Nintendo Switch Constituency: What Games Will Sell (And What Wont)

The business of video games are the games themselves. Often, analysts don’t think much about the games themselves so they get it wrong. I knew the Switch was going to sell out because I knew The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was going to be a hit. To understand why a system succeeds or doesn’t, you have to look at the library.

But publishers and developers still don’t understand how libraries work. They either over generalize (“third party games don’t sell on Nintendo”) or they ignore it all together. Of course, these mistakes can be costly as publishers bring the games to the wrong system. So today, I want to focus on the Nintendo newest system, the Switch, to see what games will work (and which ones wont).

Console Constituencies

As I alluded above, console consumers are not uniform. I can’t take someone playing Nintendo and move them to Playstation with no change. Each console’s library attracts different consumers based on its library. This is a key factor to why some games sell extremely well on one system but falter on another.

XBox is a great example of this. Thanks to games like Halo, first-person shooters were very popular on both XBox and XBox 360. As a result, more and more first-person shooters came out on XBox. Conversely, some games didn’t work on XBox. When Microsoft experimented with their own expanded audience device the Kinect, the games didn’t work. Wii Sports was a success while Kinect Sports was a dud. The XBox constituency rejected the same kind of expanded market games worked on the Wii. Conversely, first-person shooters never seemed to work on the Wii, despite multiple companies attempting it (Remember Conduit). This is a simple example (and I’m ignoring some of the issues with Kinect games), but it illustrates that just because on game will work on one system, it may not work on another.

Now, we could examine each console and what the constituency is, but today we’ll focus on the Nintendo Switch.

What Will Nintendo Switch’s Constituency Look Like

Open World Games

The most popular game for Nintendo Switch right now is Zelda. So much so that sales of the Nintendo Switch version of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild exceed sales of the Nintendo Switch. Zelda is a must-have game for the system. Everyone is rushing to get the system just to play Zelda. As a result, The system is selling out in hours.

Zelda isn’t the only open world game coming out for the system. Skyrim and Minecraft are slated to come later this year. Sure, the games are also available on other systems too; however, Nintendo Switch has something those systems do not: portability. Being able to take the game anywhere is huge for this kind of game. Imagine if World of Warcraft, during its height, was a portable game? People could take the drug of WoW anywhere.

The success of Zelda will help these other open world games out. The rising tide lifts all boats. Those who played Zelda will want more. The strong sales of these games will attract publisher and developers towards the system with their open world games. This is the same way XBox became a first-person shooter system. Halo was a success and it attracted other developers and publishers to make first-person shooters towards the XBox. In the same vein, Zelda will attract open-world games to Switch.

Retro/Classic Games

First, let’s look at the system’s library

  • Super Bomberman R – Revival of Bomberman
  • Sonic Mania – Retro style Sonic game even with sprites
  • Street FIghter 2: The Final Challengers – It’s Street Fighter 2
  • Puyo Puyo Tetris – A cross-over of two classic puzzle games
  • Blaster Master Zero – Prequel to Blaster Master
  • Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap – A beautiful remake of the Master System game Wonder Boy 3
  • Bloodstain – A kickstarter revival of Castlevania
  • Octopath Traveler – A 16 bit style RPG in the vein of older Final Fantasy games.

The only games missing here are a 2D Mario and Mega Man. Beyond that, the Nintendo Switch has a great library of classic games. You can also get a plethora of Neo Geo games. And there will be classic Nintendo games on the system eventually.

We are seeing evidence of classic games blowing up on Nintendo Switch. Super Bomberman R has sold 500,000 and has the greatest launch of any Bomberman game in years. The Sonic Mania trailer has 4.5 million views on Nintendo’s channel, which is more than the trailers for ARMS, 1-2-Switch, and Splatoon 2 (and a reason I think the game will be a surprise hit). If Nintendo can release a 2D Mario titles (which I suspect will happen eventually), then you will see an explosion in sales of the system from those who crave these kinds of games.

Multiplayer Games

This isn’t too surprising as Nintendo has always excelled with multiplayer games. Nintendo was the first to allow for 4 players. The have popular multiplayer series like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. Even though other systems offer 4-player local co-op, many new games on XBox and Playstation 4 do not allow for local co-op.

President Kimishima even noted this as an important factor of the system:

For Nintendo Switch, the main factor in providing exciting social competitive gaming is its strength as a portable home gaming system. Players can hone their skills by competing against opponents from around the world over the Internet on their TV screen at home. Then they can take Nintendo Switch with them to start a local wireless match anywhere they go. They can even hand a Joy-Con over to another person to start playing competitively together. All three of the titles I have just introduced support multiplayer over the internet as well as local play that users can enjoy anywhere with their families and friends.

Of course, Kimishima isn’t wrong. The ability to play the system anywhere and the ease of handling a friend a joy con is a major strength for multiplayer gaming. Couple this with Nintendo’s large portfolio of multiplayer games, and you have the ultimate multiplayer system. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s success is proof of this. Already, the game is the best selling game of 2017 on Amazon, beating Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And this is just the beginning. Image what will happen when a Smash Brothers or multiplayer Mario game comes out.

What Games Won’t Work

In the same vein, there will be some games that don’t work for the system. These games will do poorly on the Nintendo Switch.

Social/Expanded Audience Games

The kind of social games that were popular on the Wii won’t work on the Nintendo Switch. A prime example of this is 1-2-Switch. Despite The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild selling more than the system itself, 1-2-Switch, the other flagship title for the system, couldn’t break 1 million sales. This is in spite of Nintendo heavily promoting the game. President Kimishima has said that the title is on its way to selling 1 million copies; however, this is a far cry from Zelda has performed.

The same can be seen with Just Dance 2017. The title did incredibly well on the Wii. However, according to NPD rankings, the game didn’t even make it in the top 20 for the month of March. Compare this to the Wii title. According to USAToday, the second game broke 5 million sales on the Wii, and the original was the best-selling third-party game on the system. Even Just Dance 2017 sold the best on the Wii despite the system being over 10 years old. The success of expanded audience games won’t be seen on Nintendo Switch.

Realistic Western AAA Games

WHERE IS SHE

Although everything I’ve mentioned thus far is a prediction, this genre is less based on facts and more based on gut feelings.

Historically, the gritty western AAA games do not perform well on Nintendo system. Western third party companies since the Wii days have exclaimed: “Our games never sell on Nintendo systems.” Of course, Japanese third party games have done alright on Nintendo systems. Just look at the DS and 3DS. I think the complaints have to do with the wrong games being released on the system.

The Wii U is a prime example of this. Despite complaints that the system had no games, the Wii U launched with over 30 games. Titles included Mass Effect, Batman, and Assassin’s Creed.  In the end, the system failed even with all these games. I don’t expect the same to change for Nintendo Switch.

 

That’s not to say every western game will fail on the system. Skyrim will be a huge hit thanks to a constituency of open world games. Overwatch can do well do to the game’s brighter color pallet, solid gameplay and cross-over with Nintendo fans (for some reason, people who like Smash Bros love Overwatch). I’ve also seen plenty of demand to have Rocket League on the system. These kinds of games will do fine on a Nintendo system, but I don’t see your darker, story driven, western AAA game doing well on the system.

Closing

To recap, the games I see doing the best on the system are open-world games, classic/retro games and multiplayer games. The games I see doing poorly are social/expanded audience games and AAA Western games. Time will tell if my prediction is right or not, but we are already seeing examples of this. Zelda and Mario Kart are doing very well while Just Dance and 1-2-Switch are doing poorly.

My advice to both Nintendo and third party companies is to focus on the games that work. If you are going to release a classic style game, make the Switch a priority. But if you think the Switch will be another Wii (I’m looking at you Nintendo and Ubisoft), then don’t waste your time. Don’t think those fitness games will work out for you.

But what do you think? Please tell me in the comments below!

 

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