Nintendo bounced back in style from the disappointment of the Wii U. How did they manage it?
Why has the Switch sold so well?
The price, portability, exclusive games, cross-demographic appeal as well as the timing of its release are all factors that help explain why the Nintendo Switch has sold so well.
In this article, I’ll explore these factors (and a couple more) in more detail.
If I could highlight one factor that I think is the most important in explaining why the Switch has sold so well, it would be the price.
Yes, the Switch’s novel features and exclusive content have, without exaggeration, revolutionized the video game industry but none of it would have mattered had the console been more expensive.
The Nintendo Switch’s $299 launch price was the same as you would have paid for a PS4 or a base model Xbox One at the time and significantly cheaper than the 2013 launch prices of those eighth-generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft.
The subsequent release of the Switch Lite in 2019, at $199.99, made the barrier to entry for console video gaming lower than ever before.
The price of a console is not necessarily a key factor for ‘hardcore’ gamers, but it has been crucial in encouraging less regular players (i.e., those who wouldn’t be interested in what a PlayStation, Xbox, or gaming PC has to offer) to check out the Switch.
Since launching the Switch, Nintendo has enjoyed an effective monopoly over the handheld video gaming market (the Steam Deck – costing two or three times more than the Switch – is swimming in a different pool altogether).
Aside from the competitive pricing, the ability to play on the go (or on the sofa, on a plane, on the toilet… wherever!) has been the Nintendo Switch’s biggest competitive advantage over the PlayStation and Xbox consoles released since 2017.
The Switch’s form factor is important here, too. Nintendo already tried a hybrid home console/portable concept with the Wii U, but that unit was awkward and clunky compared to the Switch, which boasts a much slimmer profile and a larger screen.
Compromises were necessary to create a hybrid console, for example with storage size (the OG Switch model can hold fewer than 10 average-size Switch games on its built-in hard drive), but they have paid off.
One of the Switch’s big draws for me personally is the first-party and other games available exclusively on Nintendo’s console.
Mario Odyssey was a hugely successful return to 3D platforming for everyone’s favorite Italian plumber, while 2017 Game of the Year winner The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is arguably one of the greatest games of all time.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has sold more than the rest of the Animal Crossing games combined and we haven’t even got to Pokemon yet: The latest games in that franchise – Scarlet and Violet – sold an incredible 10 million copies in the first three days after release.
All of these games really stand out in the sea of (often) cookie-cutter RGPs and first-person shooters held up by graphics rather than gameplay which seem to form a large slice of the core offering on PlayStation and Xbox.
There’s definitely something about Switch exclusives that hits different.
Nintendo’s target market has always been more kid- and family-focused than Sony or Microsoft’s, so it’s no surprise to see that the types of games that appeal to this demographic have sold well on the Switch.
This is also reflected in the Switch’s marketing, which is largely void of RGB lights and racing-style gaming chairs and instead focuses on things like multiple generations of a family playing together or a mother sneaking in a little session while looking after their child.
What makes the Switch especially successful, though, is the way that Nintendo has also managed to cater to the more serious gaming audience without losing any of its appeal to the core.
The Switch is not powerful compared to the PS4 or Xbox One, but it’s more than capable of delivering in-depth gameplay and expansive experiences that appeal to older, more experienced players.
A console that satisfies people who want to play Metroid Prime Remastered or the Xenoblade Chronicles series while at the same time attracting millions of players to Splatoon and Kirby games is doing something right.
Nintendo stole a march on its major competitors by releasing the Switch in the middle of Sony and Microsoft’s console cycle: The Switch was the newest games console on the market for three and a half years until the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S became available.
The positive effects of this were amplified by external circumstances – namely the COVID pandemic.
With so many of us confined to our homes for so long and, frankly, looking for something to do to cheer us up, is it any surprise that cozy games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons were runaway successes?
Perhaps this is just me, but I think the Switch is one of the best consoles (if not the best) for playing and discovering new indie games.
The best indie games on Switch can mostly be played on PC, PlayStation, or Xbox too, but many of them are, in my opinion, far superior experiences in handheld mode.
My favorite indie games to play on my Switch include Hades, Into the Breach, and Katana Zero.
Joy-Cons are expensive but they make the Switch gaming experience unique.
With pad shapes and functions otherwise largely standardized across consoles, the Joy-Cons have provided an entirely new way to interact with games and encouraged developers to test novel new mechanics.
The Joy-Con’s versatility is also impressive and, while there have been well-documented issues with stick drift, they feel pretty robust to me considering the tech they have packed into them.
Why has the Switch sold so well? (Summary)
The main factors that explain why the Switch has sold so well are:
- Exclusive games
- Wide appeal
- Indie game library
- The Joy-Cons