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Nintendo Switch's biggest launch issue: it's not finished

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The case against buying a launch unit

Nintendo Switch press event Joy-Con controllers Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Nintendo would like you to believe that the Switch is launching later this week but — no matter how convincing their initial sales pitch may sound — the hardware that will be in stores on March 3 could more accurately be described as a beta test.

All hardware goes through some growing pains as early adoption shifts into mainstream sales, but the Nintendo Switch is wrestling with issues that go deeper than what we’re used to from new consoles or other forms of consumer electronics.

How bad is it? Nintendo may be releasing a system with controllers that don’t function properly. We’re all hoping the connectivity issues with the left Joy-Con can be fixed via the day-one patch that also adds all online support, but Nintendo has yet to admit there’s a problem, much less promise a solution.

This could be a short-term issue that patched consoles will never experience, but why not say so? The radio silence on a widely reported defect that we can only hope is the software and the not the hardware is baffling. We’re just a few days away from launch; if this is a hardware problem that can’t easily be solved with a patch, does Nintendo have a plan ready for replacing defective controllers?

The lack of solid news about how Nintendo views the Virtual Console is another area where the lack of communication undermines confidence. Some people may not care about their classic games being locked to the console on which they were purchased, while it could be a dealbreaker for others. We can’t even form an opinion about how Nintendo is handling the situation because they’re not handling the situation.

We have little to no evidence of how Nintendo will treat your Virtual Console purchases on the Switch outside of the news that no Virtual Console support will be available at launch. The idea of the Virtual Console and its structure is itself open to debate, as Wired alumnus and Nintendo expert Chris Kohler wrote in a recent post.

What Nintendo should do is simply allow publishers to release their own games in whatever configuration and price points they so choose. This is not a radical idea! This is how everything else works, so why not old games?

If Square Enix wants to sell its Final Fantasy games for twice the usual price, I may not agree with that, but let them do it. If Capcom wants to package all of its SNES games together for $19.99, let them do it.

Is Nintendo considering anything like this? We have no way to know, and we won’t even know at launch. That’s the price you pay for being part of a pilot program.

Basic questions aren’t being answered

You have a pretty good idea about what’s going to happen with your digital purchases on other platforms, even before launch, but Nintendo seems oddly resistant to the idea of giving players a clear idea of what they’re getting into when they buy Switch games online.

Nothing about this strategy, from the lack of details to the information about your IDs and accounts themselves, is easy to understand. We have no idea which purchases, if any, from previous Nintendo hardware will carry over to the Switch. It’s possible we won’t know until launch. Maybe Nintendo itself is scrambling to figure it all out.

This is important information for players who are thinking about selling or trading in their Wii U or even a Nintendo portable to help fund their Switch purchase. People want to be able to play the games they paid for, and Nintendo isn’t telling us how any of this will work, or if they’re just drawing a line in the sand and saying it won’t.

No aspect of the system’s online infrastructure will be available until players download the day-one patch, and it seems like we’re still learning what will be included in that patch and what will be released later. Hell, the for-pay online system isn’t even launching until this fall, and that’s if things are going according to plan.

Nintendo is answering even basic questions by saying it has nothing to announce, but the company’s desire to control how and when it makes those announcements is now coming across as uncertainty, not confidence.

The number of things we still don’t know about the system is staggering, and it’s more evidence that Nintendo is once again grabbing defeat from the jaws of success.

What’s launching this week isn’t a console, it’s the beta test for the eventual launch of a console ... and Nintendo is going to be feeding the final product to us beta testers drop by drop while announcing what that console will offer in close to real time.

Don’t buy one unless you’re willing to be part of that process

Or at least, don’t buy one if I can talk you out of it. If you’re a die-hard Zelda fan who doesn’t own a Wii U and wants to have an informed opinion on what the company is doing with its hardware — I’m in that position due to this job — go ahead and pick one up.

But just realize that what you’re buying isn’t the finished system, and Nintendo itself apparently doesn’t feel comfortable enough to even tell us it’s working on a fix for its controllers. This makes certain social media strategies seem, at best, poorly thought out.

There’s nothing wrong with a beta test, and both Nintendo and the fans are going to learn a lot from the process, but we’re way past the point where either side can pretend that this is an actual launch of finished hardware. If you can hold off, and that may not be that hard considering the vast majority of the available systems are already spoken for, do so.

The Nintendo Switch will likely launch at some point near the end of the year, and who even knows what that system will be capable of or what it will cost to run those features. The games will come out, and people will slowly begin to get a sense for the hardware’s strengths and weaknesses.

It’s going to be a fun process, but anyone buying the system on March 3 needs to understand that it’s a process they’re paying money for, not a finished console. And Nintendo’s last learning process that took place on this schedule was the Wii U. The Switch is starting from a much better place, but the warning signs remain.

Early adopters are used to this situation by now, but Nintendo is asking for much more faith upfront than any other company in recent memory. I don’t know what the Nintendo Switch will end up being a year from now, but I’m absolutely certain of what it won’t be next Friday: done.


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