— So here’s another Switch-related post. I’ll keep this around 1000 words, because I have a bigger discussion point planned in the next few days.
If there’s one undeniable fact about the Switch (now reported to be near that 15 million sales target thanks to a strong December showing), it’s that for many it came right out of the blue. With so little faith in Nintendo, many third parties and indie studios had almost written the company off… and then the Switch dropped and all bets were swiftly removed from the table. The hybrid console that is, in fact, being utilised the exact way Nintendo intended it to has been dominating headlines since its launch back on March 3rd 2017, and right now with Labo and Dark Souls landing before E3, it’s not too hard to believe that Nintendo will continue to be eating up those column inches.
However – let’s focus on one potential point here. Nintendo only showed off the Switch to wider third-party support at E3 2016; which meant that even if companies were interested in it at the time (and it turns out few were), they have had less than a year to shift focus or dedicate resources to making actual games for the Switch. Just as well Nintendo had a bevvy of first and second-party titles to pump out then.
The rapid ascent however has led to one really frustrating bugbear and it is one third parties – and Nintendo – need to get a handle on.
The problem is seen in WWE 2K18. You see it in a myriad of indie games, needing patching, most recently The Sexy Brutale whose performance on the Switch should be a lot better than it is. We saw it in the bugs of FIFA 18, and we’ve seen it in other third-party titles. Games are being pushed to the Switch – which is good, but they’re also being rushed – which is bad.
It has meant that games are being pushed with significant technical issues, or game-breaking issues that in any other period would be unforgivable. The Switch has been such a meteoric rise, such a swiftly-adopted platform, that studios are clamouring to get their games on the system in the frenzied Gold Rush that others have been proclaiming from the hills; “there be money in this here seam”, they cry. “We are selling more on Switch than any other platform combined.”
With information like that – of course companies are going to quickly jump on the bandwagon, but in their haste they’re also overestimating at times what their game – which were built for home console hardware (which the Switch isn’t) – can do on admittedly powerful but still mobile hardware. So we keep seeing games launch with a world of problems, and it takes companies weeks – if not months – to get on top of the issue, by which time much of the damage has been done. Their game has disappeared from the top of the eShop, a Google or other Web Search comes up with user complaints and headlines of performance issues and future purchasers have to sift through the debris to work out if the game has been fixed – and importantly, if they should even buy it at all.
A predictable tide of content pushes everything along; this has prevented any mid-term image problems for the Switch, because as one game launches in a world of bugs and problems – look, here’s another ten, fifteen games! It also means that studios who are careless, or don’t make sure their games function at an acceptable level, are swept back out to sea and lost in an ocean of games. This is an environment where the studios are making it exactly like Steam; there’s so little time on the front page, so you’ve got to make that first impression count and try and stick yourself in the best-sellers list.
Right now, the Switch has plenty of content so developers and publishers, it is imperative now that you heed my warning; slow down. Take your time.
If you want to be on the Switch – great. But remember it is a handheld platform – you’re dealing with a hybrid system which has its docked/undocked quirk (a great quirk but a quirk nonetheless). You have less RAM to play with – mobile RAM is quite expensive. You’re working with a hardware system where the inside board is not much bigger than a credit card. You are working with a very curious beast – it has the power and potential to deliver great things, as Breath of the Wild showcased. But it may be just a tad more unforgiving of shortcuts than other systems.
At this point, 2018 is a more open pitch; Nintendo is pushing out games, but not (currently) at such a breakneck pace. There will be opportunities to launch a game in quieter months. There is money to be made here – but if you go in with explosives and pitchforks, know how you’re going to get out and how much of that gold you can handle. Too much ambition and what you end up with is being entombed in a cave-in, yes you found gold but there’s no way back out and no-one is going to care if you’ve buried yourself alive.
Be realistic, be sensible. But most of all – be better. Nintendo’s standard is undeniably high – a year in which Nintendo easily dominated Game of the Year lists with earth-moving content like Zelda, Mario Odyssey and for me, Fire Emblem Warriors. And with Metroid, Pokémon and Bayonetta on the horizon – that standard is likely to remain very, very high. You will always be competing with Nintendo’s games. Once Virtual Console comes, you’ll also be competing with a library of games that could crush even modern games to dust.
You’re being invited into a place where there is money for the talented, the lucky and the brave. But it’s a hostile place; and there is no mercy. No second chances.
So be better. If that means a few weeks delay… remember, Breath of the Wild was initially planned for 2015.
Seemed to work out fine there, no?