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Nintendo promises ‘smooth transition’ to next console with Nintendo Accounts

But what does it mean?

Bright colorful illustration of Nintendo logo Illustration: Inkee Wang for Polygon
Oli Welsh is senior editor, U.K., providing news, analysis, and criticism of film, TV, and games. He has been covering the business & culture of video games for two decades.

Speaking to investors at a recently published open question-and-answer session, Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa made one of his rare comments about Nintendo’s next console. Asked if the company had any specific measures in mind for the transition to next-generation consoles, Furukawa brought up Nintendo Accounts.

As translated by Twitter user Genki, Furukawa said: “As for the transition from Nintendo Switch to the next generation machine, we want to do as much as possible in order to smoothly transition our customers, while utilizing the Nintendo Account.”

This seems like a pretty innocuous and obvious statement, but for Nintendo, it’s significant. Nintendo Accounts were soft-launched in 2016, and weren’t tied into a Nintendo hardware platform until the release of Switch the following year. So the transition from Switch to its successor will, incredibly, be the first time Nintendo’s users will be able to carry their account from one console to the next. Wii and Wii U owners will remember Nintendo’s rudimentary Nintendo Network ID system, and the pain of trying to carry this identity across consoles.

In further comments, Furukawa noted that Nintendo had previously needed to rebuild the relationship with its customers with every hardware transition. In contrast, he said there are now over 290 million Nintendo Accounts — both from Switch users, and players of Nintendo’s mobile games — through which the company could connect with its users.

Furukawa was surely pointing out to investors that Nintendo Accounts will make for a much lower-risk transition to a new console for Nintendo, leveraging Switch’s enormous popularity — as well as a hopefully more seamless experience for its fans. The importance of building a connection with users that extends beyond the hardware itself was recently underlined by Xbox boss Phil Spencer, when he lamented to Kinda Funny Games that “we lost the worst generation to lose in the Xbox One generation, where everybody built their digital library of games.”

It’s tempting to infer from Furukawa’s comments that Nintendo will allow users to carry their digital libraries of Switch games with them onto a backwards-compatible successor, perhaps of similar design to its wildly successful hybrid handheld. But there’s no guarantee of that. After all, for example, PlayStation Network accounts persisting from PlayStation 3 to PlayStation 4 sadly didn’t make PS3 games playable on the later machine.

Nor did Furukawa didn’t sound in a particular hurry to release Switch’s successor, noting that the strength of Switch’s hardware and software sales in its seventh year beat those of any previous Nintendo console. “We consider that we have entered uncharted territory,” he said. The clock may be ticking for Switch, but Nintendo seems prepared to wait to replace it until the very last minute.

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