Nintendo is Genius
Nintendo is genius.
That’s my opinion. Anyone is, of course, free to challenge it, but do hear me out before doing so. Let’s step back from the games for a moment. Instead we can have a think about product development strategy.
In the games industry there are two ways to manage your business if you are a hardware manufacturer. One is the Microsoft/Sony approach whereby you deliver incremental power and UI updates (and so on), whilst the alternative is to truly innovate and deliver something disruptive to the market. An example might be a handheld console, a console with dual screens or motion controls (hmmm, all my examples are Nintendo). You can think of these two approaches as short-term business planning and long-term, in effect.
Nintendo has made a choice, at some point between the Gamecube’s launch and the finalisation of the Wii’s specifications, to focus on the front end of innovation - delivering something different each time out. This we all know and recognise. Not every gamer wants this, however, and that’s fine - it’s part of the choice, and is where PlayStations or Xboxes come into play (either as an alternative or an addition). But what this choice allows Nintendo to do is marry their technical savvy and therefore what’s possible with the needs of the consumer as they understand it, i.e. their gamer population. There’s a singular focus on making something new and innovative and making it work brilliantly so they ultimately win in their business.
The Switch has done this because the Wii did this.
The Wii U, with the benefit of hindsight, can be seen as Nintendo either executing their strategy poorly (a fact recognised by the late Iwata-san) or choosing to learn in-market as it provides better information and consumer understanding than any amount of testing could dream of. Let’s be kind here and assume that was a lucky afterthought. In reality what Nintendo did was launch something hurriedly, aware the PS4 and Xbox One were coming soon and ended up executing it badly. Remember, whatever ideas you have, whatever you believe you’re giving consumers through all your development work, they only see the end product. If you can’t deliver what you’ve designed for and ensure folk understand it, you’ll fail. We all know Nintendo did a very poor job of communicating what the Wii U was. They didn’t know what it was at the end of the day. They were reacting to competition. It had a TV component at launch. It was a mish-mash of ideas, none of which were fully realised. Confused strategy. Poor execution. Market failure.
Now let’s think about the Switch. Nintendo knew what the Switch was immediately after the Wii was launched. Or they at least started to define it way back then. We know this for a few reasons. One, the Wii U is a poorly executed Switch. Two, Iwata-san commented before he passed about what Nintendo were working on and how it would not repeat the mistakes of the Wii U. Three, if you have made a choice about how you’re going to win with consumers and you focus on doing that, and executing that choice successfully, you will have an innovation plan of 5-10 years and work to make it happen. Part of that innovation plan will be supporting the product post-launch.
Here’s the genius part. From the moment the Switch was announced to its launch we all wondered why we had so little information and why the software lineup seemed limited. We were all asking the wrong questions. We should have been asking why is Nintendo doing this. The answer to that question is getting clearer day by day and is supported by the reception Zelda has received.
With Zelda there is enough content, and content of the highest quality, to keep even the most intense gamer occupied until Mario Kart. Yes that’s a re-release but it’s Mario Kart multiplayer madness. Besides, just look at its reception as best in the series! Then Splatoon which will have regular content updates. Then we’re at Christmas with Mario. For Christmas, Nintendo will have a new console - that works inside and outside of the home remember - and their biggest two franchises available. It will fly off shelves, like it already has to be fair.
Nintendo has owned the handheld market forever. Sega, Atari and Sony have tried but failed here to beat the Gameboy and the multiple DS variants. Mobile is its biggest challenge and Nintendo has bought into the mobile sector to make sure they don’t lose out there. Nintendo is playing a different game to other home console manufacturers. The Switch is the Wii U concept ramped up, enabling a home console to be a handheld. Nintendo owns the handheld market. Here they will continue to own it and have the home console in place. Eventually - in some cases already - people will see the Switch as a 2 in 1, reframing its cost in people’s heads.
That software lineup mentioned above is just year one. As mentioned, given this is a proper launch with proper planning, they’ll be broad plans for years two and three at least. All of this can and will be reviewed but the basis is there. Fundamentally it doesn’t matter that the Switch costs more than a PS4. It’s irrelevant that there aren’t many games yet or that the online service is a great big black hole. Sure we’d like to have more info and more games but for Nintendo to succeed with the Switch they are doing exactly what’s needed, when it’s needed.
With the Switch Nintendo has aced product development and innovation. They have executed it superbly and are reaping their rewards by delighting consumers. They have done this by way of a clear strategic decision allied to long-term development to match that strategy. True innovation centered around what’s possible and what’s needed, a launch plan and plans for the years’ post-launch. A merger of two strands of the business combining in one beautiful whole. Brilliant game developers with the support and belief of all around them. One man’s vision and the engagement of all around him to make the vision reality posthumously. The Nintendo Switch will be massive. And we don’t know what’s going to come next.