After two weeks in the wild, all indicators for the Nintendo Switch are pointing upward:
- Over 1.5 million consoles were sold in the first week alone.
- Nintendo’s first-month game lineup turned out to be surprisingly good, as Zelda: Breath of the Wild was reinforced by indie gems like Snipperclips, Fast Racing RMX, and Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment.
- The Switch was predictably scarce to find outside of pre-orders, but Nintendo is reportedly doubling production to meet the demand.
Despite this good news, however, the specter of the Wii U’s failure still hovers over Nintendo, and there have been just enough issues to make people (myself included) a bit hesitant to declare the Switch a success. (Case in point: BGR went from “wow, sales are soaring!” to “uh oh, sales are slowing” in the span of a week.)
So what will it take to put this discussion to rest? At what point can we definitively say the Switch is or is not a viable player in the market? More time and sales numbers are needed, obviously, but there’s more to a successful console than a large install base. Here are the signs I’m looking for:
- Online services that actually function well. As any Splatoon player can tell you, Nintendo hasn’t exactly been known for smooth-running network services on its consoles. (If you want to experience pain without end, try browsing the web on your 3DS.) While Nintendo is promising things will be different this time around (and they’re putting your money where their mouth is starting this fall, albeit at a reasonable price), the returns thus far haven’t been encouraging. (More friend codes? No Virtual Console?) If Nintendo’s really going to take the next step here, they need to get their online act together:VC needs to arrive as soon as possible:
- VC needs to arrive as soon as possible.
- Games purchased for a previous VC should not have to be re-bought for the Switch.
- Cloud saving (or some other method to transfer saved games off of a console) needs to be a thing.
- Connection errors need to be a rarity rather than a meme.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will be a major test of Nintendo’s online infrastructure, so if they want the Switch to be a success, they’d better be ready for it.
- A new AAA title actually comes to the Switch. Indie games will only get you so far, and having a 6-year old game like Skyrim (which may end up being just the 2011 base version) isn’t going to move the needle much. Nintendo needs a prominent third-party developer to step up and bring a game like Call Of Duty, Uncharted, Final Fantasy, or Overwatch to its new console. (Launching on the Switch at the same time as on other consoles would be nice too, unlike what’s going on with Yooka-Laylee.) Doing do would not only make an emphatic statement that the Switch will have real, honest-to-goodness third-party support, but also encourage fans of these games to look up from their Xbox Ones and PS4s and think about the Switch.
Despite the early hype, developers don’t seem to be too keen on developing for the Switch yet. Reversing this, however, would be a huge victory for the Big N, and go a long way towards showing that the Switch is a success.
- Reports of disconnecting Joy-Cons and other hardware issues eventually fade away. From dead pixels to screen-scratching docks to questionable Joy-Con connectivity, the initial Switch inventory has its fair share of kinks to straighten out. Th silver lining here, however, is that these sorts of problems don’t require a new console iteration (i.e., a “Switch 2”) to fix—they just entail small tweaks to the production line. Altering and/or repositioning the left Joy-Con’s antenna requires (in theory) only a minor tweak to the circuit board design. If the dock is scratching the Switch’s screen, put some softer materials on the dock surface to mitigate this (as some users have already done), or toughen up the screen with scratch-resistant glass. Nintendo needs to investigate these problems and include fixes like these into their next batch of Switches before we can truly call this console successful.
Much like the sales numbers, it’ll be a while before we know the answers to these questions, so we can’t actually evaluate the Switch’s success until 2018 at the earliest. For Nintendo’s sake, however, at least two of these questions had better be answered “yes,” or we could be in real danger of a Wii U repeat. However, If the stars align and Nintendo answers all of these questions affirmatively, the Switch will be a success, we’ll all be playing Madden 19 with our airplane seatmates, and life will be better for everyone.