Being a Nintendo Fan is Hazardous to my Health (Opinion)

In October 2016, Nintendo shattered my expectations with a pixel perfect reveal of the Switch. Snappy, memorable, and concise. Could it be? Had Nintendo finally learned how to market a new product in a compelling way?

Well, the marketing company they hired did. But back at Nintendo headquarters, the messaging surrounding the Switch is proving to be a bit of a mess. And while many fans are eating it up, I’m having a bit of a gaming identity crisis.

Let’s first acknowledge the most important factor here: nobody needs videogames. I admit it; this is the epitome of first-world problems. But I live in a first world and the Nintendo Switch is causing me some distress. Perhaps you’re in the same boat.

Hype can be as powerful as nostalgia. And in Nintendo’s case, the two go hand-in-hand.

New consoles are inherently exciting. Remember Ouya? It’s hard to believe but folks were pretty pumped about that little box of nothing. Excited enough to crowdfund it to the tune of $8.5 million! So I get it. Hype can be as powerful as nostalgia. And in Nintendo’s case, the two go hand-in-hand.

That’s how we ended up approaching January 12 with such fervor. The anticipation that Nintendo will finally show us how they’ve moved on from their Wii U misfortunes. We all gave eachother a knowing nod, had a laugh, and looked forwawrd to the real deal.

My reactions to the Switch Press Conference that day are well documented. Like many of you, I started up in the clouds. But my emotions quickly fell into free fall as 1-2 Switch, Arms, and Project Octodad Travellers Cheques (or whatever the heck it’s called) punctured pumpkin-sized holes in my sails. Don’t get me wrong. These all look like totally fine games. I’m sure they’ll be great additions to any gaming library. But these are the first games we see?

It wasn’t a good sign.

The press conference is old news now, isn’t it? I was down but time heals all wounds. The potential of Breath of the Wild coupled with that chic industrial design of a portable console are the two MASSIVE pillars keeping my excitement above the quicksand. This cannot be understated. Zelda looks beyond incredible. And I have at least an hour per day that I can dedicate to it – 30 minutes on the bus to work, 30 minutes on the bus back home.

In this way, Nintendo has successfully differentiated its product from the other two consoles. For me, that’s the win. And it’s how Nintendo earned my pre-order. For others, I know portability isn’t a key selling point. But they haven’t thought about toilet time or that nightly couch-to-bed transition that requires a hard stop on gaming time. So yes, Nintendo has an excellent product with Zelda on Day One and a steady stream of first-party games slated for the rest of the year.

As I’m writing this, I’m asking myself “So what’s your problem?” Why the distress?”

Nintendo is the the recovering junkie that I just can’t bear to watch fall into old habits.

Perhaps I’m asking too much of Nintendo. The company that saved video games. The brand that defined my childhood (and yours). The reason that I’m even writing about this right now. Perhaps we’ve all had that realization that our father isn’t Superman. He’s just a man. He’s not infallible. And along those lines, Nintendo is just a company. Except, I already knew Nintendo’s potential for error. At this point, Nintendo is the the recovering junkie that I just can’t bear to watch fall into old habits.

By maintaining my pre-order, I feel like the enabler. I’m handing over my hard-earned cash to tell Nintendo that, no matter what it releases, I’ll be there to save its fiscal year.

I’m not worried about the 2.5-hour battery life. I’m not even worried about the 720p screen. Quite the contrary! My DualShock 4 barely lasts longer. And on such a compact screen, counting lines of resolution is a fool’s game. To me, these are reasonable trade-offs for what we’re getting. A Nintendo console on the go is an achievement we should all be excited about.

That’s basically the extent of reasonability, though. Nintendo apologists are working overtime these days. They’re trying to convince me that the launch line-up isn’t that bad. It is. There’s a new standard folks and it was set by Xbox One and PS4 back in 2013.

[PS4 and Xbox One] launched with robust multiplayer functionality and innovative features like gameplay capture.

I hear things like “Xbox One didn’t launch with backwards compatibility” or “PlayStation 4 still doesn’t have PS1 games.” These are facts. But let’s keep it all in perspective. Those consoles launched with comparatively enormous libraries and demonstrable support from third parties. They launched with robust multiplayer functionality and innovative features like gameplay capture.

Each console launch is unique. Kind of like childbirth. Some babies are born quickly while others require surgical intervention. Just look at PS4 compared to Xbox. Sony ostensibly sneezed and gave birth to the PS4 while Microsoft is still tender from the scarring.

My worry is that Nintendo is in for a similar birthing. So what are the signs?

With Sony, the messaging was never “everything will be fine, trust us.” Right out of the gate, the message was “things are fucking awesome and there’s no reason to think otherwise.” Now, PS4 (and Xbox One, of course) had shortcomings at launch. The trick is to distract fans with things like 1080p, 60fps, or Call of Duty to keep them from realizing that you still can’t change your PSN names or that you can’t attach an external hard drive to expand your storage capacity.

For every bad news story, Sony had at least one counter. And they positioned the counters as a positive BEFORE the negatives were discovered. Fans were overloaded with “PS4 is fucking awesome” that the rest didn’t matter. That’s why comparing console launches after-the-fact is futile. What matters is now.

With Nintendo Switch, I run out of super-positives relatively quickly. Zelda. Portability. Form factor.

In between the super-positives and the face-palming negatives are the question marks. And nobody likes uncertainty. What’s the deal with that paid online service? What do you mean, one month only? How will NES and SNES games have multiplayer added on? Where are the third parties? So my purchases are linked to my account but can I download “my” games to any console I log into (I’m pretty sure this is actually a “no”). Can I use a headset for voicechat and game audio? What does my online experience look like on Nintendo Switch? This one is a particularly interesting question. Apologists asert that neither Sony or Microsoft were “required” to explain this. That’s because the Xbox 360 and PS3 already showed us how. So now we’re comparing the Switch to LAST gen? That’s not a good look, guys. (And they didn’t need to at launch because there was no presedent for it at that time)

Nintendo is counting on us to save it’s fiscal year.

Today, my palm met my face in a violent manner when Nintendo announced Virtual Console will not be available at launch. This, on its own, is not a deal-breaker but again, where’s the good news story to counter this? When WILL Virtual Console launch? What about, “We know this is disappointing to fans but on <date> we’re excited to tell you all about Virtual Console on Nintendo Switch.” I erred my complaints on Twitter today and was told “neither Wii U or 3DS launched with Virtual Console.” True. But why should my expectations be stuck in the years they were released? We should be getting better at this sort of thing. Not static. Advancing to new console generations should feel like an aspirational leap forward. Not a stop and restart.

If fans really want to look at launch precedents, why not carbon copy the Wii? Remember Wii Sports? The game was bundled in AND unequivocably demonstrated the “power” of the Wii hardware. We should expect best practice to be carried forward. Not reduce our expectations to the lowest common denominator. This is the reason I’m disappointed 1-2 Switch is not a pack-in game. Nintendo apologists, and Reggie Fils-Aime tell us this allows Nintendo to keep the price down to $299 USD. It’s a first-party game! Loss of revenue is not the same as a hard cost. Lowering the internal memory from 64GB to 32GB reduces the cost to manufacture. Bundling 1-2 Swtich is not the same thing and we’ve been tricked into believing it is. Nintendo is equating Opportunity Cost with Manufacuring Cost – all the while missing the opportunity for a good news story. I’m upset about the lack of a pack-in game so tell me about Virtual Console. Tell me about the eShop. Tell me ANYTHING!

Nintendo is counting on us to save it’s fiscal year. Often, fans will conflate this with the old chicken-and-egg metaphor that third parties only support consoles with a large install base. How many PS4s of Xbox Ones were sold when Activision announced Call of Duty or Destiny? There must have been millions of consoles in the wild when EA announced FIFA, Madden, NHL, Need For Speed, Battlefield 4 – should I go on? Third parties don’t support based on actual install bases. Third parties support potential. Whether its real or perceived, it doesn’t matter.

Nintendo fans have been convinced that their support will attract third parties. Perhaps it will. The fact remains that PlayStation and Xbox fans never had to bare that burden. Nobody wants to be the first to awkwardly arrive at the party. We want to be fashionably late, when the music is bumping you can’t imagine being anywhere else.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter.

Individually, my problems with the Nintendo Switch are inconsequential. But combined, when you look at the lack of virtual console at launch, no trophy/achievement system, a shaky-at-best My Nintendo digital purchase foundation, no headset support, muddled messaging on the “dedicated phone app,” five-games-and-growing Day One launch line-up, tone-deaf accessory pricing…

These are hard-fact negatives. Plus all those questions we still have. Why am I pledging $299 USD, again?

Personally, I’ve been saving for the “NX” for 14 months because I was convinced (and so were you) it would be revealed at E3 and released in the Fall of 2016. It’s not about the money – at least not for me. For many, it’s totally about the money. But for me, it’s about making a decision. Do I continue to support a company that treats me like this? How badly do I need Zelda on the go? The answers? Probably. And pretty badly, I guess. I just saw a photo of an industry vet playing the Breath of the Wild at his desk and I must have it.

Now I’ll just go back to fridge and eat my feelings. I’m so weak.