I love Nintendo. I've owned every console since the Gameboy, I dutifully traded in my DS 'Heavy' for a DS Lite, did the same thing with my 3DS when the New 3DS came out (one exclusive game ever - Xenoblades Chronicles 3D - thanks, Nintendo) and even bought the Wii U (for the Zelda game we were promised a couple years back. Again, thanks a lot, Nintendo). I am fan. I like the company. Shigeru Miyamoto should be knighted. I believe it all.
But actually, my previous gripe about the Wii U is probably where my chagrin towards Nintendo is best explained.
Many attribute the Wii U's failure to being unable to replicate the welcome ‘gimmick' of motion control its predecessor the Wii sported in 2006, which caused queues round shopping malls to experience live demos and made it a pop culture hit. The comparably ‘Fisher Price iPad' tablet controller of the Wii U was too little too late - hold that thought about tablets, though. We'll get back to it.
But I don't think it's that simple. I believe the console's failure (and yes, it was an abject failure) had at its roots at the fact it came along at a point when people simply didn't need another choice of games console. This is largely because Microsoft and Sony had, by its launch, already nailed the model in terms of steady supplies of titles, successful multiplayer communities, and consistent reasons for logging in and playing, be they weekend multiplayer levelling bonuses, sales or even completely free games. But the reason they had to finesse that model was a question of survival for the platforms - as consistent studio closures see ‘C', and often even ‘B' games a thing of the past, a stream of expensive AAA games from Activision, EA and Ubisoft are essential to keep a format interesting.
Aside from Zombie U and a Call of Duty game, the Wii U didn't have any of these sorts of games. It also had a largely dreadful online model, friend matching for games not possible, socialising and building communities around games severely limited at best. And don't even get me onto online sales - there barely were any. You could occasionally get 10 per cent off an old game if some internet news source tipped you off in time.
Developers and publishers couldn't see the use case in porting their often social gaming-dependent titles to a console that hamstrung itself completely on a social and community level, so they stopped bothering.
What caused all the above? Let's get back to discussing tablets, as promised. The iPad and the iPhone killed games consoles as we knew them stone dead. Mobile touch gaming drove a wedge into the games industry that it will never recover from. Sony and Microsoft figured this out with the PS4 and Xbox One, crafting powerhouses full of shooting, cars and general violence aimed at teenage boys (or similarly-minded adults) to fuel those fantasies for five years or so until the next hardware update.
Everybody else is perfectly happy to play Candy Crush on their iPhone. Look around next time you're commuting - it's reality. The Nintendo 3DS may have sold well on paper - 58 million is great. But the DS sold three times that. Phones and tablets took it all.
So let's presume the hardcore Call of Duty player who lives in group chat and knocks out YouTube montages of headshots isn't interested in a Switch. Let's also presume Candy Crush players don't want one.
Who's left? Why, us poor mugs who bought a Wii U and a New 3DS in good faith, and found both consoles lacking in terms of decent third party, budget games or community spirit.
We're all that's left, as ever. And the rumoured £200 would have been an acceptable risk to play a bit of portable Zelda on the way to work.
From what I've seen today, it's a charming and capable machine. Arms looks insanely fun, Zelda is undoubtedly going to be the usual slick, magical experience we expect. A built-in two-player option in the default machine is ace. Sticking Skyrim and FIFA on it are positive launch pushes. It's all looking like a good idea.
But what is the £280 use case for a portable Nintendo machine with three hours of battery life that costs a third more than any handheld the company ever released?
What is the use case, when everyone has phones and iPads, and this bulky, low juice tablet is battling those for space and consideration in your bag? And battling the better-specced and more online-committed PS4 and Xbox One on its dock back in your lounge?
I don't have confidence in Nintendo and its third-party relationships to make this console ride. And I don't have the confidence in the company to produce enough of its own games for the whole party to not have dried up within six months.
In the time we live in, Nintendo can't help but make another Wii U, no matter the drastically improved thought behind its features. There are darker forces working in the consumer goods market to make such a charming idea play out successfully in 2017.
It's sad, but that's my forecast. I'd love to be wrong, but I somehow doubt I will be. µ
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