If you even remotely follow the video game industry, then you’ll know of this week’s major announcement from Nintendo: the successor to its ill-performing Wii U console, which has been referred to as the NX while in development, now has an official name and trailer. Ladies and gentleman, prepare to feast your eyes on the latest creation of Japanese innovation: the Nintendo Switch.
Comparing the Switch’s launch video to some of the commercials for Nintendo’s first console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, it’s clear the Switch is after a completely different target market. No longer are video games for kids (and Trix doesn’t look like it either); video games, or at least the idea of buying a console system to play them, have become a product of nostalgia. Commercials from the 80’s and 90’s eras had children (i.e. white boys) as the focus, while the Switch focuses on the young adult- one seemingly without children. Gone are the days of creepy CGI characters, weird aerobics and bodybuilders, and robot playmates. This new gamer is older, lives in a nicely HGTV-styled house/apartment, and has friends who somehow invite her to a rooftop party when she stares out the window. Maybe I’m going about this whole ‘making friends’ thing wrong.
Modern Nintendo commercials are always refreshing to watch thanks to their focus on diversity. Note the Switch’s launch video with women (note the plural) playing games with friends and on eSports teams to XBOX One’s, where the one woman in the commercial is not a gamer, but a movie watcher who apparently needs protection from Spock. Great.
Children these days don’t need a NES or a Sega Genesis, all they need is mom’s smartphone. Thousands and thousands of games are now at our fingertips, so parents are less tempted to go buy Junior a $250+ system when an iPhone does the same thing just fine. Of course, games with simple repeatable game play like Candy Crush don’t play in the same ball park as the over 300 hours of game play needed to beat Skyrim. But if both shut the kid up for a while, parents can’t tell the difference.
So it looks like Nintendo will try the mature enough to have disposable income but young enough to have a love of gaming age range for the Switch AKA probably older-ish Millennials, seeing as my currently college-aged cohort will be crippled with student debt for the foreseeable years and the old-old Millennials are already doing that whole suburban white picket fence with kids thing. And honestly, it’s probably for the best that this thing isn’t being marketing to kids at the moment. With all those interchangeable parts sliding on and off the console, they’re prone to be lost and broken by children who don’t know how to be careful.
Another interesting component of the launch video is its eSports focus. eSports, a massively growing industry, is the place to be right now. Nintendo’s had a spotty history with eSports tournaments in the past when they’ve tried to get the popular fighting title Super Smash Bros. pulled from the EVO 2013 tournament. But with more and more media companies investing in the sport, its a great time for Nintendo to make a move to become respected and used in eSports tournaments. This is exactly where its target market is- not necessarily playing a game for a large audience; the target market is the audience. In order to get the recognition and omnipresence in needs in this area, it’ll be a lot of hard work for Nintendo. Video game culture, especially eSports, thrives on authenticity and can sniff out dishonestly overnight. eSports fans have typically been ingrained in video games since children, so seeing a console brand of their childhood getting involved with eSports would be a massive event.
I first touched base on this nostalgia angle trend with Pokémon and their Super Bowl commercial a few months ago. And while, yes, Pokémon is played on Nintendo consoles, the franchise has split ownership between Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures, so it’s hard to say which company decided on the end product, or if it was a collaboration of the three.
But the Switch is completely Nintendo, and the company desperately needs this console to go well. Sales for the current console, the Wii U, haven’t been so hot. The Wii U has only sold about 13 million units from it’s launch four years ago to this past June. In comparison, the Wii (yup, different console, you wonder why they’ve had marketing problems?) sold more than 100 million in its six years.
The Wii U’s failure to anchor in the marketplace has been analyzed for years now. As someone who tries to stay updated in the constantly changing video game industry, I’ve read my fair share of articles about how the Wii U will destroy Nintendo, or how it already has destroyed Nintendo. Consumer awareness of the new system really hurt- people simply didn’t realize that there was a new console on the market. Who could blame them? Both systems were similar in design and name. Many initially thought the Wii U’s GamePad was just an accessory for the Wii. Nintendo seems to have this similar design, similar name problem a lot lately. Check out the evolution of its handheld console names of the past twelve years: Nintendo DS, Nintendo DS Lite, Nintendo DSi, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo 2DS, New Nintendo 3DS.
Yeah. That’s not confusing.
And certainly aspects of the Wii U’s commercial failure has played a factor in altering something the company said they would never do- phone apps. While I also think the plunge into app development is also due in part to President Satoru Iwata’s death, as he was a strong force against the company creating phone games with title characters like Mario and Link. (By the way- Super Mario Run launches next year for iOS and Android). It’s not like Nintendo’s completely ostracizing younger demos from experiencing Mario; they’ve simply realized that each market must be reached on a different platform. With the Switch, Nintendo has wiped the slate clean in multiple ways: its now older target demo, its stance on eSports, and the complete upheaval of its ‘Wii’ design. March is going to be an interesting month. Let’s-a go.