The Pokémon Company’s chief executive has gone on the record to say he didn’t think the Nintendo Switch would be a hit, and this is a fun story going around right now because, of course, the console is setting sales records.
But is the Switch really the hit, or is it the games you can play on it that makes it successful? Remember, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has literally outsold its installation base.
The Wii U sold very well in its launch window, after all. Any hardware Nintendo makes and markets is going to be a hot item at launch, for the branding alone. I had no problem pre-ordering my PlayStation 4 or Xbox One in 2013. The Wii U? Even it had gray market listings at optimistic prices a week after it went on sale.
How long a console lasts is the real question. So the truth inside Pokémon Company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara’s observation doesn’t really concern the device.
“I came to realize the key to a successful game is quite simple: software with absolute quality leads sales of hardware,” he told Bloomberg.
Well, no kidding. If the Wii U had gotten a Legend of Zelda game sooner than, I don’t know, this year, we might have sung a different tune about it. No other game maker has three exclusive franchises, all more than 20 years old, that can each make a piece of hardware a must-have item. And Nintendo rolled out The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with the Switch’s launch in March, is bringing Super Mario Odyssey — the freaking game of E3 — next month, and is following that with Pokémon’s first core title on a console sometime within the next year or so.
“I told Nintendo that Switch wouldn’t be a success before it went on sale, because I thought that in the age of the smartphone, no one would carry out a game console,” Ishihara added.
Oh, baloney. Remember Facebook gaming, and how Zynga was coming to destroy consoles? This has been a cop-out for about a decade. I’m trying to remember the last time I played something half as interesting as Breath of the Wild on a phone. I buy a phone because I need to call my mother. I buy a games console because there’s something on it I want to enjoy. The PS Vita isn’t a dead device because people play Candy Crush Saga waiting for the airplane to take off. It’s dead because Sony itself isn’t publishing anything for it, not even MLB The Show.
Nintendo fans justifiably despise the message-board slur that the company’s platform is a graveyard for third-party publishers. But it’s still true. What it really means is that no other console is backed by the creative muscle of the ones Nintendo makes. The Wii U was a disappointment because it tried to prove its street cred with Ubisoft and Electronic Arts first, and Nintendo took forever to give gamers stalwarts like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart.
No video game hardware maker, other than Nintendo, can unilaterally make a device a record-breaking, must-have sensation. And Nintendo has, and not because the Switch is a fun thing to carry around or a conversation item to show off. It’s because the games on the Switch are already just that desirable. How someone who runs the Pokémon franchise couldn’t see that is beyond me.