Nintendo has already announced the basic functionality of its next game system, the Switch: It’s a tablet-style machine that plays games portably, but can also dock to your television set and play its games on the big screen as well. But that’s all we know so far, since Nintendo’s unveil video last October deliberately left a lot up in the air. Tonight, Nintendo will be taking the wraps off everything else in a livestreamed video presentation from Tokyo–which includes, we can only assume, going into detail about Switch’s features. It’s about time, too; Switch is launching in March.
So far, Nintendo’s done everything right with its rollout. The unveiling video was a big hit, and fans are excited about the fact that they’ll now have a single Nintendo system that plays all its games, anywhere they want. Switch showed up (alongside Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto) on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, to rapturous applause. All according to plan. Tonight’s presentation is where Nintendo can either seal the deal or–if its announcements aren’t what folks are hoping for–give itself an uphill battle this spring.
Here are the biggest questions that still linger about Switch, and what we’re hoping to hear tonight.
Forgive us for being crude here, but is there any question more important? If Switch costs $300 like an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4, it could be dead in the water before it even has a chance. At $250 it could go either way–that price point proved way too high for Nintendo’s 3DS, but it was just fine for the Wii. $200 would probably seem like a steal, if Nintendo could pull it off. What’s packed in the box could also affect the perception of that price point (does it come with a game?), but in the end the number on the box is what matters.
What else can this thing do?
It wouldn’t make sense for Nintendo to release a tablet-form machine without a touchscreen, but it didn’t show anyone touching a Switch screen in the original video. And Nintendo’s been all about motion controls for a decade now, but it didn’t show anybody swinging the detachable JoyCon controllers like a tennis racket or anything like that. Our prediction? All of the above: capacitive touchscreen on the tablet, gyros in the JoyCons. They’re cheap to add and create opportunities for Nintendo to continue its touch- and motion-based game franchises uninterrupted.
There’s another form-based question we still don’t know the answer to, though. Switch looks like a tablet–but is it meant to compete with them? Will it play Netflix on the go? What about basic apps like Twitter and YouTube? Will it have a camera? Read ebooks? It wouldn’t be very difficult to make Switch do all these things; the question is, would Nintendo want to muddy the message by making it appear to the market that it’s attempting to compete with iPad? Or will the pitch simply be “your games on the go,” with Switch limited to gaming? We could see it going either way.
How will it handle user accounts?
If you’ve spent much time playing Nintendo hardware over the last few years, you know how archaic its user account system is. Accounts are tied to a single piece of hardware; you can’t log in to your account on multiple systems; if your console gets stolen or broken, you have to call Nintendo’s customer service and ask them to help you migrate it to a new machine (and hope that they allow you to). Digital games can only be played on one machine, so if you have three kids and three 3DS systems, have fun buying three copies of everything.
Will Nintendo finally get with the times and embrace a more customer-friendly account system? Or will it dig in its heels on its locked-down approach to DRM? The answer may lead us to some broader insights on whether Nintendo is truly evolving with the times, or still mired in its own conservatism.
Is it gonna have… you know… games?
Well, yeah, obviously it’ll have some games, like Zelda: Breath of the Wild (and we’ll likely find out tonight if that’s coming for launch day or not). But the launch lineups for Wii U and even 3DS were pretty weak tea. If Switch wants to fare better, it’s going to need to lead with a much stronger selection of games, and follow through on that with a strategic and robust release calendar from March until Christmas. The whole point of combining home and portable platforms into a single unit was so Nintendo could put all of its development efforts into one bucket. Hopefully it all pays off (without the need to announce game concepts years and years ahead of release just to keep people interested).
And what’s going to happen with third parties? Last time around, software makers put many of their bigger games on Wii U, but sales were so low that most of them gave up on that after a year or two. Since the Switch adds value to old games by making them portable–Bethesda’s Skyrim, shown in the original video, is super old, but playing it in the palms of your hands is still enticing–and since the Nvidia processor is such a well-known quantity by this point, we could see a flood of older game content added to its library very quickly, and for little development cost.
What about the old school?
For the last 10 years, Nintendo platforms have allowed you to download games that appeared on previous Nintendo systems via the “Virtual Console” service. With interest in retro games hotter than ever (witness the perpetually sold-out NES Classic), this could be a good selling point for Switch if Nintendo does it right.
That’s by no means a sure thing, though–Wii U’s approach to legacy content was ultimately a dud. It took Nintendo far too long to release the games, many major publishers of the classic era weren’t represented at all, and the games were terribly expensive in some cases for what you were getting. Will Switch be any better, or does Nintendo not care? Will it load the system up with tons of classic gaming goodness, or start all over again for the fourth time, drip-feeding games in an achingly slow manner? And if you (like the author of this piece) have invested thousands of dollars in digital content, will those licenses migrate over to Switch?
How about this: Will Nintendo keep selling games individually with Switch, or will it try some sort of Netflix-style “vault” service in which you can play classics all you want for a flat monthly fee, but own nothing? This question leads us to the next thing we’re wondering about…
Will there be a paid online service?
One of the ways that Nintendo’s competitors generate tons of cash every month is the online services Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus. Millions of fans pay Microsoft and Sony sixty bucks a year each for the privilege of playing games online. Both services even give you two free games per month–to which you lose access if you ever let your subscription lapse. It’s a great way for the platform holders to boost interest in games that are older or didn’t sell well their first time around (and have some handily monetizable DLC still kicking around), and it incentivizes players to keep paying as their collection grows.
It’s a fairly accepted practice today, with many different services that Nintendo could look to as a model. Will it attempt to establish a pay-for-play model on Switch? And if so, can it get the messaging across in a way that makes it sound like a bargain, rather than an onerous surcharge?
How many games can you cram onto this thing?
How much storage will be inside the Switch? Will it be easily expandable via flash memory? How many games can we expect to fit on a device?
You’ll be able to buy physical copies of at least some Switch games on small cards about the size of a 3DS cartridge. What capacity will these be? What percentage of games can we expect to get a physical release? Will Switch be region-free–that is, can those of us who enjoy importing Japanese games be able to play them on a U.S. system?
How does it play?
While we won’t get an answer to this during the livestream because you can’t play a livestream, WIRED will be in attendance at a Nintendo Switch hands-on event in New York City that will take place bright and early on Friday morning. We’ll be looking to see how the games look when the system is in the docked TV mode, how they look on the tablet screen, and how easy it is to switch between those two configurations.
And hopefully we’ll be able to answer all your questions before the weekend.