Why Nintendo's Switch is a must-succeed launch

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Nintendo's innovative hybrid console provides a chance for the Japanese gaming giant to reconnect with consumers, writes Haves Media's head of strategy.

Nintendo has unveiled its brand new console, the Nintendo Switch. The launch video for the console, which appeared on Thursday, has racked up 17 million views in four days. 

This is a great example of a brand with tremendous latent love, and an ardent fan base willing it to regain its glory. This is the story of a gaming dynasty with beloved IP and a reputation for making innovative market-changing hardware that enhanced the gamer’s experience.

Since 1983, when it launched the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo has sold more than 4.4 billion video games and more than 693 million hardware units globally, making it a true gaming heavyweight.

Game titles like Super Mario Bros, Mario Kart and the Legend of Zelda are beloved, and consoles like the NES, SNES and N64 spoken of with fervent love (you only have to mention classics like GoldenEye to gamers of a certain age and it produces misty-eyed nostalgia).

The smash hit Wii console took a different path to its peers, the Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3, creating a more physical broader experience as opposed a classic controller-based gameplay, giving it true crossover appeal into the mainstream, generating over 100 million sales.  

Their two biggest selling consoles revolutionised gaming further. The Gameboy became an icon of handheld gaming, whilst its successor, the DS, did more to bringing a much wider audience into gaming with games titles appealing to a wide spectrum of interests.

Recent years have seen Nintendo falter. The popularity of casual mobile gaming ate the DS lunch, as games like Candy Crush kept gamers on their smartphones.

Meanwhile, the Wii’s successor, the Wii U and its interactive screen proved too confusing to gain anywhere near the same traction with a mass audience, and ended up delivering sales figures more attune to a niche appeal gaming device. This left Nintendo dwarfed by the success of rivals Microsoft and Sony, with the respective success of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Despite this, the reaction to the Switch announcement shows how being meaningful can help a brand endure. The connection that Nintendo has made with its fan base over the years means that they will forgive occasional missteps and always hold the brand in high regard.

However, if underachievement becomes a habit, that connection will be diminished beyond the point of return. In that regard, the Switch is a must-succeed launch for the Kyoto-based company.

If the launch video is any indication, success could quickly come knocking again. What leaps out about Nintendo Switch is that this feels like something genuinely new in the gaming world.

Nintendo appears to have considered every environment where a games console could exist, either as an in home entertainment unit or a mobile device, and then added functionality to make it adaptable to any social situation, be it solo play, casual party gaming, or full on hardcore eSports team action, and created a device that can work across the whole spectrum.

The launch video shows a standalone home console unit that can be played on a large screen (like the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One). If a player is going out, they remove a smaller screen (which looks similar in size to a phablet albeit thicker) from the console unit, to which players can attach external controller components to, ending up with a unit looking more like Sony’s PS Vita.

However, the interesting thing is that the versatility doesn’t stop here, with additional configurations of controllers being either physically attached or detached and wirelessly connected, plus an inbuilt stand, to give the Switch multiple configurations and uses. Plus, it simply looks fun to play – the lovechild of the Wii U’s tech and the fun portability of both the DS and Gameboy.

The proof will be in the seamlessness of experience between in-home and handheld modes, plus the quality of the games that are developed for the platform. However, with the enduring popularity of Nintendo’s Mario IP, soon to be further bolstered by the impending arrival of both the NES Classic retro-console unit and Super Mario Run game on iOS in December 2016, the future looks rosy there.

From a media perspective, this new platform will be about content consumption. Nintendo have always been resistant to paid ad models, instead preferring to protect the gamer’s experience. Ad opportunities are likely to be around content experiences within 3rd party apps (as you see, for example, within YouTube’s app on PS4), if these are allowed on the new device.

Overall though, the Nintendo Switch looks like an exciting entrant into the gaming and entertainment market that will move the gaming experience on.

Rik Moore is head of strategy at Havas Media.