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Nintendo is doing pretty well right now, sitting pretty in the Wide World of Sp-Video Games. Stocks are up, their games and consoles are selling well and the public is satisfied with their gaming experiences on Nintendo consoles.
Given their recent bumpy financial history, Nintendo may be having a talking heads moment of, “Well, how did we get here?” Thus begins the comeback story of Nintendo in 2017. Actually, we have to hop into 2016 for a bit to get some context real quick if you’ll bear with me.
There was this console called the Wii U that you probably haven’t heard of due to its multiple marketing problems upon launching in 2012 and throughout its lifetime. The brainchild of Nintendo, the Wii U was an attempt at innovation in the home console space complete with dual-screen capabilities and other features. It was a dud. It was confusing to consumers (“Is this a new Wii, just a new controller or what?”), the design wasn’t very sleek and third-parties avoided it like cows skirting an electric fence. In late 2016, the Wii U resembled an anemic, 10,000-year-old Energizer Bunny begging to be put out of its misery, but Nintendo had to keep urging it to keep going and going and …
“Surprise, we’re going to reveal our new console code-named NX in the morning, so tune in people!” Nintendo said in so many words via Twitter in October 2016. Hints at NX had been made by Nintendo for about a year prior, but this was actually the moment — it was time to see what the “big N” had up its sleeves to usurp the deadweight Wii U. A trailer was put online the next day for the Nintendo Switch. It was some fascinating, strange, hybrid thing that was not only a portable handheld console with a touchscreen, but it came with a dock that plugged into a TV to turn it into a full-blown home console. The kicker was that it looked slick, played the long-awaited new Zelda game and, if it worked as it appeared, it could be revolutionary.
Cue 2017, where in January, Nintendo gave a live presentation for the world to inform eager gamers about the Switch. The release date was set for March 3, 2017. They laid out the details: price, battery life, features, specs and of course games. “Splatoon 2,” “Xenoblade Chronicles 2,” “Skyrim,” “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” “Super Mario Odyssey” and others were all announced to be released that year.
However, the highlight for many was right at the end of the presentation, when Tatsumi Kimishima, president of Nintendo, did a classic “now for one more thing” announcement. Though we didn’t know it at the time, this announcement would end up being the initial push of the Nintendo Switch snowball that has become the juggernaut we see today. Kimishima let the video play, and it was an incredible trailer for the new Zelda game. To the roar of the crowd around the world, the trailer revealed: “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” would also be releasing March 3, 2017, making it a launch title.
The buzz was palpable. Nintendo had already shown the innovative gameplay and gorgeous visuals present in “Breath of the Wild” at E3 2016, but now we knew that it was going to be available day one on the shiny new Switch. This was a console that we could take with us anywhere we went, so the adventure didn’t have to be put on hold upon leaving the house.
The launch hype was massive. The reviews for “Breath of the Wild” indicated that Nintendo truly had something special here; nearly all major gaming publications reported a perfect score. The remarks “masterpiece” and “greatest of all time” were tossed around like confetti. Pre-orders for “Breath of the Wild” would end up exceeding the number of Switches initially sold due to high demand for both and the supply being scarcer for the console.
So, March 3 came, and Nintendo was off to the races. As reported by Ars Technica, 2.74 million Switches were sold worldwide within the first month. This was a hot item to have, and scarcity was an issue that not even Nintendo foresaw. According to The Wall Street Journal, they would end up having to double their planned production over the course of the year. It became apparent that the volatility of the system was not just a novelty, so the allure of a flexible console with a stellar game to be played was quite strong for many.
This became a common theme as the year went on. Nintendo had a potent plan to release a big first-party or AAA title about once a month in 2017, with “Breath of the Wild” in March, “Mario Kart” in April, “Minecraft” in May, and so on. Indies also found a home on Switch in droves, with excellent games such as “Thumper,” “Golf Story,” “Steamworld Dig 2” and “Stardew Valley” adding to a superb library.
Christmas and the holiday season only accelerated the Switch’s momentum. Strategically releasing “Super Mario Odyssey” in October greatly contributed to holiday demand, as both kids and adults longed to run and jump as the Italian mascot. NintendoLife reported that until December, 3.3 million consoles had been sold in the U.S. alone, and the last month of the year added on a cool 1.5 million to the total for 2017. The figure of 4.8 million Switches sold in the U.S. in 2017 set a new record for fastest selling console in U.S. history, even surpassing the phenomenon of the Nintendo Wii. According to Forbes, the worldwide total sales of the Switch, as of the end of 2017, was 14.6 million, eclipsing the total sales of the Wii U’s entire lifespan at 13.56 million. This is a turnaround and a half for Nintendo. Forget Bitcoin; I should have bought Nintendo stock — it has doubled its worth since March.
Nintendo’s one-two punch of a clearly innovative console in tandem with remarkable games such as “Breath of the Wild” and “Super Mario Odyssey” has created a perfect storm of success for the company. It’s noteworthy that they achieved such an outcome by releasing a console that does not conform to Sony and Microsoft’s pattern of pursuing power.
When Nintendo succeeds by taking chances and trying new things as they have, it is beneficial to the video game industry as a whole. Designers and developers may be inspired to deviate from the status quo by exploring different methods, priorities and mindsets to create totally new gameplay experiences. Such an outcome would be incredible for the gaming industry and video game enthusiasts alike, because when game companies innovate, everyone wins. With this hopeful outlook, I eagerly await what 2018 has in store.