The Switch is a transformative product in Nintendo’s history. The hybrid console straddles the divide between domestic and portable gaming, giving players the best of both worlds – but it also marks a significant change from tradition; prior to its release, Nintendo adopted a twin-system strategy where home consoles would be sold alongside dedicated portables, like the Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, DS and 3DS.
Some would argue that this shift has been a long time coming; the recently-discontinued 3DS has sold 75.9 million units worldwide – hardly a failure, but a fact which makes it the weakest-performing dedicated handheld that Nintendo has ever released, lagging behind the likes of the Game Boy / Game Boy Color (118 million), Game Boy Advance (81.5 million) and the Nintendo DS (154.02 million). The arrival of devices like smartphones and tablets has certainly changed how people play games on the move, and the Switch has proven to be the ideal solution to this change – from Nintendo’s perspective, at least.
However, with the Switch now over three years old, questions are naturally being asked about what form Nintendo’s next system will take. Some believe that the company has wised up to the fact that the Switch can enjoy a prolonged lifespan, and could even potentially become the company’s version of the iPhone or iPad – a perpetually evolving platform which enjoys regular hardware upgrades and grants users access to their entire library of games.
If that does come to pass, then the question of what shape Nintendo’s next console will take becomes less pressing – but it’s tempting to ask if the company will ever return to the world of dedicated portable consoles ever again, a market which previously gave it so much success.
For Perrin Kaplan – who spent 16 years at Nintendo of America as head of marketing – the answer is yes, and she feels that the existence of the Switch Lite – a version of the Switch which removes on-TV play – proves this.
Speaking to Gamesindustry.biz, she says:
There is a market for millions who love a standalone games portable system. I’m one of those millions for sure. So, never say never.
Ubisoft’s Shara Hashemi is in agreement, and feels that there will always be a place in the market for portable devices:
As a mother to a seven-year-old, I am always reticent to give my iPhone to my daughter. I would much rather have her play on a handheld with selected games tailored to her.
Mat Piscatella, executive director for games at data firm NPD, agrees that portability is important, but feels flexibility is a more vital selling point for any future console Nintendo releases:
The tech is at a place where separating a portable is no longer necessary to have a market viable product. Today’s video game consumers seem to be preferring flexibility with content engagement, so I’d expect other solutions to be preferable to a dedicated portable platform. But things change.
Jo Bartlett, former Nintendo UK head of communications and partnerships, feels that Nintendo’s unpredictable nature means it’s hard to say if the firm will drop back into the world of handheld gaming with a system that can only be played in portable form:
Part of the magic of Nintendo is never being able to predict what it’s going to do next, or how it will capture the imagination of gamers, so who knows what it’s got up its sleeve?
As things stand now, the chances of Nintendo turning its back on the Switch concept seem unlikely – the console is serving a niche than neither Microsoft nor Sony are interested in challenging – but there are other ways in which Nintendo could create an affordable, robust portable in the same vein as the Game Boy or DS.
We’ve already seen the firm embrace its past with the likes of the NES and SNES Classic Editions – a Game Boy Classic has been in demand for quite some time, and – if paired with a digital store – could give parents a low-cost means of keeping their youngsters entertained.
Would you like to see Nintendo create another dedicated handheld system beyond the Switch? Let us know with a comment.