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Switch, Twitch and Horizon: A critical week for retail

Physical retailers bank on big March launches

This article was first printed in the GamesIndustry.biz UK Retail and Publishing Briefing. To receive these special emails, sign up here.

My last retail column was a beautiful example of the commentator's curse.

Much like those football pundits who make a statement about a player being 'great' only for him to fall flat on his face a second later, I found myself publishing an article about Nintendo Switch only to be immediately contradicted.

I'd said that the PR campaign was muted, and that perhaps Nintendo was taking a soft approach to getting the Switch out there. I even said that Horizon: Zero Dawn on PS4 was achieving more coverage and hype than the new console.

And barely an hour after posting, the internet became awash with Switch unboxing videos and excited Zelda previews. It's not quite reached the mainstream yet, but it certainly generated a lot of excitement amongst core fans (concerns about a syncing left Joy-Con aside) - and they will be the primary market at the beginning.

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Zelda is picking up very positive press so far

Of course, there are still uncertainties around Switch, but I'm quietly optimistic about Nintendo's machine. If it can succeed in being that bridge between mobile and console, it has the potential to bring families and younger audiences back to TV gaming. So the excitement that's being generated - albeit late in the day - is a little reassuring.

And it will be a little reassuring for games retailers, too. There's genuine concern about the physical games market following a tough Christmas for many. In the past week alone I've had three rather nervy conversations with senior publisher bosses. A successful console launch is just the prescription the trade could do with.

Not that it's all on Nintendo, of course. There are some other notable titles designed to give the end of the financial year a bit of push, including the aforementioned Horizon, Ubisoft's Ghost Recon Wildlands and EA's Mass Effect Andromeda. It's going to prove to be a critical month for those working within the triple-A, console and retail sectors.

From Switch to Twitch

Thankfully their names are separated by just a single letter, otherwise I'm not sure how I'd make this segue.

Over in digital PC gaming land, Steam has found itself a new rival in the form of streaming giant Twitch.

It's not the first time Amazon (which owns Twitch) has tried to go up against Steam. Its own efforts to launch a PC download service did little to damage Valve's march to digital retail dominance. In fact, it arrived too late, lacked focus and took months - even years - to roll out globally. It wasn't the retailer's finest moment.

"By selling via its streamers, Twitch is almost a concession store with its various video stars acting as independent retailers"

Twitch' efforts isn't the first social platform to introduce a buy button either. In fact, other social networks (including Facebook and Twitter) are still fumbling with how to get this to work effectively. Online shoppers are savvy and they look around. PC gamers also just happen to quite like Steam and the services it offers.

Twitch isn't exactly the same as all those other social channels. It's a platform dedicated to video games, for starters. And by selling via its streamers, Twitch is almost a concession store with its various video stars acting as independent retailers - sort of. These streamers have communities of fans who follow them and, with a bit of encouragement, will buy from them, too (although concerns will inevitably be raised if Twitch streamers spend most of their time selling).

Couple that with Twitch's own incentives in the form of community items, and this has genuine potential.

Valve won't be feeling threatened. Twitch doesn't exactly offer a huge range at this point, and it has yet to encourage many of the big PC giants to sign up. However, with Amazon behind it, relationships with platform holders at E3, and with a huge audience of hardcore gamers, there is certainly potential behind the initiative.

And a new opportunity for developers to cut through the noise that's become almost deafening in those digital marketplaces.

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