Hypothesis: Nintendo Switch is a social play

Serious gamers have a PS4 or an Xbox One.

But what about gaming for everyone else?

In 2006, Nintendo released the original Wii. When designing it

CEO Satoru Iwata and legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, zeroed in on two troubling trends: As young consumers started careers and families, they gradually cut back on game time. And as consoles became more powerful, making games for them got more expensive.

That focus on busy families paid off. As of June 30, 2016, Nintendo has sold 101.63 million units.

The gaming landscape has changed since then.

Now, most casual gaming happens on mobile. What's missing is the real-world social gaming that folks enjoyed around a console. They install a game on their phone and play it by themselves.

Games like Pokemon GO proved that folks are hungry for something else. They're tired of staring at their phones, alone, in their bedroom. Human beings are social creatures. For many, the attraction of Pokemon GO was getting outside and meeting other players.

Pokemon GO players making plans to hang out

Nintendo's new bet: mobile social gaming

Nintendo Switch is the Japanese company's new console. It's portable, with two detachable controllers. When detached, these controllers can be used by two players. In the first teaser video for the Switch, social gaming is featured prominently:

A few select scenes:

  • A woman is playing the Switch alone at an airport and is joined by a man with his own Switch (0:58).
  • Two friends play Mario Kart together, while on a road trip in a VW van (1:38)
  • After a game of pick-up basketball, four friends go head-to-head playing an NBA game (1:58)
  • A woman is playing the Switch alone in her apartment when her friends call her from outside. She joins the party (Switch in hand) and starts playing the game with a friend. (2:13)
  • The last scene features teams of professional gamers playing in front of an arena of fans (2:41)

What's Nintendo doing here?

As with the original Wii, Nintendo is trying to identify a gap in the current gaming behavior. We're all heads down in our phones. On consoles, we might play games with other people remotely (like in Overwatch), but we're missing that in-person "meat-space" experience.

With the Switch, Nintendo is trying to bring in-person social gaming to a mobile device.

When I was a teenager, I went on a big tour bus with a bunch of friends. We had brought six Nintendo DS portable systems. You could network them together and play Mario Kart together. That experience, of being in a bus (without WiFi) and racing against each other was magical.

If Nintendo can re-create that experience with the Switch, they might have another winner on their hands.

Published on October 20th, 2016
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