Nintendo needs to 'Switch' their focus to the future
Nintendo is on one helluva roll. The Switch has sold an impressive 3 million units in two months, games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have over a 1:1 attach rate (which is practically unheard of), and most importantly, people are buzzing about the company’s new console. Heck, on a recent flight, I witnessed no less than half a dozen Switch users, most of whom were busy hacking away at the roaming bokoblins of Hyrule. Because of this rabid enthusiasm– something Nintendo has not had since the Wii launched in 2005– I was shocked to see the company unveil its latest model of the 2DS earlier this week.
By all accounts, the newhandheld looks like a very solid piece of technology that I’m sure it will sell very well. In some ways, it even makes sense. After so many years, the production costs of the 3DS/2DS line have likely plummeted, contributing to Nintendo’s bottom line in ways the Switch, a brand new piece of technology, simply can’t match. On top of that, the comparative fragility of the Switch just doesn't make sense for small children, whereas the 2DS line of products, built like tanks, seem tailor made for youngsters.
It's also likely that this new 2DS is the DS line’s swan song– a pretty chunk of low-cost hardware with excellent margins and a massive library, released for one last sales boost-- the equivalent of wringing a damp towel. This strategy isn’t exactly new for the company either, and one only has to look to the Game Boy Micro, Nintendo DSi, or red Wii for historical context.
But even with all of the reasons to release this new hardware, there’s one overwhelming reason not to-- the meteoric success of the Switch.
The Switch is a console that embodies freedom and choice without compromise. Want to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on a TV in glorious 1080p? You can do that. Want to crush fools with blue shells while taking a hairy dump? The Switch has got you covered there as well. But by continuing to promote the 2DS/3DS line with new products and exclusive games, Nintendo is drawing a line in the sand and asking its fans to make a choice between the new and the old, eschewing freedom for a dearth of options.
Had Nintendo announced Hey! Pikmin or Miitopia or Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia for the 3DS and the Switch, instead of unveiling them alongside the new 2DS, this article would have never been written. Instead, I’d be extolling Nintendo’s decision to give their customer base the freedom and flexibility to play the title where they want, when they want. Nintendo would appear to care about their diehard 3DS fans (while stealthily pushing them to a better-looking, better-running version of the same game), while also providing new Switch owners with much-needed software. In that scenario, everyone wins. Instead, the company is still using exclusives to peddle new versions of six-year-old hardware. It smells like a desperate and misguided attempt to delay the Switch from cannibalizing a profitable product line.
The entire selling point of the Switch is its handheld mode– the ability to take your home games on the road. With the 3DS continuing to linger in the mix, Nintendo’s ability to gain Switch "mind share" becomes even more difficult because their message is bifurcated. Two products in similar spaces, put out by the same company, with a different offering of games is understandably confusing to the average non-gamer– the demographic that has the potential to turn a successful console into a phenomenon like the Wii. Nintendo needs a strong, unified message that screams, "the Nintendo Switch is all you need!"
At some point, Nintendo needs to jettison their past and fully embrace their future. If the declining sales of the 3DS/2DS lines and the surging success of the Switch are any indications, Nintendo fans have done just that.