The following is a guest blog post by my colleague Aaron Blackman, who in addition to being a forensics coach and comm lecturer is also a big fan of video and tabletop games.
E3 2017 just recently wrapped up, and after watching all of the major press conferences highlighting the future in gaming, both distant and near, I feel that Nintendo had the strongest showing. After a brief 25 minute spotlight focusing on the recently released Nintendo Switch, I’m thrilled about the future of my latest gaming console. I was able to buy a Nintendo Switch on launch day and I absolutely love the console. At the same time, this was one of the weirdest consumer choices that I have made in my life.
Let me explain.
On October 20th, 2016 Nintendo released their first trailer of their upcoming console. Before this, the codename for the system was the “Nintendo NX”. Despite being thoroughly confused by the name “Nintendo Switch”, this short trailer hooked my attention in a way that only Nintendo could: by attempting something unique. Nintendo’s newest console would be a hybrid, a portable gaming machine that you can hold in your hands and play on an airplane or during your commute, but also easily dock it into your TV when you returned home.
For context, the company’s consoles have been technically inferior for a long time now, but when Nintendo gets an idea and actually runs with it, they find massive success. For example, the portable Nintendo DS sold nearly 154 million units according to IGN. The DS’s success was based on numerous factors: a phenomenal library of games, sleek design as well as two screens for both standard gameplay and touch-based controls. Additionally, Nintendo struck gold when they originally released the Wii, a console centered around motion controls in 2006.
As Fall 2016 transitioned into Winter, many gamers were excited about the news of Nintendo returning to form and refining their creative approach to hardware development. There were many questions that still needed to be answered of course, like how long the battery would last, internal data storage and the big unknown: price.
This anticipation built over the holidays until January 12th, 2017, which brought an hour-long live presentation from Tokyo to give details on pricing, release dates, and upcoming games. Overall, reviews of the presentation were mixed. Hopping between live talking points on stage and pre-recorded segments, the production felt clunky and oddly paced. Many of the featured games had little information available, worrying fans that the Switch’s game lineup would echo the Wii U, few and far between. Additionally, Mario’s newest adventure was nearly a year away and every accessory seemed extremely expensive. The Pro controller was priced at $70, which is $10 more than a standard Xbox One or Playstation 4 controller. Extra Joy-Con controllers (the small devices that slide onto the side of the console) would cost $50 for one or $80 for the pair. Finally, an extra dock to connect to a second TV would run you a whopping $90.
Luckily, the $299 price tag for the console and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as a launch title served as an oasis of good news. I personally knew of five people who preordered the console that very night: myself, two of my brothers and two friends. As Nintendo and Zelda fanboys, we all chose to adopt the console early as a risk, but one that could be canceled if we changed our minds.
Less than a month later on February 5th, Nintendo debuted their first-ever Super Bowl ad for the Switch. It’s timing was quite conspicuous, but the effect was massive. With a catchy song and the multitude of ways to play the console, Nintendo effectively excited people about the Switch again. Any doubt that I had regarding my preordered console was washed away. After waiting over five years for a new Zelda console game, we were less than a month away.
March 3rd was an exhilarating release day, and the perfect time for me to test out the portability of the console. As the forensics coach at UNK, I was scheduled to travel with my team to Crete, NE for a speech tournament. Normally, packing up an entire gaming console is too much work and takes up too much space for a weekend trip. However, the Switch fit easily into my backpack for the two-hour drive. Connecting the dock to the hotel TV took less than a minute and suddenly, I was resuming my adventures in Hyrule.
I tested each and every mode during the opening weekend (handheld, docked and tabletop) as an experiment for levels of comfort in different gaming scenarios. I showed the Switch to numerous friends and colleagues at the tournament, letting them play and hold it for themselves. Most importantly for that weekend, I had fun.
As I mentioned before, I love my Nintendo Switch, but it was certainly a rocky road to get to this point. Purchasing a $300 gaming console without ever seeing or holding it is a gamble, forcing consumers to rely on the various media presentations that Nintendo showcased leading up to release. Their marketing strategy worked, as the console is still flying off the shelves three months later.