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Nintendo’s optimistic about winning third parties over to Switch

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With the tech in place, the company plans to avoid what sunk the Wii U

Nintendo Switch hardware Nintendo

Nintendo has a history of struggling to attract AAA developers to its platforms. But on a recent call with investors, the company assured them that the Switch will be more successful with third parties than its predecessors.

A major reason for that, according to Nintendo executives, is the Switch’s compatibility with Unity and Unreal, two of the most commonly used game engines.

“Since the start of Nintendo Switch development we have been aiming to realize an environment in which a variety of different third-party developers are able to easily develop compatible software, such as by making it compatible with Unreal and Unity as well as our own development tools,” explained managing executive officer Shinya Takahashi during the call.

Nintendo has previously talked about how the Switch will work with these engines, but what’s notable here is that the company acknowledged its past preference for its own internal tools. That was perhaps to Nintendo’s detriment, as seen by the dearth of third-party software for the Wii U. But going forward, the company sounds committed to sharing its knowledge with outside partners.

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said as much in an interview with Polygon last month.

“We’ve invested a lot of our time with our developer support group to really share the technology, share the information earlier in order to get that support,” he said.

The company is also making other internal changes, including combining its separate home console and handheld development teams into one.

“We have taken the software development teams for home console systems and for handheld systems, which used to be two different departments, and integrated them into one, and this has been very beneficial as they are now developing software as a team in the same environment,” veteran game designer Shigeru Miyamoto said.

As the Switch works as both a home console and a portable one — albeit with its home console setup seemingly being the priority — this combination makes sense. (It’s also interesting to consider in concert with Nintendo’s insistence that the portable 3DS is still a focus for the company.)

The streamlined development department has more third-party benefits, too, as Miyamoto went on to explain. Porting a PC game to the Switch should take “less than a year,” he said, which is a boon for internal and external teams wanting to work with the console. That’s in part due to the hardware’s use of Nvidia technology, which is commonly used by high-performance PCs and tablets. (The Switch uses a custom Nvidia Tegra-based chip, as we’ve previously detailed.)

The PC-style architecture is a marked change from the Wii U, which used a PowerPC processor compared to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4’s more PC-like x86 processors.

As Engadget explained back in 2013, “Bringing consoles closer to the common PC puts developers in a familiar environment, giving them an edge in multiplatform development. Porting a game between PC and consoles just became that much easier. The natural consequence, however, is that bringing that same software to the Wii U is that much harder.”

Technology fellow Genyo Takeda acknowledged the PC’s powerhouse status in Western territories, indicating Nintendo’s interest in appealing to those markets alongside its native Japanese one. Not only does the Switch use more modern processors, but Nintendo is prioritizing mimicking a PC-like experience with the console, Takeda explained.

“The term ‘crossover’ is sometimes used to describe the unprecedented value that is realized when merging two different attractive things (such as, in this case, high performance and low power consumption, and playing both indoors and outdoors),” he said, regarding the Switch’s use of the Nvidia chip. “I feel that Nintendo Switch is a new and unique crossover in its achievement of high performance, comparable to that of PC, both in front of your TV set and in your hands.”

While it remains to be seen how the Switch fares with third-party studios — although more than 70 have signed on to publish games for the system — Nintendo sounds adamant about making it not just more accessible to outside parties, but more on par with competitors.

“In the end, developer needs are pretty easy,” Fils-Aime told Polygon. “They want great tools. We’re delivering that. They want a large and diverse install base. That’s what we’re committed to delivering. They want a robust online environment. We’re working to deliver that.”