Nintendo Switch: what could launch mean for the console – and publishing – markets?

Since the release of its Game and Watch in 1980, Nintendo has dominated the handheld console market. The Game Boy and Nintendo DS are remembered fondly by people who played them in their youth while latest Nintendo 3DS had sold around 60m units by June 2016.

What’s more, a national survey in the 1990s found that Nintendo’s character, Mario, was ‘more recognizable to American children than Mickey Mouse’.

When it comes to home consoles, however, it’s a different story.

The glory days came with the Nintendo Entertainment system (1985), the Super Nintendo Entertainment system (1991), and the company’s infamous battles with Sega over the home console market.

Since then, there has been drastic change in the home console market and Nintendo’s position in the market has plummeted.

In 1995, Sony launched its PlayStation and with it a slew of games aimed at a more mature gamer. The platform and its marketing oozed cool. Suddenly, it was more acceptable for 30 and 40 somethings to play videogames again.
During the reign of PlayStation and PlayStation 2, Nintendo home consoles came and went, Sega gave up on the hardware business altogether, and, in 2001, Microsoft launched The Xbox.

The gaming landscape has never looked the same since.

For the past 16 years, Sony and Microsoft have battled it out to be the No.1 home games console. Every few years they release a successor with more power, better graphics, new features and the promise of better games.

Last June, Statistica reported that in less than three years since its release, Sony’s PlayStation 4 had sold an incredible 40.75m units. In the same period, Microsoft’s Xbox One sold 21.11m.

In contrast, by the same date, Nintendo’s Wii U home console – which had enjoyed an entire year head start – only managed to sell 13.14m and has subsequently been discontinued.

Nintendo did manage to break the mould with the Nintendo Wii in 2006. A successful marketing campaign and unique motion controls tapped into a new ‘casual’ gamer market and saw sales reach 101.18 million units over a ten-year period, but – for a multitude of reasons – it failed to attract these purchasers to the Wii U, leaving its future in home consoles on shaky ground once again.

But Nintendo’s fortunes could be changing yet again:

In February 2013, Nintendo merged its handheld and home console divisions, unifying production so they could better compete with their competition in mobile and with the likes of Sony and Microsoft in the home.

Now, some four years later, Nintendo is set to launch their new console; the Nintendo Switch.

The Switch has a unique selling point: it’s a hybrid of console and portable handheld, housing its own screen and controllers, but allowing players to undock the unit from their television screen and literally take and play their games wherever they go.

The new console will be less powerful than the PS4 or Xbox One, but it’s unique selling point, coupled with the renowned quality of Nintendo’s software, could set the gaming world alight.

The hype is reminiscent of that surrounding the original Wii launch. Indeed, the Switch is already showing as sold out on the UK and USA’s leading sites, including Amazon, GameStop and, well ahead of its release.

So, could we be entering a new golden era for Nintendo? Could the resurgence of the brand see the scales begin to tip in the console market? It could get interesting.

As something of a side note, it’s worth pointing out the rise and fall in popularity of these gaming giants can have a significant effect on the publishing industry.

The Official Nintendo Magazine was launched by EMAP in 2002, but closed in 2014, two years after the disastrous launch of Wii U.

In the same vein, as sales of Sony’s PlayStation 4 significantly overtook those of Microsoft’s Xbox One, Future Publishing has seen a 9.6 per cent year-on-year rise in print circulation of its official PS magazine, while print sales of Future’s Official Xbox magazine fell 8.9%.

It will be similarly interesting to see if those trends have been sustained when the next set of ABCs come out next month. I will also be curious to see if anyone out there is brave enough to launch a Nintendo magazine on the back of the expected success of the Switch.