The Switch is Nintendo’s Fastest Selling Console Ever; Can They Keep It Up?

While we just discussed a number of big surprises this busy spring has already given us in our previous post, arguably the most incredible news this season is just how well Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch, is selling.

While we wait for the April 27th Nintendo stock update that will give us hard facts and figures on the exact sales of the Switch up to this point (I will update this page at that time), there are some small morsels of information that have come out, and some projections for the future. First and foremost, according to Reggie Fils-Amie, President of Nintendo of America, in an interview with the New York Times, states that the Nintendo Switch is the fastest selling console in the company’s history, even out-stripping the meteoric Nintendo Wii launch in November, 2006.  The biggest piece of info comes from Nintendo itself who announced Switch sales in the United States for March, the console’s launch month. 906,000 Switches were moved within the U.S. borders from March 3rd on.

These fantastic sales were carried on the back of one of the great games of all time, and perhaps, historically speaking, one of the most important launch games ever. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is considered by many to be the best Zelda game ever. Currently holding a 97 on Metacritic, Breath of the Wild has been the perfect game to sell the Switch to the masses. The largest open-world game Nintendo has ever attempted in one of its oldest, most storied, and most beloved series. BotW has many, many, many, many dozens of hours of content. For a console that had, truth be told, a weak launch lineup of games, BotW has buoyed the Switch into, not only, sales relevance, but sales dominance for the month of March (and most likely April too). Along with the announcement of Switch sales in the U.S. in March, Nintendo also touted the fact that BotW has sold 925,000 units during the month, and 1.3 million units when adding the WiiU version of the game as well. BotW has an incredible attach rate to the Switch of greater than 1:1, meaning thousands of people may have bought two or more copies of the game.

The Switch is a weird little piece of tech. A device that is designed to be both your home console and a portable. In the run up to the launch of the Switch I was unenthusiastic about its chances in the market. The WiiU was a dud that suffered because Nintendo didn’t feel the need to match up toe-to-toe with its competitors. However, the idea of a multi-use console is a brilliant one. The dream of the Playstation Vita was in bringing PS3 or PS4 quality games with you on the go. Better graphics, better controls, and higher production values all played into that. Unfortunately, poor sales early on killed Playstation’s desire to significantly support the Vita with these ‘console’ quality games. The Vita is a glorious machine, extremely well-built, gorgeous OLED screen (at least on the launch models), and featuring extremely useful dual thumbsticks like on the controllers for Sony’s flagship consoles. But it died because it lacked the support that it needed from its mothership, and from 3rd party publishers. However the dream of these home console quality games on the go did not die with the Vita, Nintendo is trying to keep the flame alive now in 2017.

The question is whether or not Nintendo will have the ability to turn the Switch into a major player in the industry moving forward. There is no doubt that the system’s current success is almost entirely held up on the shoulders of BotW. Without Zelda, the Switch would have been a hard sell to the masses. The actual launch lineup for the Switch is one of the weakest in gaming history. Nintendo rolled out ‘big’ titles like Just Dance 2017, 1-2 Switch, Super Bomberman R, and Snipperclips alongside Zelda. I personally believe that without the incredible system seller of BotW, the Switch would have been extremely lucky to even glimpse 500,000 units moved in this first month. But Nintendo did launch with BotW, and it has benefitted from those sales.

Now however, the big launch boost is over, the Switch is faced with a summer season in which it’s two biggest releases are Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on April 28th ( a remake of a years old game), and Splatoon 2 (the sequel to a cute 3rd person shooter that would have been lucky to sell 100,000 units on a non-Nintendo console) on July 21st. The system is facing a massive dearth of games until Super Mario Odyssey (which still doesn’t have a firm release date) comes out in the fall. The Vita eventually died because it lacked games. The Playstation 4 continues to dominate and pave its path towards 100 million sales because it is drowning in great games. The Switch will not be able to survive solely on the back of a Zelda game every 3 to 4 years, and a Mario game every other. The WiiU tried that and failed miserably. Nintendo needs to not only tap into every IP it has in its vast catalogue to push the Switch into success (looking at you Pokemon and Metroid), but it needs to entice the Electronic Arts and Activisions of the world to start either making games for the Swtich, or porting over their PS4 and Xbox One games in whatever fashion they can afford.

In big terms, the Switch in 2017 will be fine. It is an extremely cool idea that is benefiting from being the new ‘it’ thing. The Switch has an absolutely killer app that has caught the world’s love, and attention. So I’m not worried about the Switch now, I’m worried about the Switch of 2019, or 2020. The system is not very powerful, the screen has a low resolution, and apparently the build quality leaves something to be desired. When the inevitable PS5, and Xbox Two release and push the industry further into the future with a new level of graphical power, and production values will Nintendo be able to compete? There is no doubt that the WiiU grievously suffered in the market the last few years because of its lack of power, and complete dearth of 3rd party support. Nintendo may be feeling bullish about their future right now, but if they have not learned from the mistakes made with the WiiU, there is no doubt in my mind the Switch will die a slow and painful death just a few years from now.