Breaking Down Nintendo’s Switch Strategy

It’s no secret that the Nintendo Switch is doing fantastic right now, but there’s more to the Switch’s success than its portable gimmick and Nintendo exclusives. Nintendo learned a lot from their failure with the Wii U. Specifically, they learned that a huge part of a console’s success comes from marketing.

So what is this new strategy Nintendo has employed and why is it working so well? Let’s take a look.

Experimenting with new genres

The first phase of Nintendo’s plan was to release a bunch of games in genres they aren’t known for. Arms was their first foray into the fighting game genre since Smash Brothers, while Splatoon continued a tentative reach into the FPS genre. Breath of the Wild, Nintendo’s most successful launch title, revamped the Zelda franchise to focus on open world gameplay, another genre that Nintendo has rarely experimented with.

Every time a new console comes out, Nintendo swears that they aren’t going to be the same old family friendly company, and that hardcore gamers are going to find a home on their console. The issue with this marketing plan is that Nintendo only ever releases the same old family friendly games in the same old family friendly genres. They rely on third party developers to give them “hardcore” content, and since Nintendo consoles are always more difficult to develop for than other consoles this well runs dry quickly.

While Splatoon, Arms, and Breath of the Wild are clearly family friendly, the FPS, Fighting Game, and Open World Game are some of the most popular “hardcore” genres out there. This has given the more hardcore fanbase hope that Nintendo will take initiative to deliver new IPs in new genres outside of their comfort zone. This, in turn, increases the consumer base for the Switch, actually opening it up to the extended hardcore crowd which Nintendo has wanted to hook for years. When further hardcore titles, like the upcoming BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle release, they will draw the hardcore fanbase in even deeper.

Releasing ports of older games

The Wii U was not a bad console, it was just unpopular. The Wii U’s game lineup was filled with quality games. In fact, the average review score of Wii U games was higher than the average review score for the PS4 and Xbox One at the time of its death.

So of course Nintendo is going to take this opportunity to expose a new fanbase to older games. We already saw them rerelease Mario Kart 8 and a Hyrule Warriors rerelease is incoming. Smash 5 may be a combination of rerelease and totally new game. Heck, even The World Ends With You is hopping off the DS and onto the Switch.

The Switch offers these gamers a chance to play very high quality games that they just didn’t have access to in previous generations. Note that Nintendo will eventually run out of titles to remake if they keep pushing this strategy, and in a year or two Nintendo is going to have to reach out to third party developers for some major killer apps. For now, this alone should keep the Switch afloat, even if Nintendo wasn’t developing a ton of first party exclusives.

Lots of information over a short period of time

Surprise! Nintendo is releasing a new game and releasing it in a few months! This has been the pattern of Nintendo announcements over the past few years.

Why would Nintendo do this? Hype is a double edged sword. Hype can make you excited for an upcoming game, boosting Day One sales, but if you let hype linger for long enough it builds beyond the scope of what a development team can deliver. The longer the development cycle the harder it is to meet expectations, eventually leaving you with another The Last Guardian or Duke Nukem Forever.

Nintendo has seemed to learn this lesson well and has done their best to keep their hype cycles condensed. Fans will hear murmurings of a project years in advance, but Nintendo won’t announce anything definite until mere months before a game’s release. For example, we just got our first official announcement for Smash 5, and it’s coming out this year. The next Fire Emblem is also scheduled to come out this year, and we have nothing more than a title.

Come E3, however, Nintendo is going to dump a TON of info onto us about their upcoming titles. We aren’t just going to see trailers. We are going to see gameplay videos, interviews and much more. We are going to have a very, very clear picture of what Nintendo has in store. In a way, this is Nintendo’s method of managing expectations. If they bombard us with information, then we can get hyped over that info, rather than getting hype over our own speculation.

Nintendo has followed this pattern for the past few years, even before the Switch was released. It’s a marketing strategy that could work well for them in perpetuity. There’s only one problem: if a new Nintendo Direct comes out and they don’t absolutely blow us away with new info, then hype will die down very quick.

Reducing peripheral dependence

One of the biggest worries about the Switch in its early days was hidden costs. The Switch was $300, but when you factored in the costs of extra controllers, extra charges, software and more, you were looking at spending $800 or more on a console. It was a hefty investment.

Luckily, Nintendo has done a lot to put those worries at ease. Nearly every major Nintendo Switch release has been able to be played with just the two JoyCons. Multiplayer games can be played with a JoyCon each. Nothing has required an extra purchase, even though sometimes extra purchases can make controlling these games easier.

This was an incredible strategy on Nintendo’s part. It helped to alleviate the primary consumer worry for their new product. The question is, how long will this last? JoyCons are pretty rudimentary control devices, and many Nintendo titles would be served better with a pro controller, especially multiplayer titles.

Making games playable in short chunks

The Switch’s most appealing feature is its portability. However, all the portability in the world doesn’t matter if the game itself isn’t actually built for portable play.

What makes a good portable game? In general, any game that can be picked up at any time and put down at any time makes for a good portable game. The goal is to break down a game into small digestible chunks. The smaller the chunks the more portable the game.

Nintendo’s best titles have followed this philosophy. Mario Odyssey made it easy to find a moon or two before putting the game down. Breath of the Wild made it feel natural to turn the game off after finding or completing new shrines. Even the recently released Kirby Star Allies has short enough stages to allow you to play one or two on a commute.

The fact that Nintendo has managed to make their biggest games accessible in a portable setting has been a huge boon to the Switch. The question is, will their future games follow the same model?

Metroid Prime usually lends itself to hour long binge sessions, so Metroid Prime 4 might break this model. The same holds true for the Shin Megami Tensei series, which we are seeing a new installment of on the Switch. You would think that Fire Emblem lends itself to binge sessions, being a turn based strategy title, but the franchise found its way to the handheld space on the 3DS. Maybe Nintendo really can succeed in keeping their entire Switch library portably accessible.

Why do you think the Nintendo Switch has been succeeding? Let us know in the comments.