Nin­tendo

Austin American-Statesman - - MONEY & MARKETS -

are sat­is­fied with play­ing on a smart­phone and would never have dreamed of buy­ing a $300 game ma­chine.

And in try­ing to ap­peal to many au­di­ences, Nin­tendo risks not be­ing the best at serv­ing any one.

Three lives

The Switch is like three ma­chines in one. Wire­less con­trollers at­tach to a game tablet for hand-held gam­ing. Take the tablet to a gath­er­ing with friends, and you can rest it on a ta­ble with a kick­stand and de­tach the con­trollers for use as stand-alone de­vices. Back home, slide the tablet into a dock­ing sta­tion and snap the con­trollers into a grip ac­ces­sory and you have a tra­di­tional game con­sole at­tached to a TV. With each switch, you can pick up where you left off.

“Know­ing I could get the ‘Zelda’ game both at home and on the road, at this stage in my life that’s es­sen­tial,” said Hussey, a sales rep from Bloom­ing­ton, In­di­ana. “I can’t sit around at home and play a 70-hour game, but if I’m on air­planes or ho­tels, it’s per­fect for me.”

The new “Zelda” game is the big­gest avail­able at launch, though Nin­tendo is also pushing a col­lec­tion of ca­sual party games called “1-2-Switch.” Nin­tendo says more than 80 ti­tles are in de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing “Su­per Mario Odyssey” and the ac­tion-puzzle game “Snip­per­clips: Cut it Out, To­gether.”

Game over ... try again

Nin­tendo’s Wii in 2006 in­tro­duced mo­tion con­trol to gam­ing and was a mas­sive suc­cess, forc­ing Mi­crosoft and Sony to re­spond with their own mo­tion con­trols. But the Wii’s suc­ces­sor in 2012, the Wii U, proved dis­ap­point­ing. Peo­ple thought it was too ex­pen­sive at $300, es­pe­cially when it had few must-have games.

Since then, the Ja­panese video game maker has faced other hic­cups. Its NES Clas­sic retro mod­ule was a “hot” hol­i­day gift, but was dif­fi­cult to find dur­ing the hol­i­days. It fared bet­ter with the mon­ster-chas­ing “Poke­mon Go” sen­sa­tion on phones, but that wasn’t de­vel­oped in-house. The iPhone game “Su­per Mario Run” gar­nered buzz, but some balked at the $10 price.

The Switch rep­re­sents a new hope. Nin­tendo is fore­cast­ing sales of 2 mil­lion units in the first month. IDC an­a­lyst Lewis Ward es­ti­mates Nin­tendo will ship 8 mil­lion within a year — bet­ter than the Wii U, though not as much as the Wii.

Mul­ti­player

With the Switch, Nin­tendo is hop­ing “to reach gamers, fam­i­lies and we even hope to reach peo­ple who haven’t played video games be­fore,” Nin­tendo man­ag­ing ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Shinya Taka­hashi said. “Re­ally the goal with the Nin­tendo Switch is to reach as broad an au­di­ence as pos­si­ble.”

Part of that in­volves chang­ing the na­ture of game play. Nin­tendo de­vel­oped the mini-games in “1-2-Switch” so play­ers look at their op­po­nents — not screens — as they draw guns or milk cows.

Nin­tendo Switch de­vel­oper Yoshi­aki Koizumi said he wanted the game to re­flect Nin­tendo’s roots as a play­ing card com­pany in the 1880s. Nin­tendo wants to bring peo­ple to­gether, and “one of the best ways to do that is giving them the op­por­tu­nity to be able to see each other’s ex­pres­sion,” much like when you’re play­ing cards, he said.

An­drew Ma­her, a cook in Columbia, Mis­souri, looks for­ward to play­ing with his girl­friend, some­thing they couldn’t do to­gether on phones. He said the Switch “seems like a fun group ex­pe­ri­ence.”

But Nin­tendo doesn’t want to give up on tra­di­tional gamers ei­ther — thus the dock­ing sta­tion for play­ing on the big screen.

Press start

The be-all ap­proach comes with com­pro­mises. As a game con­sole, the Switch doesn’t have the range of games avail­able on Sony’s PlayS­ta­tion 4 and Mi­crosoft’s Xbox One.

As a tablet, it lacks tra­di­tional fea­tures such as a web browser and stream­ing video apps like Net­flix (even ri­val game con­soles have these).

Euromon­i­tor an­a­lyst Matthew Hu­dak said Nin­tendo needs a way to be dif­fer­ent from ri­vals, and “the smartest play for them is to try to be this all-pur­pose con­sole for so­cial, ca­sual or ded­i­cated needs.”

But if Nin­tendo fails to per­suade ca­sual gamers to spend $300 on some­thing that does less than their phones, the Switch could wind up on the trash heap like the Wii U.

“For the av­er­age con­sumer seek­ing a new con­sole, they want to be able to spend the least money, be able to keep up with all the big­gest re­leases and play the same games as their friends, none of which they can cur­rently do with Nin­tendo Switch,” said Joshua Clay, a video game pro­gram­mer in Derby, U.K., who doesn’t plan to switch from his PlayS­ta­tion 4.

IDC’s Ward is more op­ti­mistic. While hard­core gamers might stick with the Xbox One or PlayS­ta­tion 4 be­cause they’re more pow­er­ful and sup­port more mul­ti­player on­line games, he said the Switch’s porta­bil­ity and easy-to-use con­trollers will ap­peal to first-time gamers.

“I’m pre­dict­ing Nin­tendo is go­ing to be viewed in ret­ro­spect at the end of the year as ‘Back in the game,’ ” he said.

DREW ANGERER / GETTY IM­AGES

Nin­tendo’s Switch game con­sole is dis­played Fri­day at a pop-up Nin­tendo venue in New York City. Nin­tendo’s “1-2-Switch” mini-games let play­ers look at op­po­nents, not screens, while they play.

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