Nintendo can do this. Here are some tips for getting the Switch right.
Learn from Karen
Let’s start with the recent development of the Karen meme. As an October 25 Polygon article puts it, Karen refers to “the well-dressed urban chick with a cute haircut” who brings the Switch to a rooftop party in the Nintendo Switch announcement video. Nintendo clearly wants Karen to represent a spirit of local-co-op fun-loving togetherness. “Going to a party? Bring the Switch,” Nintendo seems to be saying. “Your friends will love it!”
But the internet’s all-knowing cynical hive-mind knows the real Karen. According to the meme, Karen is a shut-in who can’t leave her apartment without her new toy. The meme tells it like it is. Nobody wants to huddle around a tablet. Even Karen looks uncomfortable crouching to see the screen. Look at how the camera struggles to keep the actors in frame at the end of the sequence. The whole mood of the party has changed.
Karen represents the ideological disconnect between Nintendo’s ideas about its consumers and the actual consumers themselves. The corporate mindset sees a gathering of people waiting for the main event, the unveiling of the magnificent product. In reality, as the meme points out, the partygoers were already enjoying themselves, “drinking [and] having conversations,” long before Karen showed up with her Switch and Nintendo shoved her onto the main stage. Karen lives across the street. Realistically, she is not going to play the Switch outside with a bunch of friends.
So who will play the Switch outside with a bunch of friends? Burning Man attendees and anyone with a front yard and/or a wall. All they’ll need is a projector.
Provide a Low-Cost HD Projector Attachment
Sites like Projector People sell HD projectors geared towards gaming. Sony has already stepped into the high-end projector market. The Sony VPL-HW45ES Projector goes for about $2,000 (USD). PC developers offer gaming-focused projectors such as Acer’s Predator Z650 Gaming Projector. It’s time for Nintendo to get into the market with a cheap but reliable alternative.
Cheap alternatives to high-end projectors exist. A quick search on New Egg found TOMTOP’s feverishly titled “HD LED Projector Full HD 1080P Home Cinema Theater Projection Machine Support PC Laptop Multimedia Player HDMI VGA USB AV Port Enjoy Video Movie Game” for just $60 (USD). Nintendo should bridge the gap between low- and high-end gaming projectors.
As Nintendo proved with the WiiMote’s infrared sensor, the company can mass produce great tech for cheap. Who remembers this TEDTalk?
An ad with adults playing games on a tablet during a rooftop party is not enough. If Nintendo makes a cheap but durable alternative to the Sony VPL-HW45ES Projector and the Predator Z650 Gaming Projector, with comparable Bluetooth audio functionality, the buzz around the Switch will intensify. More young adults with expendable income will take notice.
Weatherproofing Armor for the Switch
Nintendo should advertise the Switch as a game console that can be taken anywhere and build a product that withstands the elements. Then they should go the extra mile and offer Otterbox-like protective options. People with the means already take home consoles with them when they go camping. Nintendo should make it easier for them.
Do Not Cut Corners on the Audio Functionality
High quality audio gives mass entertainment its sense of community. How many Wii owners disabled their WiiMote’s tinny internal speaker soon after purchasing the Wii? Bluetooth 4.0 compatibility is a must. A collaboration with Apple’s Beats by Dre would boost consumer confidence. Given Nintendo’s close proximity to Apple, it should be feasible.
Show Indies That They’re Third Parties, Too
Ever since the establishment of the Nintendo Seal of Quality, Nintendo has sought to set limitations for third-party developers. Nintendo’s obsession with creative control over what third-party developers can and can’t do has pushed them to absurd extremes. For instance, as reported by Geek.com in July of 2016, back in the NES days Nintendo’s rules for third-parties led Konami to publish Metal Gear, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Skate or Die and other Konami-developed NES classics using the shell company Ultra Games. In March of 2015, Engadget ran a piece called, “It’s Complicated: Nintendo’s Relationship with Indie Gaming.” It was true at the beginning, it was true then, and it’s true now.
The censorial obsession with kawaii wholesomeness has got to go if Nintendo wants to do right by indies. Presently, the Nintendo Developer’s Portal mandates not only that third-party developers sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement before getting access to SDKs but also that developers submit their games for “approval by Nintendo” to ensure that the content conforms to the brand’s content guidelines.
Nintendo needs to learn from its competitors. Xbox Live and PSN host a bevy of indie games for digital distribution. Google Play and iTunes have encouraged indies to go mobile. And then there’s Valve. Valve won indies’ hearts and made bank by reaching out through Greenlight on Steam. While Steam’s rules for content are not perfect, they’re better than Nintendo’s and more accommodating to indies. Nintendo should follow Valve’s example.
There are some good omens. Nintendo’s current and next gen hardware is Unity-compatible and the development portal is easy to use. The Pokemon Go-inspired deal with Apple bodes well.
Many present-day indie devs grew up playing NES games. Most of them are not asking for Nintendo Seals on Huniepop and Hatred. They’re just asking for the relative creative freedom that Nintendo’s competitors allow.
Lose the NDA, relax content requirements, and more indies will decide to do business.
Perfect Controller Pairing Prior to Launch
Nintendo has a record of easily paired wireless controllers. Tablets do not. Bluetooth controllers can be spotty, subject to inference. Consumers need to know that there are no hiccups in the wireless connection. I’m pretty confident that Nintendo will get this much right.
#BatteryLivesMatter and So Do External Power Sources
What sort of battery will the Switch have? I’m not the first to ask this question. Kotaku has asked this question. Forbes Magazine has asked this question. I won’t belabor the point. Whatever the battery life, it won’t be “enough” for marathon gamers.
Nintendo should make the Switch compatible with the micro-USB external batteries gamers own. Most gamers own mobile devices and many owners of mobile devices also own micro-USB external batteries like this one by RavPower, available on Amazon.
Include a Hard Drive, Offer External Hard Drives
With the Switch’s official technical specs as yet unannounced, the question remains. What sort of hard drive will it have?
Nintendo cut costs with the Wii U’s 32 GB hard drive. It can’t afford to make the same mistake with the Switch. I’m not saying it needs a 10 TB SSD. Just something capable of storing digital games, preferably more than three at a time. At minimum, 500 GB built-in should do the trick, with external 1 and 2 TB add-ons available separately.
Don’t Release SwitchPro / SwitchDeluxe / SwitchTurbo / Switch U / Switch Scorpio Six Months Later
Put simply, the Switch’s reality needs to match the NX’s hype. Consumers remember tech promises that go unfulfilled. We said we wanted a Revolution and we got a Wii. So when the Wii U came around and actually delivered on the Revolution’s hype, almost nobody bought it.
Custom-built for the Switch, Nvidia’s Tegra processor has gamers cautiously optimistic. Nvidia is the company who made the PS3’s processor and famously “walked out” of negotiations to make the PS4, presumably because the profit margins were not to Nvidia’s liking. Nvidia must be confident in the Nintendo brand. That’s encouraging.
Nvidia’s latest GPUs for the PC are some of the strongest on the market. That said, can you notice a difference between the GTX 1080 and the GTX 1050? I can’t. Furthermore, in the past, Nvidia’s architecture was all over the place in terms of quality. Virtually any entry in the GTX 700 Series is indistinguishable from the phenomenal GTX 650 at sensible resolutions. Like Nintendo’s own brand, Nvidia’s brand is both relatively reliable and somewhat marred by a feeling of cut corners, half-fulfilled promises, and an overindulgence in planned obsolescence. We can’t know anything for sure about the Tegra processor until we see the numbers.
Fairly or unfairly, upgraded re-releases of current gen consoles make the consumer who pre-ordered the original wonder if he has been duped. No company wants its brand to be associated with planned obsolescence. Nintendo should use Sony and Microsoft’s forthcoming 2.0 versions of their current gen consoles as examples of what not to do. Aside from manic fanboys, was anybody who bought a PS4 excited to learn about the PS4 Pro? How many people who shelled out hard-earned cash for an Xbox One will line up to spend just as much money on the Xbox One Scorpio?
Nintendo needs to run serious QA before putting the Switch on the market.
Get it right the first time, Nintendo. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver. Gamers will thank you for it.