Uttering the name probably leads to memories of some kind for many adults in their 30s and 40s. After all, it was during our childhood that Nintendo was at one point synonymous with video games. Atari had tanked, there was no Sega, no Sony, no Microsoft. If you owned a video game home console in the mid 80s, odds are it was the Nintendo Entertainment System. From the likes of Mario to Zelda to Metroid, Nintendo had it going on. The world was, in fact, their oyster, as video games were still very much in their infancy, and Nintendo on top of the totem poll. Fast forward 30 years.
Today, at least to gamers, Nintendo is not synonymous with anything other than 30 year old memories. To many people, that was when they were most relevant, and to a certain degree this is true in the home console space(handhelds are a different story.) Nintendo is nostalgia, and to the company’s credit I think they have ridden that for a long time with missteps and commercial failures that have hurt the company’s reputation as a new generation begins again. Enter: The Nintendo Switch.
To relate the history of Nintendo in full in one article would be foolish and I don’t have the time to write it. You don’t have the time to read it. But let’s get some facts straight and a bit of opinion on how these facts are interpreted.
Console sales(in millions) since the Nintendo Entertainment System
- NES – ~62
- SNES – ~49
- N64 – ~33
- GCN – ~22
- Wii – ~102
- Wii U – ~14
These numbers indicate one thing, and that’s that, aside from the Wii, Nintendo’s home console market has diminished significantly with each release. The Wii obviously is the exception here, and that’s exactly how I would classify it, an exception. It is not related to the pattern because of what it was. Motion controls that appealed to every one. And kudos to Nintendo for capturing that audience, the non-gamer, as it were. But as we can see, the Wii brand was not strong enough to hold that audience, and Wii U sales plummeted to an all-time low for the once giant of industry.
These numbers give us a glimpse of how things have gone, but perhaps they don’t tell the whole story. Competition has gotten fierce through the years, first with Sega, then with Sony, and finally adding in Microsoft. Not to mention handhelds and mobile gaming, which are quite popular in their own right. Nintendo’s home console market share has slipped as they continued their push towards young gamers, but as Sony’s PS4 continues it’s ascension towards 100 million consoles sold, clearly there is still a market for home gamers, it’s just not the market Nintendo has targeted. Until now.
The Nintendo Switch was revealed in a trailer in October of 2016. The trailer was about 3 minutes long, and showed off the new features of their next home console. A 6.2 inch tablet with detachable controllers that could instantly be “switched” from the television to the tablet via a dock, or vice versa. A clever design by all accounts, and soon the internet was abuzz with Switch news and clamor.
But, to analyze the trailer further, we saw a stark change in Nintendo’s marketing. Not only the cool factor, but also just who they were marketing this device towards. Young adults. The reveal trailer focused entirely on young adults. From the gamer in his house who then needs to take his dog out and brings the Switch along, to the rooftop party with now internet meme “Karen.” Guys playing basketball in the park, and a Splatoon tournament featuring 20 somethings. This was marketing to gamers, to convenience, to fun, to playing anywhere. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild(97 metascore), NBA, Skyrim, a new 3D Mario, and Nintendo’s own competitive shooter Splatoon were highlighted. No Wii mention, no Miis, an indication that maybe, just maybe, Nintendo was ready to turn their attention to a different demographic.
It was in that moment, in those 3 minutes, that momentum turned in Nintendo’s favor for the first time since the Wii. But no gimmicky motion controls were shown, no children playing Animal Crossing. This was a home console that doubled as a handheld, in a sleek form factor, that had created energy surrounding Nintendo the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime and years and years of following the company closely. The Switch was a success, and it was still 6 months from market.
Nintendo didn’t stop there. A full reveal in January giving us fans a release date, showing off new games, giving information about existing games, new IP. Suddenly 2017 looked like it would be a really great year for Nintendo, dare I say stunning, with Zelda, Splatoon, Mario Kart, new IP ARMS, Xenoblade, and a 3D Mario game all hitting within 9 months of the console’s release. Rumors swirled of a Pokémon game and Super Smash Bros. port possibly hitting within the year as well.
Then, against many people’s expectations, Nintendo bought a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl. For the very first time, Nintendo would market during the big game. They highlighted what makes the Switch the Switch, with a 30 year old gamer playing Zelda. In the living room, in bed, while making breakfast. Nintendo was trending sky high.
And still there were doubters, as the Wii U never got off the ground despite great software. People would argue that Nintendo’s own software doesn’t matter, if they want the system to sell they need third party content. And while this may be true to some extent, the ground Nintendo had already made up before the console was even released was not quantifiable. It was priceless, as good will and word of mouth spread that the Nintendo Switch looks fun, is reasonably priced, and comes with 2 controllers that can be swapped in and out. And it all started with that marketing campaign of showing young adults.
Since the Super Bowl Nintendo hasn’t stopped marketing the Switch. There was an ARMS ad during the NBA Finals. They have teamed with Frito-Lay to give away one Switch per hour until July. These are things that Nintendo did not do with the Wii U and simply didn’t need to do with Wii. They are things that target gamers, keep the name of Nintendo and Switch in people’s minds. It is why that at this moment, as I type this, they are more relevant than they have been in the past 20 years in the home console market, as the console continues to be sold out 3 months past release. With over 5 million sold(over 1/3 that of the Wii U, in less than 1/16 the time on market.)
And perhaps Sony and Microsoft, with big headstarts, need not worry about their home console space. After all, there is a large demographic out there that Nintendo will likely never significantly cater to. However, Nintendo has shown they are willing to adapt and to reach out to those that drive interest in products. Nintendo is active on all social media platforms. It’s a different time for a company that is almost always a few years behind the times. But today, Nintendo has significant hope to turn their fortunes. And for fans of Nintendo and their games, that is a very good thing to look forward to.