Switch Approaches Nintendo Console Sales Record Despite Spec Challenges

Nintendo Switch continues to enjoy sales growth despite being released back in March 2017.

By Takuya Watanabe

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Nintendo Switch continues to enjoy sales growth despite being released back in March 2017. As of September 30, 2021, the game console has recorded an estimated worldwide sale of 92.87 million units, nearing lifetime sales of Nintendo’s best-selling home video game Nintendo Wii (estimated worldwide sales of 101.63 million units).

Nintendo Switch has been on the market for more than 4 years and 8 months (at the time of writing). Typically, it would be time to start seeing a takeover by a next-generation game console. However, Switch’s popularity has not declined, rather it’s quite the contrary. A series of highly anticipated games will be launched even after 2020. Four reasons can explain Switch’s extraordinary popularity.

All Too Powerful Existence of Nintendo Software

Nintendo Switch releases many games and other software developed by Nintendo. Simply put, these are strong.

Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing, Pokémon, and Smash Bros. series… Nintendo has many game series that are guaranteed hits. In addition, new titles such as the Splatoon series and Ring Fit Adventure have also been added to Nintendo’s hit lineup. It’s no wonder why consumers want Nintendo Switch.

If you want to play Nintendo Switch games, you must buy the game console (hardware). Hiroshi Yamauchi, the third president of Nintendo, once said, “Hardware is a box that people have no choice but to buy to play the software”, there is no doubt strong software equals strong hardware sales.

However, there were cases in which regardless of how attractive the games were, the hardware didn’t do well. The Mario Kart 8 released for the Wii U sold 8.46 million units, while the Nintendo Switch Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sold 38.74 million units. Wii U sold 13.56 million units, which is considerably lower than the Nintendo Switch.

The basic contents of these games are the same (the Switch version has additional elements and some mode adjustments), but the sales for the Switch version are more than four-fold that of the Wii U version. Thus, it seems that the Nintendo Switch itself is more attractive, but what exactly is so attractive? One major characteristic is its hybrid function.

Hybrid Contributed to Switch’s Mega Success

Nintendo Switch has been released as a home console (a game machine that can be played by connecting it to a TV or monitor at home), but the main body can also be used as a portable game machine. Its Nintendo Switch Lite version is a hand-held-only game machine. In other words, Switch has hybrid characteristics of a stationary device and a portable device.

Until now, in the game industry, stationary and handheld devices have been deployed on separate lines. However, improvements in the performance of game consoles enabled smaller main units to have sufficient specifications(specs), which led to the creation of consoles such as the Switch.

Hybrid characteristics have various merits. First, for the creators, it is easier to concentrate on game development. In the past, they had to develop different games for the home consoles and portable consoles.

The hybrid element has merits for the players as well. The player can concentrate in front of the TV, be on the move, or be lying down on the bed while playing Switch. If they could only play in front of the TV, it would lessen their opportunity to play. Switch is a game console that fits diverse lifestyles.

Also, because the console is portable, it is easy to take it to a friend’s house to play together. There must be many people who have bought Switch after trying their friends’ consoles.

That said, the hybrid system also means combining the sales of home and portable devices. Looking at Nintendo’s past, there was a time when both Wii (home) and Nintendo DS (portable) were hits, and there was a time when the Nintendo 3DS (portable) did well but not the Wii U (home). They worked to diversify risks. The company combined the devices to make Nintendo Switch, which meant if it wasn’t a big hit, the company was in trouble. But it must have been confident that the console was going to be attractive for the users.

With the Rise of Indie Games

Nintendo Switch seemed to play an unexpected role as a console for indie games because it made it possible to play home video games on a portable device.

Indie games, short for independent video games, are developed by people who have left major game companies, other individuals, or small groups. Although the scale is smaller, the games are attractive as individuals incorporate their tastes and beliefs into their work, which can sometimes be provocative in ways that games by major companies cannot be.

Indie games are garnering more attention not only overseas where many indie games are developed and sold but also in Japan. For example, Kodansha introduced an initiative “Game Creators Lab” which pays 10 million yen a year to individual creators so they can freely create games. The popular game Minecraft which sold 200 million copies worldwide and broke the Guinness record for game software sales, is also an indie game. It’s a market with huge potential.

Indie games are often developed for PCs, which limits the increase in the number of players. For a wider range of people to play the game, it needs to also be available on home consoles. That’s where Nintendo Switch comes along.

Nintendo Switch is a very popular game console owned by more users due to its hybrid function. People who didn’t even know the existence of indie games can come across them using the device.

It’s great for users to have more game options, while a more diverse software lineup adds value to Switch.

Software Rush Coming in 2022

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Nintendo plans to continue to sell Nintendo Switch, and experts say that the console is still in the middle stage of its lifecycle. Many games will continue to be released for Nintendo Switch in 2022.

There will be a lot of notable titles released next year including the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which sold 24.13 million copies, and Pokémon LEGENDS: Arceus, which is a new challenge under the Pokémon series.

There will be new releases from titles popular with children: Kirby Discovery of the Stars, in which Kirby will become 3D, and Splatoon 3, from the popular fighting game series.

There will be releases for Switch by other game companies as well, including Dragon Quest X Awakening Five Races Offline which allows players to play Dragon Quest’s online game alone, and 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, which has been highly rated for its intense stories and graphics, and Touken Ranbu Warriors, the anthropomorphic sword fighters game.

Through Switch, users can enjoy Nintendo hit titles, a wide variety of games by other companies, as well as indie games. Better software leads to more sales for Switch.

In 2022, Nintendo Switch sales may surpass that of Wii and may approach the Nintendo DS’s lifetime sales of 154.02 million units. The game console has momentum.

Switch Does Have Its Share of Challenges

However, there are some concerns with the game console. First, as it’s been more than 4 years and 8 months since its launch, the specs aren’t good enough for some games.

Game console specs evolve as time goes on. For example, Sony released PlayStation 4 in January 2014 and then launched its top-end version PlayStation 4 Pro in November 2016, which allowed players to enjoy a better gaming experience.

On the other hand, Nintendo has not released or even announced to release Switch’s top-end version. As newer game software demands higher specs, some Nintendo Switch versions will be ported with reduced quality.

It seems that the graphics of the popular battle royale game Apex Legend were heavily reduced for Switch and there are cases with other titles where some of the cinematics were cut off. The Nintendo Switch isn’t high-performance to begin with, and that has become more obvious over the years.

As such, many are speculating about the future of this game console, asking when a higher-end model will be released, or whether Nintendo is intentionally not releasing a different version to prevent division among users. How much more can the Nintendo Switch grow in popularity? If it succeeds further from here, it will leave a big mark in the history of video game consoles.

This article is a translation of the Japanese original published in Bunshun Online on Dec. 24, 2021.

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