Back when the console was unveiled, Nintendo showcased the huge support of third-party developers when it comes to the device. It was an impressive list and certainly added to the confidence around the device. Yet in the intervening days, that initial excitement has been somewhat tempered by the steady stream of developers who’ve quietly been reserving their hands when it comes to the device. The likes of Bioware, Bethesda and Rockstar have moved to distance their big upcoming AAA titles from the Switch discussion; that’s a hugely disappointing stance and really underlines just how far Nintendo has to go in winning over developers confidence.
It seems that despite a promising lineup of developers on paper; getting publishers and developers to endorse the device with games is another thing entirely. We’ve already learned that Mass Effect Andromeda won’t be appearing on Switch anytime soon – arguably the biggest game that will be released around the March window Switch is supposed to arrive. It’s a sad development; made more disappointing when you add in that the other big announcement from last week won’t be appearing on Switch – Red Dead Redemption 2. Rockstar may surprise us yet; but given that the company hasn’t worked with Nintendo on its home consoles for a long while – I wouldn’t go expecting that to change.
It means that two of 2017’s biggest titles won’t be gracing Nintendo’s device; at a time when the console will be desperate to be seen as equal its competitors. Perhaps most bizarrely – Bethesda have gone out of their way to say that their Skyrim: Remastered isn’t officially announced for Switch – despite featuring briefly in the reveal video. It’s a confusing situation for all involved and really takes the shine off the Nintendo Switch’s initial shine. Most worrying of all for Nintendo, we’ve been here before.
Back at the advent of the Wii U’s life, third-party developers were slow in getting their wares out the gate. By the end of 2014 the initial momentum had given way to a trickle of offerings. It caused a perception that the Wii U had no momentum; and it fell to Nintendo to deliver their own offerings in an attempt to fill in the gap. The last major third-party AAA-title to hit Wii U was Watch Dogs, and we wouldn’t describe that as the embodiment of confidence from Ubisoft, who went quiet on Wii U very soon after. The problem is that without third-party support and the AAA-games this brings; the Nintendo Switch will struggle to break into the mainstream.
Nintendo’s initial answer to this appears to be front-loading the device with ports and remasters of its own library. In the initial trailer we saw games such as Mario Kart and Splatoon; which speculation suggests will be different versions of the already existing Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon games found on the Wii U. If true this is a slightly disappointing development – if only because Nintendo very rarely pushes such games as tent poles. It also means that those who purchased the Wii U and supported it through its troubled existence will spend the initial launch period playing variations of games they’ve long-since played and put down. If Nintendo wants to make Nintendo Switch feel exciting and new, it probably isn’t the best idea to stuff the launch period with ports.
The likes of Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption are huge for any games console; and by not attracting developers into porting these games to Switch – it runs the risk of making the device feel irrelevant. When gamers are choosing which console to play the latest and greatest games on – Switch could very well be a game changer in that sense. The ability to take your console with you and play games on the go is half the promise – it’s a huge part of the appeal for the device. It’s the dream of breaking out FIFA and being able to play with friends away from the TV. It’s being able to take that AAA experience on the road from you – something current mobile devices and high-end consoles can’t do.
To see this potential being squandered would be a huge own-goal by Nintendo. The idea of playing games like Grand Theft Auto V or Mass Effect on the go is the holy grail of gaming. It’s part of the reason Sony entered the portable market and why it’s Vita console was so revered when it was announced. Put simply – AAA-games help legitimize consoles and will ultimately help the Switch to differentiate itself from the high end tablet market.
In short, Nintendo needs to get more developers and publishers talking about their plans for the console in the coming months. The narrative around the console needs to be one of huge excitement, the kind of excitement that brings fans into the mix. Gamers need to see that developers and publishers are backing their initial support with games that really matter. For Nintendo, this may require more confidence building and reaching out to ensure that this occurs. It’s important that they learn from the mistakes of the Wii U and keep the system relevant.