We’re just 48 hours away from the launch of Switch. Many outlets have received Switch units for preview and review purposes and reports are flying all around the internet about things that the system does, things it doesn’t do, and things that don’t feel finished. Reports of de-syncing Joy-con controllers. Reports that there will be no Virtual Console at the launch of the system and so much more. Many people around the world are expressing the idea that the system feels rushed to launch and it’s not ready for primetime. Here’s the thing that I think Nintendo won’t admit, but I believe is true. This system has not been rushed to market. It’s still in beta, and we’re the beta testers.
You see, early adopters, the people who buy new products the day they come available on the market, they’re the ones that are going to be the most vocal about a new product. They’re the ones that are willing to stand in line for hours waiting for just the chance to purchase a new product. They’re the ones who buy products almost on faith that it’s going to be good. They buy extra things that go with that product to help test it out. They’re going to be the ones to give you the most honest opinion about exactly what they think of a product so they’re the best, most honest test market. They’ve got the most to lose, so to speak, if a product isn’t very good. However, they’re also the best market to tell you what works and what doesn’t about a product.
I think that’s why Nintendo is launching Switch now. See, there are so many things about the system that still won’t be available at launch. There are things that we know are coming down the road. For example, the online infrastructure for the system. It will be there, up and running on day one, but in a limited form. You’ll be able to test out the eShop and buy new games from there. You’ll be able to play the one game that will have online functionality out of the box, Super Bomberman R. That game has a somewhat limited audience and it will be a good way to ease players online and playing against each other. It’s a good start to test out just how reliable the online networking is for the system. To begin with online play for Switch will be free, but that will change later this year when you’ll have to pay $20 to access online play and other functionality for Switch.
Having it available for free at the start with a title that fewer people are interested in allows Nintendo to test the waters and make sure everything is up and running smoothly. They can make sure everything is working as it should. Next month Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is scheduled to drop and that will be an even bigger test. I think when that game actually launches will tell you how comfortable Nintendo is with a large number of players coming online. You see Mario Kart is a hugely popular franchise and many people love to play it online. You’ll have an influx of players who buy that game when it launches. If it launches as expected in April then you’ll know Nintendo is comfortable with how things are going in respect to their servers and stability. If the game gets delayed then you’ll know things aren’t going as well as they’d hoped and they’re going to need more time to get everything working properly. That will be the first litmus test. If, once that game releases, everything goes well and Nintendo is comfortable with the surge in players you’ll see more and more games take advantage of online play and Nintendo will roll out their fees for online play when expected.
Nintendo wants Switch to be a gaming first machine. It’s not going to launch with things like Hulu, Netflix, or even a web browser. Many people decry that as a failing, however, many others just want a system that’s not bogged with all that other stuff. We all have numerous devices in this day and age that can stream Hulu, Netflix, or Youtube. Be honest with yourself how many of you have ever chosen to watch Netflix on your 3DS over your phone, tablet or on your TV? The answer to that is probably a very few. “Well, what about the people that want all that stuff in one device?” Well, we’ve had all that stuff on the 3DS and it’s a far inferior experience to watching it on your phone. When it’s connected to the TV there’s a really good chance you already have at least one, if not more devices connected to it that can do the same thing. Nintendo appears to want to put the focus solely back on games, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. However, I think if enough people continue to express the idea that they want those services on the Switch then Nintendo will make it happen. We’re all going to be far to busy playing Breath of the Wild or 1,2 Switch on launch day to have time to stream a season of Girl Meets World anyway.
There are things that are definitely an issue. The signal loss (not desyncing) of the Joy-con controllers is worrisome. Is this as wide spread an issue as many people are saying? We won’t know until there are units in the real world using real world conditions. I think the issue never popped up during early previews because you were always within just a couple feet of the system and not sitting on a couch 7-10 feet away from the TV. Will it be a huge problem? We won’t know for a while. If it is you can be sure that Nintendo will be putting out a fix as soon as they can. Hopefully that can come with an update, but it could require a recall or some other program that would be very costly for Nintendo. Testing shows that the Joy-cons use a low powered blue tooth signal. If that can be boosted through a software update that would be much more beneficial to Nintendo, but it would come at a cost of lost battery power. The people who are getting the system on launch day will be able to give Nintendo a much wider data set to know just exactly what is the problem and what needs to be done to fix it.
The 3DS suffered from a poor launch. It didn’t launch with all the features it would have. There was no eShop on Day 1. It was launched at a price that many people felt was too high. A few months into its life Nintendo dropped the price significantly and compensated people who bought the system early, even though they didn’t have to. It took a while for people to fully embrace the system and it was constantly updated with new features and made improvements along the way. It came to be one of the most beloved systems by many people thanks in no small part to its library of games. The thing that will ultimately be the most important thing for Switch. If it has a great library of games throughout its lifetime it will be a success. The 3DS shows that a slow start can be overcome. It’s not always going to work, as Nintendo found out with the Wii U, but it can be done. I hope Nintendo makes the right moves again should Switch get off to a slow start.
The real “launch” of the Switch is the Holiday season. This is a soft launch of the system to allow them to test out much of the system’s functionality and get feedback from the people who are going to champion you the loudest or tell you that the Switch is the worst thing ever. Rolling it out now with limited features and functionality doesn’t hurt because the die-hard Nintendo fans in the world know that it’s only going to get better with time. Let’s face it, we live in a world where nothing launches in a final state anymore. Gone are the days when a system rolled onto shelves with everything it would ever have. Day 1 patches are the norm now. We don’t like it. We still gripe about it, but we’ve come to expect it. Nintendo is no different than any other gaming company out there. Slowly rolling out the features of Switch now gives them the best chance to make sure the system is the best it can be when the real buying season starts. When parents are looking for presents to go under the tree that’s when things are really going to matter the most. Nintendo knows that. We know that. We pay to get in early and we become the best guinea pigs the company could ask for.