It's been a while since Nintendo has wowed the world, but it looks like its new console is doing just that. The Switch (the erstwhile Nintendo NX) is a game console that appears to tackle both the in-home and handheld experience at once, while also keeping a firm hold on the in-person multiplayer experience gamers have come to know and love.
Thus far, the world has only observed the console's capabilities via the preview trailer:
An informed gamer will note that the video games demonstrated in the preview not only include Nintendo exclusives like the new Legend of Zelda and Mario Kart, but also huge third-party games such as Skyrim and NBA 2K-something - games that have typically not been available for the Nintendo consoles. This reveal heralds a potentially tremendous shift for Nintendo's gaming business strategy.
Traditionally, Nintendo hasn't worked very well third-party game studios such as Bethesda, Activision, Warner Bros., et al, as the strategies and markets haven't lined up very well for them to develop for Nintendo gaming systems. For example, Bethesda's games typically have high system requirements to allow for (relatively) seamless navigation of incredibly expansive game worlds, replete with intense levels of detailed textures and content.
Alas, the Wii and Wii U weren't consoles that pushed to the upper limits of performance capabilities during the design process, so playing a game like Skyrim wasn't an option. Instead, they strove to innovate the playing experience itself by introducing motion-based controls and a second screen, respectively.
Past differences notwithstanding, it looks like bridges have been mended or built to bring on a significantly larger network of game developers for the Switch than any Nintendo console previous. Studios now on Nintendo's short list include Ubisoft, Take-Two, EA, Activision, Warner Bros., and many more. If console sales do well in the first couple quarters, Nintendo could easily sign up more studios to join the Switch's developer network.
What makes this a standout moment for Nintendo is that they're finally selling a unit that has an effective platform model behind it. By attaching these big names to such an innovative console, gamers will be attracted and validate the new concept with their purchase dollars. This, in turn, will draw even more studios, followed by more customers. A self-sustaining cycle, as any platform worth its salt should be.
In addition, the Switch appears to be a shift in the company's industrial strategy. Typically, Nintendo has pursued a "blue ocean" strategy, with which it has sought to innovate differently from its competitors. Instead of striving to push its hardware performance stats above those of Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo has typically aimed for the middle of the market and avoided duking it out over framerates and CPUs. Its console efforts innovated their controls and sought to be palatable to huge, untapped demographics like families and the older crowds. Remember your grandparents falling in love with Wii Sports?
Based on the preview of the Switch, Nintendo is aiming for one of the core markets of gaming: young adults who grew up not fully understanding Y2K. People under 35 are still the largest age group buying and playing video games. As well, the enhanced inclusion of third-party games suggests they have lined up the most devoted gamers in their marketing crosshairs.
It appears that Nintendo is steering for the red sea, the segment of the market with blood on the water - blood shed by companies fighting tooth and nail to be on top. Sony and Microsoft have traditionally aimed for the young crowd and duke it out for the better-performing console and most attractive exclusive games every few years.
NVIDIA partnered with Nintendo for the new console in a big way. Apparently amassing over 500 man-years of work in development, the new Tigra processor raises the Switch's performance quality high enough for red ocean territory. As Sony and Microsoft release updated versions of their flagship consoles, the 2017 holiday sales will be well worth watching.
With an actual platform approach and a renewed focus, Nintendo might regain its former glory as a gaming tastemaker. No one really enjoyed the Wii U's run, so this could be a do-or-die moment for Nintendo if they don't want to fall of the younger generations' radar and languish in obscurity. Using an unfettered development platform will certainly be a key factor to the Switch's success. The Switch launches in March 2017, so only time can tell.