Is The Nintendo Switch Doomed To Third-Party Purgatory?

Image From Nintendo

On the eve of Nintendo’s second major Switch release in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it’s time to check in on the console’s game lineup to see where things stand nearly two months after its launch.

According to Wikipedia, the Switch will have 42 games available in North America once MK8D drops. These games fall into four primary categories:

  • First-Party Titles (Zelda: BotW1-2 SwitchMK8D)
  • Small Indie Titles (SnipperclipsFast RMXShovel KnightSnake PassThe Binding Of Issac)
  • Super Bomberman R (because Konami isn’t a small indie developer)
  • Titles That Nobody’s Terribly Excited About (the rest)

Naturally, people tend to focus on the games that aren’t on this list. For example, Resident Evil 7Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Persona 5 are nowhere to be seen on the Switch’s release schedule. Red Dead Redemption 2 and Call Of Duty: WWII aren’t there either. You want Overwatch or Uncharted 4? Tough cookies. Heck, Switch owners will be lucky if they get 2016’s special edition of Skyrim instead of 2011’s base version.

Nintendo fans, however, take comfort in the ‘Field Of Dreams’ theory: “If you build it, they will come.”  And right now, Nintendo seems to be building an impressive user base, selling 2.74 million Switches in the first month of its release and forecasting another ten million sales in the console’s first year. Everything’s coming up roses for the Big N at the moment, and if their momentum continues and their install base swells, the thinking is that major third-party developers will no longer be able to ignore the console, and AAA blockbusters will come flooding back onto Nintendo hardware.

Unfortunately, a console’s install base isn’t the only factor in determining whether or not a company decides to develop for it. There are technical, reputational, and even political factors that come into play, and Nintendo remains at a disadvantage in these categories:

  • Specs matter, and the Switch just doesn’t measure up. It’s pretty much a given that Nintendo systems just don’t have the raw computational horsepower of Sony and Microsoft hardware, and when games are reliant on having that sort of horsepower available, the Switch is simply a non-starter for them. (Example A: Jeff Kaplan’s statement about bringing Overwatch to the Switch being “very challenging.”)
  • Nintendo has to overcome its past before others can bank on its future. A lot of people will point to Nintendo’s terrible reputation with third-party developers on this point, but I’m more concerned with something else: Its habit of subpar online support. A lot of games are very reliant on a consistent, reliable online infrastructure, and Nintendo has never truly proven that it can provide and maintain such a thing. The Switch will face its first real test once Mario Kart 8 Deluxe drops, and Splatoon 2 and the company’s first-ever paid online service loom on the horizon. If Nintendo can’t demonstrate the Switch’s online prowess, then games that rely heavily on this sort of thing (Call Of Duty, Overwatch, etc.) won’t find the Switch to be worth their developers’ time and effort.
  • Nintendo isn’t the only one with a killer first-party lineup. Sony has managed to fly under the radar while putting together its own exclusive stable of well-regarded games and franchises, including Gravity Rush, Uncharted, Horizon Zero Dawn, and even MLB The Show! It doesn’t matter how many Switches Nintendo manages to sell: If Sony is producing the game, it’s got a much of a chance of appearing on Nintendo hardware as a Mario game does of showing up on a Playstation…and if these are the titles that gamers consider AAA, than Nintendo is back behind the eight ball where is started.

The dream of having every possible AAA game available for you to play anywhere on the Switch is wonderful, but I don’t think it’s realistic. Nintendo’s best strategy, oddly enough, is the one they’re taking now: Lean on a steady stream of a first-party titles, and let smaller-but-solid titles (“AA games?”) like Snipperclips and Snake Pass fill in the gaps. (As a side benefit, this might mean reviving some long-forgotten franchises like Metroid to help fill out the Switch’s lineup.) If a game like Red Dead Redemption 2 finds its way to the Switch, that’s great, but Nintendo shouldn’t stick all of its eggs in that basket.

Third-party purgatory may not be where Nintendo wants the Switch to be, but it’s certainly better than the hell it found itself in with the Wii U. While the Switch itself may never find its way to third-party heaven, if it can demonstrate that Nintendo has learned from and atoned for its past sins, it could be the console that puts the company back on the path to glory.

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