Challenger to Watch 2019: Nintendo
For winning the console wars (for now)
There were a few weird gaming news stories that caught my eye in 2018 - people couldn’t stop punching their horses in Red Dead Redemption 2, a gamer raised $340,000 for a trans charity by playing Donkey Kong on Twitch (and AOC dropped in for a chat about trans rights), and 9 year-old Fred’s dreams came true when he got a Nintendo Switch for his birthday....
Oh, did you not hear about that last one? Maybe it was more of a sensation on the Redstone family WhatsApp group than a viral twitterstorm, but I’d wager most of you had a similar experience last year as the Switch became the must-have console in most households.
The Switch has been a phenomenal success. Released in March 2017, Nintendo sold 19 million units in 15 months, making it the fastest selling console in US history. Thanks to those blockbuster console sales, multiple hit games and launching the re-released SNES mini, the company generated $9.6Bn in revenue in 2018.
This year it has targets of 20 million units shipped for a total of $10.9 billion in revenue and $2 billion in profit. That’s a lot of happy 9-year-olds.
Switch’s appeal is perhaps that it feels like a combination of everything that we’ve loved Nintendo for in the past – the portability of the GameBoy and the DS, the communal, inter-generational play experience of the Wii, and the revamped game formats from popular character franchises like Mario and Pokemon, all creating a perfect distillation of the brand’s wholesome charm for new and old fans alike.
It’s not all nostalgia - developers like EA, Bethesda and From Software have flocked to bring plenty of new ‘AAA’ titles usually found on higher tier consoles to the Switch, and Nintendo has committed to the independent smaller guys too, making it the most popular platform for indie game developers with a constant pipeline of new games to release.
But this isn’t “Brands who did well in 2018”, this is “Challengers to watch in 2019”, so why the inclusion of Nintendo on the list? Well, sometimes it’s not about watching you rise, it might be keeping an eye on whether you fall…we all remember the dizzy heights of the Wii and then the failure of the Wii U, and that’s a lesson that Nintendo surely can’t forget.
The real test for the brand may come this year. Not only are the PS5 and Xbox2 on the way, there are rumours that both Sony and Microsoft could move away from Blu-ray and use Nintendo style cartridges to combat increasing file sizes and slow installation times, and hints that PlayStation may even go head-to-head with a 5g portable.
Will the launch of the Switch 2 be enough to keep Nintendo on top of those birthday wish-lists into 2020? Or maybe Nintendo will take themselves out of the home consoles battle entirely?
At this point we can only speculate as to the next big thing. “Technology changes. We'll continue to think flexibly about how to deliver that experience as time goes on”, Shuntaro Furukawa, Nintendo’s President told the Nintendo news website Nintendo Everything. “It has been over 30 years since we started developing consoles. Nintendo's history goes back even farther than that, and through all the struggles that they faced the only thing that they thought about was what to make next.”
So, what is Nintendo ‘making next’? I know a certain 9-and-¾ year-old who can’t wait to find out.