It’s being called a “make or break” move for the Nintendo brand. But can one $300 gaming unit really be the difference for a brand only seven years younger than General Electric? (Yes, Nintendo was founded in 1889 as Nintendo Koppai, and made a range of playing card products.)
The Nintendo Switch debuted this week to reactions that varied from “developers have high hopes” to “stock is falling following the release.” The Switch is a hybrid gaming system, functioning as a portable handheld with the option of connecting it to a display to create a more conventional home gaming system. The Nintendo Switch’s most unique design feature is its Joy-Con detachable controllers.
The Nintendo Switch is the iconic Japanese game-maker’s reply to the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. It’s also a reply to the past few disastrous years for the brand that saw sinking sales and a failure to capitalize on mobile gaming popularity. It’s ironic for the brand that gave the world the iconic Gameboy. The Switch also follows the poorly received Wii U, which sold only about one-tenth as many units as the original Wii.
Switch is not meant to replace the brand’s handheld Nintendo 3DS. And while it’s predicted that Switch might shore up core brand loyalists, its ability to bring back lost Nintendo fans or new adherents is very much debatable.
To get gamers onboard, Nintendo is sending the Switch on a national tour where interested fans can give it a test run.
The ultimate question remains: Is Nintendo is a brand of the future or the past? Its recent massive success of the NES Classic, a package of the brand’s greatest hits, suggests the latter.
The NES Classic success also suggests that Nintendo’s challenge is not one of the gaming unit but one of the games, which are what creates brand intimacy—a major contributor to brand loyalty.
Nintendo says the Switch will avoid the mistakes of the Wii U, including problems with enough content. But there are already a few worrisome details, such as the fact that the Switch will not initially support Netflix streaming, something the Xbox does. In fact, gaming consoles have become content portals for all manner of streaming services. So while Switch might be hurt by no Netflix, it will offer deals with Sling TV and Vudu.