In just over a month the Nintendo Switch will launch and we will all have it in our hands… we wish. Now, obviously March 3rd, 2017, is the release date for the Nintendo Switch and it’s currently launching with at least seven games. Many people have criticised this launch, fans and journalists both, which is perfectly acceptable if they don’t like what they see. The common complaint is the lack of content for launch; Zelda is the biggest game launching and the only two exclusives are 1, 2, Switch, a fairly small party game that many don’t feel is worth being sold as a full priced console game, and Super Bomberman R, a game that many feel is too barebones and, again, not worth the price tag.
Many big names in the journalism scene, such as Jim Sterling, have criticised Nintendo for this and with reports from local shops that pre-orders are extremely limited, it appears the Switch’s launch may not be up to snuff with the Wii’s and even the Wii U’s. “Nintendo didn’t learn from their mistakes,” “How could Nintendo mess this up?” and “The Switch is doomed” are all statements I have heard tossed around and I understand the frustration it has caused. I myself tried to order a Nintendo Switch when pre-orders opened and found them all to be gone, both on and offline. Here’s the thing though, Nintendo does not care. They don’t care how well the Switch does in March (to a degree obviously) and they don’t care if people find the launch-line up lacking. Nintendo isn’t living in the now or even the near-future, they’re looking towards holiday 2017 as the true ‘launch’ for the Nintendo Switch.
The biggest and most obvious indicator of this is the number of Switch consoles Nintendo hopes to sell by the end of the fiscal year (March 31st, 2017). First mentioned by Kimishima in a quarterly financial report in October 2016, it was stated that they would ship 2 million units by that time. This was a fact restated to investors shortly after by the president where he also stated they would ship more of the console only if supply demanded it. If 2 million units sound like too low a number to you that’s because it is. Nintendo has given themselves 28 days to sell that many which is roughly a similar amount to how much the Wii U sold in that time. However it’s a far cry from the 3.19 million sold by the Wii in its first month and knowing this data, you begin to see that Nintendo is trying to be modest and undersell the Switch in comparison.
So why is that? To generate false hype and make the product a must-have the title? Perhaps, this did work with amiibo after all but that’s not the reason Nintendo have given. According to Kimishima, this low number was decided on to avoid a situation like the Wii U, where they make far more than people want and they end up sitting on store shelves and collect dust. This has a bad effect on both Nintendo’s profits and morale but also made the Wii U look undesirable and turn away both outlets and 3rd party publishers alike. Nintendo in fact learned from their mistakes and are trying to avoid that as much as possible.
You might be thinking that there’s no way Nintendo are sticking to this after seeing the backlash to the NES Classic and all the hype the Switch has generated since it was revealed 3 months ago. Clearly people want this system, right? Well, maybe there are more than two million people hoping to pick this up at launch but for Nintendo that is too much of a risk to bank on and they are sticking to their initial plan. This was stated by Reggie in a recent interview which I think many have heard of but not actually read. In an interview with Wired, Reggie stated that Nintendo is sticking to its 2 million unit launch month plan. Many would have read this articles sneakily click bait title, “Nintendo’s Boss Promises the Switch Won’t Have the NES Classic’s Supply Issues,” and assumed that meant stock would be bountiful but that is not the case. Reggie only briefly touches the topic, saying that due to March being the off-season (i.e. not the holidays) they only produced enough so that only the most dedicated fans would want one. He doesn’t expect every consumer to buy a game system in March, he expects it in the following holiday. This can be backed up by a recent report from the Wall Street Journal that claimed Nintendo only ordered 3 million screens for the Switch, in other words, are only making 3 million Switches. This is more than 2 million, but you have to remember not all these Switches are to be sold and some may be insurance in case a screen breaks they can replace it easily. This is all to say that from Nintendo’s perspective, they have been open with how little they plan on selling the Switch in its early life, so when those reports start coming in don’t act surprised.
But maybe that is not enough for you? And why holiday 2017 and not April 2017? Nintendo got the Switch out for investors in March but really once the fiscal year ends and they see the demand they will be ready to support it straight away, right? Maybe, I’m sure it won’t be as hard a product to find for us core fans come April or maybe even late March. But Nintendo know that the core fans would always buy the system, we are not the audience they are trying to bring in. Reggie implied it himself in that interview, the holidays are the most profitable time for the Switch. This is why they’ve always launched in that period for Japan and the US. They missed 2016 due to a fear of not having enough games ready so now they have to aim for 2017.
Nintendo may only be launching with seven games but we know they have more that are ready. We know that Super Mario Odyssey is close to being finished but Nintendo is purposely holding it back. Why would they do this when they could launch with it? Well, that is to avoid another of the Wii U’s issues: droughts. While the Wii U did have a bigger launch day, with thirty-two launch titles for the US alone, and a strong early December from third parties it very quickly dried up to the point where many months only saw two games get released in them, including small eShop titles. Nintendo is trying to avoid this and they confirmed that fact in their recent investors meeting where they outlined their plan to release a major game every few months to keep gamer interest secured. This of course means less games all at once but it also means no droughts of software to be found. This has an adverse effect, however, and Nintendo are most likely aware of it. Rather than getting as many purchases as possible at the beginning by releasing a lot of games for a lot of demographics, they are instead trickling games out bit-by-bit, bringing in each demographic as it goes along. This will all lead up to the Switch’s first holiday season and when Nintendo will likely get very serious about pushing the Switch.
Obviously, by this holiday there will be more games so that of course means there are more options for every demographic out there, from the hardcore to the casual. To add to this the holiday is a time of gift-giving which means people are more willing to buy expensive products like the Switch for either themselves or others. Then you have special days like Black Friday where people go out of their way to buy things and the Switch has a perfect opportunity to be appealing to as many people as possible. This is what Nintendo wants to focus on. By releasing the Switch in March they can keep investors and hardcore Nintendo fans happy. By spacing their software they can keep up the player interest and ensure that the Switch does not have the same issues that plagued the Wii U’s first year. It will also build up a library that will hopefully appeal to more people by the time of the holiday season, when they are truly banking on this system to perform well and become a positive success for the company.
While the Switch is literally going to launch this March for the consumer, for Nintendo it is being viewed more as a trial launch. A time to fix any issues that might crop up in order to make the Switch appealing for its ‘real’ launch (when they hope the Switch will succeed): not this spring but the coming fall and winter, the holidays of 2017.