Last December, I declared 2015 the year that traditional handhelds met their end. With this week's unveiling of the Nintendo Switch it seems quite plausible that Nintendo will never again manufacture a dedicated portable. In predicting exactly what the Switch would be in 2015, I wrote, "It's the best of both worlds, a natural evolution for Nintendo's product lines that doesn't bog them down with a dedicated handheld proposition that will likely fail." In an email to me, IHS Markit analyst Piers Harding-Rolls agreed that a 3DS follow-up has now become a "less likely proposition."
For its part, Nintendo reinforced the idea with Polygon that the Switch is "first and foremost" a home gaming console. Now the company must seek to right the wrongs of the Wii U, and by offering a fully contained console that's completely portable Nintendo has already addressed a major failing of the Wii U: that second screen actually has a genuine purpose now.
Of course, aside from the crucial question of price (analysts point to $300 max), the biggest factor in the Switch's future will be its software lineup. That's true of any new hardware, but Nintendo in particular has repeatedly made the same mistake, unable to keep a steady flow of top notch software coming to its platforms after launch. Let's hope that at or near launch we not only get Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but also the new Mario that was teased in the video and Bethesda's remaster of Skyrim.
"There comes a point where some things are just 'good enough,' and while Mario on a phone can't offer the same experience as on the Switch, it may very well be that for the masses it's perfectly acceptable. This is the major hurdle Nintendo now faces"
And speaking of incredible software, can you imagine how amazing it would be to play Rockstar's just revealed Red Dead Redemption 2 on the go if Take-Two brings it to Switch? With HBO's Westworld on everyone's mind these days, the new trailer already has most of the gaming community salivating over the prospect of stepping back into the open-world Western. Macquarie Securities' Ben Schachter is predicting that RDR 2 will sell at least 12 million copies next fall due to pent-up demand. Waiting seven years for a Rockstar sequel can do that.
Hopefully the Switch will finally bring a Nintendo platform back to parity with the competition from a graphical fidelity standpoint. While I wouldn't expect Switch to come anywhere close to the Scorpio's horsepower, if it can at least produce the same visuals as PS4 and Xbox One it then becomes a viable option for third parties to port their titles, like RDR 2, over to the Nintendo system. And if Nintendo wants the Switch to appeal to an audience beyond die-hard fans, the console's specs will become a crucial point in facilitating that broader support. Thankfully, Nintendo appears to be on the right track, as the company has already announced support from almost 50 third parties, including notable heavyweights like EA, Activision, Take-Two, Bethesda, Ubisoft, Epic Games and more.
Even if the Switch sees moderate sales success - and honestly, performing worse than the Wii U would be hard to achieve - there's still the question of what kind of impact smartphones will have on Nintendo. There's a very good chance that the first-ever mobile Mario title, Super Mario Run, will do quite well when it launches this holiday season, but will these players go on to purchase another system and software for hundreds of dollars, or will their experience with Nintendo IP on a smartphone be enough to scratch the itch? There comes a point where some things are just "good enough," and while Mario on a phone can't offer the same experience as on the Switch, it may very well be that for the masses it's perfectly acceptable. This is the major hurdle Nintendo now faces. It's betting that the masses can be converted. Industry consultants like Dr. Serkan Toto just don't see it. "I find it very difficult to picture a scenario where a critical number of mobile, free-to-play users convert to console and buy hardware and software for several hundred dollars upfront. Different markets, very difficult to bridge," Toto told me.
"The boys' club mentality that this industry suffers from is embarrassing and it needs to stop"
While Nintendo Switch was clearly the news of the week, it's worth noting the interesting comments we heard from Dontnod CEO Oskar Guilbert. As you may remember, Dontnod generated headlines when it revealed that some publishers took issue with Remember Me for featuring a female lead character. That was only three years ago. The studio's next game, Life is Strange, an episodic series with female characters at the heart of its story, has been quite successful, and Dontnod is being recognized by its peers for taking the industry in a progressive direction. "Even people from [Rockstar] are talking to us, saying, 'Guys, you did a great job. You moved forward the history of video games'," Guilbert said.
"It doesn't matter really any more. What we see now - even in the movies - is that female main characters are more and more present. There are not as many questions. We have more freedom now. Perhaps we contributed towards this freedom in a small way," he continued. "It's great that the industry is moving in this direction, but I think it's also very, very normal. I mean, half of us [people] are women. It's normal to have that same proportion in games."
It's shocking to me that it's taken this long for the video game business to find it "acceptable" to feature women in its games, and not in an overtly sexual way that turns them into objects. This isn't 1950; it's 2016. Even Hollywood, which has certainly had it own problems in giving women fair representation, has seen oodles of success with prominent female actors going back to the days of Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor and others. So the business case is a very poor excuse, and these publishers who thought video games with women as leads couldn't sell should frankly be ashamed of themselves. The boys' club mentality that this industry suffers from is embarrassing and it needs to stop.
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