Classic Nintendo. Barely a month since its big E3 showing where it promoted its biggest products for the next six months, and it chooses now to announce a new Switch.
Of course, that is a little unfair. Nintendo were understandably wary of announcing a stripped back, portable only console at an E3 that was expected to see Microsoft tease a new super-powered console. Plus, now the announcement is out, you can see exactly why it decided to forgo the LA showcase... it's just not that exciting. It's a Switch, only without any of the innovative parts that made it interesting in the first place.
The announcement is most comparable to Nintendo's initial reveal for Labo, another product that didn't feature in one of the company's famous Direct videos, and was instead revealed separately. That alone should tell you how Nintendo thinks of Switch Lite. This isn't for the core gamer audience that watches Direct videos; it's for the mainstream, more casual games buyer.
"The announcement is most comparable to Nintendo's initial reveal for Labo"
Natural comparisons can be made between Switch Lite and PlayStation Vita, Sony's ill-fated final effort in the handheld games market. Both are high-end portables that play console-quality games and both are hugely successful for indies. Yet Switch Lite has the added advantage of not having to combat Nintendo's line-up of AAA games (because it has them), plus an install base and awareness that will enable it to hit the ground running.
And this is precisely what the Switch needed to reach a broader audience. The ability to bring down the price will also enable Nintendo to try and appeal to those 75 million 3DS owners as that console fades from view. And with a line-up of games from Nintendo's portable development teams -- including The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Pokémon Sword and Shield, Luigi's Mansion 3 and Animal Crossing: New Horizons -- means that the software is there to appeal to those fans. It's the ideal 3DS replacement.
Yet that's not to say there are no challenges. Nintendo has stripped out functionality from its consoles and sold them at a cheaper price in the past -- most recently with the 2DS, which took the 3DS and removed its main marketing hook. That went on to be really successful, especially amongst a younger audience.
Things are a little different this time, however. The 3D element of Nintendo's last portable didn't prove to be the system seller that the company had expected. It had already moved from talking about the 3D to focusing on the games, and so developing a version without the 3D screen wasn't hugely disappointing.
"Switch Pro will prove crucial as Microsoft, Sony and Google start promoting their new platforms"
Switch is not in the same position. The console's 'play anytime, anywhere, with anyone' marketing message is still the same and it still works. Nintendo Switch Lite does not fit with that, and Nintendo will need to think about how it retains that USP for its original device while promoting this new one.
In addition, there will be a few inevitable casualties because of the Switch Lite. The 3DS is the obvious one, but also Nintendo Labo. Labo was Nintendo's initial effort to pull in a wider and younger audience to Switch, something that Switch Lite is also intended to do. Except Labo products will not work with the new device due to its portable-only nature. It feels like Switch Lite may very well mark the beginning of the end for the Labo experiment.
Nevertheless, the announcement for Nintendo's shareholders was a welcome one. The company's share price jumped up on the reveal, and the analytical consensus is that this should sell very well in the run-up to Christmas. Now the focus turns on to another unannounced but widely expected Switch model: the Switch Pro.
In many ways, this device might prove even more important. One thing Nintendo has been taken by surprise by with Switch is the sheer level of usage the console has been getting. It may have missed its ambitious hardware sales target during the last financial year, but it smashed its (arguably even more significant) software target. Gamers are playing more games on the console than Nintendo had expected. Switch has an active and engaged community, and the company really can't get games out fast enough to satisfy the demand.
Switch Pro is a device for this audience, and will prove crucial as Microsoft, Sony and Google start promoting their new platforms in 2020. Nintendo will want to ensure its fame with core gamers hangs around even when shinier, newer machines and services start coming to market.
In the past, Nintendo has talked about widening the audience for gaming, and philosophically it may still view install base as the primary metric for its success. Yet its accounts department would always rather sell more games than consoles, and ensuring an engaged audience on Switch is surely going to become Nintendo's top objective over the next 18 months.