Nintendo Switch heralds the end of the handheld era

Weekly Roundup: Nintendo effectively consolidates its hardware biz, RDR 2 will be huge, and women are finally accepted as normal in games

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.

Other news onGamesIndustry.bizthis week

HTC Vive has reportedly sold around 140,000 units so far

DeNA has shut down its Western game development

CBS, remarkably, is turning Candy Crush into a TV game show

$850 million was raised towards Tencent's Supercell acquisition

Kabam was reportedly offered $800 million for its Marvel Contest of Champions studio

VR animation studio Baobob raised $25 million

United Front Games was unfortunately shut down

News from elsewhere

DFC Intelligence sees the global games software market hitting $98 billion in 2020

IndieCade has announced its 2016 winners

Oculus is offering a $250,000 grant for perception research

Mobile eSports company Skillz has awarded $50 million in prizes since its inception in 2012

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Latest comments (15)

Connor Martin Aspiring game designer/tester 2 years ago
I don't know if it is the industry as a whole as much as it is the people making the executing decisions thinking they know more about their target audience than anybody else. The story of Naughty Dog and The Last Of Us having to fight for Ellie to be on the cover when she is central to the game in both plot and gameplay speaks to me of not the creators having issues so much as their bosses.
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Anthony Chan2 years ago
I am torn on this. As a 3DS owner, and enthousiast; I still do value the merits of gaming on my 3DS vs gaming on my phone. I understand the trends are moving towards gaming on peripherals/devices that we use day in day out (i.e. the phone) but does that truly signal the end of traditional handhelds?

Personally, I think the idea from Markit that 3DS will be coming to an end with Switch being the only alternative is truly sad. 3DS can be said as Nintendo's only run-away successful piece of hardware in the last decade. 3DS showed that Nintendo was KING of the handheld market, and their games lineups truly showed they knew what their handheld audience wants. Games like Monster Hunter, Fire Emblem, Pokemon, Yokai watch, Smash Brothers, and Mario Kart are awesome ideas on traditional console. BUT, they have a level of magic that offers that much more of a unique experience on a mobile platform.

I think, the formula works now for their handheld strategy. Why risk it all and bet on Switch + mobile phone? The traditional Pokemon player, or multiplayer lover for Monster Hunter will not appreciate their games on a mobile phone. And for me, the video seems to indicate the size of the Switch 'tablet' is a lot larger than the 3DS which might make it awkward to play on the go.

I honestly hope that you are wrong. Their handheld strategy works - pissing it away to me is giving away the remaining golden goose of hardware.
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital Extremes2 years ago
I highly doubt you'll see RDR2 on Switch ; doesn't seem to have the horsepower. Yes that was a horrible, horrible pun.
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Show all comments (15)
Richard Sutton Studying Bachelor of Science - Computing and I.T., Open University2 years ago
I'll be sad to see the ds go. I'm a big fan of the stylus and two screen concept. Nintendo will obviously support it into next year thanks to Mario maker, Pokemon and Pikmin. But I think a budget form of the Switch at 2ds price with a restricted games library compared to the standard would best bridge smart audiences with the higher end device. I guess we'll see what Nintendo's planning. I think they're sacrificing backwards compatibility now but they really can't afford to lose the Ds audience (who were spoilt with games).
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John McCaul Web Developer, DevPhase.Net2 years ago
So we're ruling out a potential dual screen Switch in the future then. Stranger things have happened no?
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Clint Hobson UI Programmer, GameLoft2 years ago
@Richard Browne:Oh, I think they could "reign in" the graphics a bit for it :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Clint Hobson on 24th October 2016 1:37am

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Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee2 years ago
With the architecture, at least that's a possibility now unlike the Wii U.
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Dan Parkes Programmer / Designer / Co-Founder, Fundamental Games2 years ago
@Clint Hobson: With GTA5 taking up two DVDs, would it even fit on the cart...ridge?
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Paul Shirley Programmers 2 years ago
@Dan if I can buy a 16Gb SD card for 5 or so I doubt cartridge size will be a problem unless you want to port overweight 90Gb XB1 games to it.
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Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee2 years ago
One of the big compromises for cartridge based storage is the cost and lower capacity. It might actually be a problem if you have really big games, and the publisher has to consider the cost of large capacity cards. Switch might be the first console where we can see if its an actual problem considering the type of AAA games targeting it. 5 doesn't seem expensive but it adds up.
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Bob Johnson Studying graphics design, Northern Arizona University2 years ago
I did not see the Switch as the end of the handheld market. I saw it as the end of the console market for Nintendo.

What I saw was a handheld that also hooks up to the tv.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up2 years ago
What if it wasn't the end to anything? What if the games industry was just reaching a higher level of market sophistication? The car market is considered level 5 (top level) in terms of market sophistication. Many manufacturers, very little between them and difficult for consumers to choose. It's very rare that something in such a market is groundbreaking, but it might just do a little of something that other don't, and with better marketing. Also not sure their marketing campaign will pull teenagers away from phones. IMO, they'd have been better sticking to the safe family strategy.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Sandy Lobban on 24th October 2016 11:11pm

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Dan Parkes Programmer / Designer / Co-Founder, Fundamental Games2 years ago
@Paul Shirley: You're completely right, but the need to make a horse-related pun spurred me on to post the comment.
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Emily Rose Freelance Artist 2 years ago
Considering how common massive day 1 patches are at the moment, i doubt it's a huge push to download part of the game if it doesn't fit on the sd card, it'll probably be fine though.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.2 years ago
According to, it costs ~$2.00 to press a Blu-ray game disc and about $2.50 for a Macronix 32 GB Mask ROM chip.

Good compression and no need for redundant data (as optical costs often have to reduce seek times), and most game will be fine on a 32 GB cartridge. It's also possible that two 32 GB Mask ROM chips could fit inside an NS game cart providing 64 GB of space. Granted that moves the cost from $2.00 per 25 GB single layer/50 GB dual layer Blu-ray disc to ~$5.00 for a 64 GB Mask ROM game cart.

While definitely a consideration for publishers, it's nowhere near the production cost disparity of the 32/64 bit era.
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