The Indie Machine: Nintendo’s Unorthodox Business Plan
Two months into the life of the Nintendo Switch and we’re all still humming the same critical tune. “Where are the games on this thing? “Where’s the Virtual Console?” “Where’s the AAA support?” Lovers and critics alike have been chastising Nintendo’s newest console for these reasons since it was revealed in January, yet despite these concerns, the Nintendo Switch is still wildly successful. How can a console with a handful of games, no Virtual Console and no (current) AAA support do something so unprecedented? It begins and ends with Nintendo’s ingenious shift in focus toward independent, retro/semi-retro and first-party AAA games.
It begins and ends with Nintendo’s ingenious shift in focus toward independent, retro/semi-retro and first-party AAA games.
It’s no secret that the Nintendo Switch’s eShop is extremely shallow at the moment. Forty-three games, ten of which are Neo-Geo ports, isn’t exactly attractive. But keeping the eShop light might be one of the smartest things Nintendo has ever done. Think about this for a second. March 3rd rolls around and you pick up your brand new Nintendo Switch. Naturally, all you’ll want to do for the foreseeable future is fiddle with your new toy. So you comb through the Settings, browse the News, play some Zelda…and that’s it. There’s nothing left to do…wrong. The eShop has been patiently waiting. It’s unassuming, but it’s been waiting. In fact, it’s a little bit like that fridge in the garage you check from time to time in case something tasty decides to magically appear, only in this fridge, things do appear. They’re called indie games, and they’re absolutely fantastic. Little Inferno, Snake Pass, Shovel Knight, Binding of Isaac, quality titles in quite possibly the most convenient, portable form they could ever take, focalized just like art in a museum. With nothing else to look at, you’re almost forced to check them out, a reality most beneficial for those gamers who’ve never partaken in indie gaming.
The absence of a Virtual Console on the Switch, however, is a bit unnerving. But again, it was meticulously planned. Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Donkey Kong, every one of these franchises has produced a number of excellent games in the past and the Nintendo Switch will be the place to play them all. But Nintendo is in no rush to get these games out to its fans. After all, why would Nintendo flood the market with decades worth of retro titles when it could just as easily allow players to explore its growing library of indie games? With years of this console’s life ahead of it, it would be self-defeating to introduce too much too early, especially given the stellar first party titles Nintendo has lurking around the corner.
Especially given the stellar first party titles Nintendo has lurking around the corner.
The current lack of AAA games and studio commitment to the Switch is a bit alarming as well, but in the end, it doesn’t even matter (I hate myself for this one). The last time Nintendo went all in on third-party AAA support was with the Gamecube, its second worst selling console ever. The reality is that Nintendo consoles have supplemented more technically capable consoles for nearly 15 years now and there’s really no point in trying to pry gamers away from them. Nintendo does have an opportunity, however, to give new life to more recent retro, or semi-retro, AAA games. The trend of reboots, remasters and ports isn’t slowing down anytime soon, and who wouldn’t want to play their favorite 2000s era games on a hybrid console like the Switch? Think about the loads of children who grew up playing 3DS games who’ve never played games like Bioshock and Far Cry. What about the adults who missed out? Once third-party AAA developers catch wind of this untapped market (Bethesda seems to have caught on), they’ll be dying to give their older games a second life on the Switch.
Which brings us back to the same little tune we were humming earlier. The Nintendo Switch is a $300 portable, home console hybrid that is 1.5x more powerful than a PS3 and perfectly capable of playing the most demanding indie, retro, semi-retro and Nintendo first-party titles…but it doesn’t have any of that right now. And that’s okay. You want to know why? Because it’s all part of the plan. In the meantime, I’m going to go check the fridge. Something tells me I’ll like what’s for dinner.
Header Image Source: Polygon