"Who else but die-hard Nintendo fans will buy the Switch?"
Analysts weigh in on the new console, challenges ahead, and what audience Nintendo is truly targeting with Switch
Now that Nintendo has finally teased the world with its Switch hardware reveal, everyone of course wants to know more and bigger questions about Nintendo's strategy have become top of mind. Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, analysts have brought up a number of potential issues facing Nintendo as it moves forward. Most importantly, who is Nintendo really targeting with its new product and how is the company positioning the Switch against powerful consoles like next year's Xbox Scorpio or this year's PS4 Pro?
"Nintendo's Switch reveal trailer unveiled a product positioning which aims to defend against the increasingly robust encroachment of the smartphone and tablet gaming opportunity yet still appeal to traditional console gamers that are looking for a big-screen gaming solution in the home. It has designed the Switch to deliver a flexible solution to cover multiple types of usage, but must avoid delivering a substandard experience by trying to be all things to all users," said Piers Harding-Rolls, head of games research at IHS, which is now forecasting that Switch will sell 2.85 million units globally next March when it launches.
"I have my reservations with regards to the breadth of the audience it targets...The reveal video makes a lot more sense to me if you swap out all the adults in it with kids"Joost van Dreunen
"Interestingly, the Switch reveal trailer was squarely targeted at young adults, which suggests that Nintendo is refocusing its early marketing on more traditional console gamers and those that also increasingly like gaming on the move. To build success with these buyers the offering must include third-party titles that are supported on other platforms," Harding-Rolls continued. "Nintendo looks to have killed off its motion controllers with the Switch and opted for a more traditional form of gaming experience. This suggests the company is serious about getting third-party publishers to support the platform with multi-platform titles. Potentially, this will help Nintendo's ambition to target young adult gamers."
Third-party support does seem to be better already. Wii U had a list of just 21 publishers and developers at its launch while Switch has close to 50. Support, of course, is something that's always in flux, but it's crucial for Nintendo to get its messaging right with consumers if it wants to maintain that support from third parties. "They need a proper message. Right now I am concerned they are pitching it as just another tablet with controllers," said DFC Intelligence's David Cole.
"Nintendo's ability to market a clear use case message to the audience [will be key]. Nintendo failed to do this with the Wii U and paid the price," added Harding-Rolls.
SuperData's Joost van Dreunen believes Nintendo needs to do a better job in defining its audience. "I have my reservations with regards to the breadth of the audience it targets. The Switch will likely be most popular among a younger audience: its functionality is uniquely geared toward pre-teens and teenagers. While the device seems much less like a toy than we're used to from Nintendo, its features like backseat multi-player and the ability to have several people play using a single piece of the controller target Nintendo's traditional audience. The reveal video makes a lot more sense to me if you swap out all the adults in it with kids," he noted.
It's clear that the widespread adoption of gaming on smartphones has had an impact on Nintendo, and indeed the company is pushing out its own mobile titles like Super Mario Run this holiday, but will that approach truly serve as a stepping stone to the Switch, or will it ultimately cannibalize Nintendo's new hardware?
"I think it will be very difficult for Nintendo to win back the casual gamers that are mostly on mobile now"Dr. Serkan Toto
Dr. Serkan Toto, an analyst who specializes in the mobile market in Asia, remains skeptical. "Sorry, but is a portable/home console approach really that innovative in 2016? I am most concerned about the target group of the device: who else but die-hard Nintendo fans will buy the Switch? The Switch lacks a killer feature, and I think it will be very difficult for Nintendo to win back the casual gamers that are mostly on mobile now," he commented. "In Japan, for example, the mobile gaming sector is already 2-3 times bigger than consoles. Even the PS4 struggles over here. It's going to be a huge challenge to try to reverse that trend."
So will Super Mario Run make a difference? "I find it very difficult to picture a scenario where a critical number of mobile, free-to-play users converts to console and buy hard- and software for several hundred dollars upfront. Different markets, very difficult to bridge," Toto continued.
As ever, the biggest factor in the Switch launch and its chances for success could be its price. "Price pretty much depends on specs, and success depends on both price and specs. If the specs are close to PS4, I think they can price around the same ($249), and at most $299. If specs are weaker, price could be lower," noted Wedbush Securities' Michael Pachter.
"Assuming they are close to PS4, they are making porting of games easy for developers (and inexpensive), and I think they will get a lot of third party support. If the specs are weaker, porting will be costly and less likely to occur. So my 'prediction' is that if specs and pricing are similar to PS4, the Switch will get a lot of third party support and will be immensely successful. If specs are weaker or if pricing is too high, sales will suffer because of lack of third-party support or because of uncompetitive pricing."
Analysts agreed that $299 really is the highest Nintendo could acceptably go. "They must find a way to release the Switch at US$299 to stand a chance, that's the threshold," said Toto. "It's not impossible by offering the device in multiple versions, i.e. without the home dock. 'Hardcore' video game fans can, at US$299, already get fantastic devices from Sony and Microsoft. The portable gaming use case, at scale, has been taken over by smart devices."
"It is likely that Switch will be capable of displaying 4K video content and judging by the pricing of the original Shield tablet is likely to sit in the $250-$300 range"Piers Harding-Rolls
SuperData's van Dreunen added that a high profile bundle, like Zelda, which we know is a launch title, could play an important role in incentivizing consumers. "I'm hoping they'll keep it under $300, ideally bundled with a Zelda or Mario Kart. Anything over that will severely limit its market potential," he said.
Harding-Rolls sees $300 as the max as well, commenting, "The reveal suggests it is competing more significantly with traditional home consoles, but with the edge of mobility. Pricing will need to be competitive in this context and anything over $300 may not be a convincing proposition." He pointed to similarities with Nvidia's Shield as evidence that Nintendo may very well end up in that price range.
"The new console shares a number of design, positioning and component similarities with Nvidia's Shield tablet. As such it is likely that Switch will be capable of displaying 4K video content and judging by the pricing of the original Shield tablet is likely to sit in the $250-$300 range," he said.
Excitement is currently sky high for the Switch. In fact, as noted by Bloomberg yesterday, right after Nintendo said it would unveil the console, its shares climbed almost 5% leading to a market value gain of $1 billion (the stock is up 3.34% as of this writing today). The company's stock is up more than 50% in 2016 in large part because of its embrace of smartphone gaming, but how Nintendo balances its portfolio and its message on mobile and Switch will be fascinating to watch in the next 6-12 months and it will reveal a lot about the future of the firm.